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It's time to face up to the music of Choice

THE ninth annual Choice Music Prize live ceremony takes place in Dublin tomorrow night. I was behind the scenes once, you know, as a judge. Tough business. It was in 2010 and, from what I can recall, there was no hair-pulling, no name-calling and very few hissy fits. Just a bit of shouting, is all.

We took our time. Someone was going home 10 grand richer that night, so it was up to us to make sure that the money went to the right act. But the Choice Music Prize is not just about the cash. In fact, it's now an important date on the domestic music calendar.

Established in 2005, by journalist Jim Carroll and music manager David Reid, "to encourage, highlight, showcase and promote Irish music of excellence," the Choice initially modelled itself on the UK's Mercury Prize.

In short, it's an award for the best Irish album of the year, as voted for by a gang of media and music industry professionals.

Anyone can win that shiny trophy, along with a cheque for €10,000, courtesy of the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) and the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA). Sometimes, it's the act we least expected.

It's not a popularity contest – it has nothing to do with sales and airplay. Nor is it a prize for the best record you've never heard of. It's all about the tunes.

judges

Every year, a new panel of judges (there are 13 this time around) are asked to put together a shortlist of 10 records that best summed up the previous 12 months in Irish music.

Once that business is taken care of (and, believe me, it's no easy feat – there were approximately 200 full-length releases last year), tickets then go on sale for the big night at Vicar Street.

This is where the real game begins, mainly because the 10 nominees are invited to plug in their guitars, keyboards and laptops for the listening public.

It's usually a cracking gig but, of course, what happens on that stage has zero influence on the overall outcome (the judges always convene in an undisclosed location nearby).

The year I sat down at that big table, it came down to a secret ballot (after four hours of fractious debate, might I add). There were 12 of us and, let's just say, there's a reason the panel no longer includes an even number of voters. Still, everyone seemed happy enough with the final decision (Adrian Crowley emerged victorious).

CONTROVERSY

Other past winners include Julie Feeney (well-deserved), The Divine Comedy (contrary to rumours, Neil Hannon did not spend the cash on a new kitchen), Jape (the only act to have won twice), Two Door Cinema Club and the sublime Delorentos.

It hasn't been without controversy. Who can forget the puzzled reaction of various crowd members the night Kildare chancers Super Extra Bonus Party were declared winners?

There are always new arguments over who should have been nominated (you can't please everyone), who 'deserves' the prize money (it's not a charity, lads) and – my favourite – that the shortlist has become too 'mainstream' (the anti-Kodaline brigade flipped this year).

Disheartened singer songwriters have even been known to throw their toys out of the pram after failing to make the cut. It only adds to the fun.

Whatever the case, when Meteor jumped on board as an official sponsor in 2011, they really helped increase awareness by introducing a second, smaller, prize for Irish Song of the Year, which the public gets to vote for.

And hey, for the first time this year, the Choice will be on telly (RTE2 will broadcast a one-hour highlight special this Sunday). Happy days.

Now all the judges have to do is pick a winner from this lot. I don't envy them.

> The Meteor Choice Music Prize live event takes place at Vicar Street tomorrow night and is sold out. > The show will be broadcast live on Today FM. > RTE2 will broadcast TV highlights on Sunday at 10.30pm.


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