ACM’s Respond to Justin Moore’s “New Artist” Ineligibility

justin-mooreOn Tuesday the Academy of Country Music announced the finalists for their “New Artist of the Year” award to be given out an the ACM Awards on April 6th. By the results of fan voting, the eight-name list of nominees was narrowed down to three performers: Brett Eldredge, Kip Moore, and Justin Moore.

The announcement comes as questions continue to loom around the eligibility of Justin Moore for the “New Artist” nomination. As Saving Country Music first pointed out on February 5th with help from Windmills Country, Justin Moore was not eligible for the award according to the Academy of Country Music’s stated rules. According to the ACM, artists who’ve sold over 500,000 copies of any previously-released album are not eligible for the “new artist” award. Justin Moore has two such albums: Justin Moore from 2009 with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me from 2011 with 577,000 copies sold.

Subsequently, when this information was reported on by Windmills Country on Country 92.5′s “Electric Barnyard” show, representatives from Justin Moore’s label Valory Music—a imprint of Big Machine Records—contacted the radio station and asked them to take the audio down.

Also today, the Academy of Country Music’s President Bob Romeo responded to the calls for a clarification on Justin Moore’s eligibility in a story published on MusicRow.com. Bob Romeo states:

The Academy of Country Music Board of Directors – which I have been a part of for 25+ years – has a long history of supporting new country music acts. The Board finds that being in step with trends and acknowledging the country music landscape has improved our process and guaranteed the best candidates over the years. This decision is in line with our criteria, and the Board’s right to be flexible in our efforts to be inclusive vs. exclusive of a young artist who has had budding success. We have to remember that Justin is a new face to mainstream music fans, media, and the like. He has earned this nomination and we congratulate him and all ACM Award nominees, and look forward to celebrating their work at the Awards in April.

According to the Music Row story, though Justin Moore is in clear violation of the stated rules for the “New Artist of the Year” category, and the Academy of Country Music is not disputing that, they are citing another global stipulation in the rules to justify his nomination. The rule states:

The criteria and voting procedures are set forth by the ACM Board of Directors in accordance with the bylaws, and may be amended from time to time as the Board deems appropriate in the best interest of Country music. Any disputes shall be resolved by the Chairman of the Board in accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order.

In other words, the Academy of Country Music reserves the right to amend their rules at any time, and that’s fine, and this is something Saving Country Music has stated in both its previous articles on this issue. However, the 500,000 copy rule has still yet to be amended. A check of the PDF of the ACM’s rules located on their website shows that the 500,000 copy provision is still listed, and no specific amendment that would make Justin Moore eligible for the “New Artist of the Year” award has been published.

Though the global provision allows the ACM’s rules to be “amended from time to time,” it doesn’t give anyone the right to break any rule. And though the global provision says that “Any disputes shall be resolved by the Chairman of the Board,” there is no disputing Justin Moore’s ineligibility. A “dispute” would only arise if there was an ambiguity or loophole in the rules that needed to be resolved or clarified—something that is not the case with this specific issue.

Furthermore, the Academy of Country Music set the precedent in 2009 of making rules amendments before nominees were announced, and even delaying the announcement of the nominees to allow the rule amendment to be drafted, finalized, and be entered into the public record.

This is an exact excerpt from Saving Country Music’s article posted yesterday (2-10) on this subject:

The eligibility rules for the awards are written by the Academy of Country Music, and there’s no reason they cannot change them if they see fit. If the ACM wanted to nominate Justin Moore for the 2014 awards cycle, they could have written out the 500,000 copy provision, or increased the amount of copies in the rule for Justin Moore to maintain his eligibility. Furthermore, the Academy of Country Music has a history of doing this very thing. In 2009, the ACM’s reduced the amount of copies an artist must sell to be eligible for the Album of the Year category to 300,000. The reason for this was so that Jamey Johnson’s critically-acclaimed album That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominees. More importantly, the ACM’s also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees that year while they finalized the rule change, making sure they did not violate their own rules by announcing their nominees too early.

Not only have the ACM’s yet to amended the “New Artist” rules, they did not delay the announcement to amend them. The reason this is important is because with the lack of a clear rules regime in place to create protocols around the eligibility of artists, there is the potential for improprieties and corruption to creep into the process.

Though the attempt at clarification by Bob Romero of the Academy of Country Music is appreciated, the issue of Justin Moore’s eligibility remains far from resolved, if Romero’s statements don’t raise further questions and concerns for country music fans. If the Academy of Country Music wants to make a rules amendment so that Justin Moore can become eligible for for the “New Artist of the Year” award, then that amendment must be made and entered into the public record.

But this would still not resolve the issue. Since the ACM’s made an exception to their stated rules by nominating Justin Moore in the first place, a deeper explanation of how that happened should be given, along with an accounting of how the rules regime transpired in the process, and why specifically Justin Moore was given the exception to make sure no improprieties or corruption occurred.

To the artists that have ACM Awards displayed prominently on their mantels or in their trophy cases, and to the fans of those artists that celebrate the wins every April, the reason these awards mean so much to them is because of the integrity the ACM’s have built around their awards during the organization’s 49 year history. The integrity of the process of how the ACM’s vet and select their nominees and winners is the very foundation for the prestigious weight these accolades hold. And if questions arise about the integrity of these rules, then so will questions about the importance or legitimacy of these awards. Nobody deserves to have an asterisk beside their ACM Award because of an oversight of the rules, including Justin Moore.