MTV’s channel geared toward college students, mtvU, will host its fourth-annual Woodie Awards show Nov. 17. Unlike the entertainment-heavy Video Music Awards, the Woodies focus on the musical achievement of independent artists, handing out awards that honor everything from originality to effective viral marketing, all of which are determined by online voting.
Stephan Friedman, the general manager of mtvU, said he got the idea from the well-known independent rock label Sub-Pop, which once gave wooden records to up-and-coming artists.
“We thought it was great because it was really speaking to music fans and it wasn’t so much about how many records [you’ve sold], but the kind of the passionate connection you make,” Friedman said.
Previous Woodie award winners like The Killers, Fall Out Boy and Death Cab For Cutie have gone on to achieve commercial success.
This year’s show will feature even more music than in the past, with more artists performing, presenting and attending. In the spirit of providing access to independent music for college kids, Friedman held a teleconference last week, during which some of the Woodie Award nominees answered questions from student journalists across the country.
The network nominated Gym Class Heroes for Woodie of the Year, and the group’s Travis McCoy was among the representatives interviewed. McCoy has had a productive year – his band’s single, “Cupid’s Chokehold,” has enjoyed major radio play and the band is touring with Death Cab for Cutie. If they win, this will be the second MTV award they’ve won this year. Gym Class Heroes received the Video Music Award for Best New Artist in September, though McCoy said it was odd getting an award like that when his band has been around for a decade.
Although airplay on MTV has been instrumental in popularizing Gym Class Heroes, McCoy insisted that their success it is the result of years of hard work on the road.
“We are a live band . . . and we’ve just been on the road for the past three-and-a-half, four years building a fan base,” he said. “[It takes] a lot of mileage and a lot of busting your a–, and there’s going to be a lot more than just having a hit single.”
Fame has its pitfalls as well, and McCoy said he’s learned to resist the readily available vices that life on the road offers. “I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to keep my zipper up, not to be vulgar,” he joked. “The first year of touring was like, ‘Wow, this is just a smorgasbord, all these girls. But you know, when you’re touring, you can make a very messy, entangled web. I’ve got more respect for myself now.”
Next year will be a big a year for Gym Class Heroes, McCoy said. Already deep into the recording of their new album, he plans to collaborate with Busta Rhymes, RJD2 and Arctic Monkeys in 2008. He also expressed his desire to collaborate with fellow Woodie nominee Max Bemish of Say Anything, one of McCoy’s favorite lyricists.
Say Anything is in the running for Best Video with their hit single “Wow, Can I Get Sexual Too?” Bemish said the heavy airplay helped to spread his music more than he thought possible.
“I didn’t really think that we would be one of those bands where [exposure on MTV] had such a huge factor in [our success] because we had been touring for so long before we were really on MTV,” he said. “Now you go to a Say Anything show and so many kids know that song in particular.”
At 23, Bemish is a fixture on mainstream television while many other people his age are still trying to graduate college. He advocated getting an education but also encouraged aspiring musicians to follow their dreams if they feel strongly enough.
“I went to college. I kind of wasted a semester doing really nothing because I wanted to be on tour . . . so if what you really, really want in your heart is to be on tour with a band, then you’ve got to give it a try at least.”
He also clarified some misconceptions about the difficulties of going through seven band members in the past three years.
“It’s sort of a 50/50 thing,” Bemish said. “Most people can’t handle it, and then sometimes people just had other interests like to going to college or [having] a family to settle down with . . . I’m definitely a control freak, and so then I warn people about it as soon as they join the band,” he said. Bemish then mentioned that he hasn’t had that talk with their current bass player.
While Linkin Park is far from an up-and-coming act, their guitarist Brad Delson also discussed his band’s nomination for the Good Woodie – an award for bands who have used their fame for philanthropy. Linkin Park was influential in creating Music For Relief, a charity group formed in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand for victims of natural disasters.
“Recently, Music For Relief has integrated a more proactive component to its agenda to try to help create awareness and reduce the factors contributing to climate change, which we’ve learned ultimately can exacerbate these natural disasters,” Delson said.
Music for Relief has already donated $100,000 to the victims of the wild fires in California and plans to have an auction on eBay that will raise money for the uninsured people who lost their homes.
Also at the teleconference was Meg Frampton of the rock group Meg & Dia, which she fronts with her sister. The network nominated them for Best Viral Woodie, which celebrates artists who have “crashed all servers and blown up the World Wide Interweb.”
“We’ve been on a lot of tours so far, but even though the bands that we’ve toured with were great and the audiences were great, I still don’t think that that’s the biggest output,” Frampton said. “MySpace is the way to reach the most listeners. And for us, because we started out personally answering everybody’s mail, I think that it’s worked out positively for us in the end.”
The Woodies will air live on mtvU and stream on mtvU.com at 8 p.m. Nov. 17.
Jimmy Viola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.