When comparing and contrasting the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you couldn’t find two more differing ideologies on how to run a hall of fame institution. For the Country Music Hall of Fame, it is a “quality, not quantity” approach. Inducting only three new members each year under the current system, a Country Hall of Fame induction is one of the industry’s most difficult distinctions to land, leaving no question about the air of prestige and the value artists feel when they’re bestowed with the honor. The idea is that you can always induct an artist in the future, but you never get a do over once an artist is inducted. Arguments can rage all day on who deserves to be in that isn’t, but rarely do you look at a Country Hall of Fame inductee as undeserving.
With the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s a “throw the barn door wide and take all comers” type of approach, inducting anywhere from seven to ten artists per year, including artists from the pop world like Madonna, and rap artists like Run DMC. The Rock Hall of Fame also allows fans to have a vote in the induction process, which is always a risky proposition. And despite their more open policy, the Rock Hall of Fame still fields the same criticisms the Country Hall of Fame does for the list of artists worthy of induction who for one reason or another are not in.
Because of these factors and many others, the Country Music Hall of Fame feels hallowed, and has held on to its credibility over the years as a distinguished institution in both country music and the Nashville community, while the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame feels hollow and haphazard in how it handles its induction process, from the curious to embarrassing members and glaring omissions. Artists refusing induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame like The Sex Pistols and Axl Rose also speak to the credibility problem of the institution, though it still has a very worthy museum space and archive of music history that can’t be diminished regardless of whose plaque makes it into the rotunda. But for the induction to carry great meaning, great care must be taken in selecting inductees like the cautious approach the Country Hall of Fame has characterized over the years.
But where the Country Music Hall of Fame is losing out to its rock and roll counterpart is in the buzz each year’s inductions create. And it’s not even close. Granted, some of the controversy over candidates and inductees is the impetus behind the Rock Hall buzz, but whether it is the announcement of nominees, the announcement of the eventual winners, or the induction concert, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame talk is a favorite of water coolers and work places, local and national talk shows, and bars and music venues all across the country. Even talk of the rules and regulations of the process is robust pop culture theater every year, and it all combines to become one big word of mouth advertising campaign that is invaluable to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s health. Who got in? Who got snubbed? What bands are mashing up with other famous artists for the induction concert? Everybody seems to have an opinion or insight and a propensity to want to discuss it.
Just this week NPR’s Chris Molanphy engaged in a long-winded editorial about the right and wrong way to complain about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, expounding on what he calls his “Supremes Argument.”
“As a music geek, I often find myself in conversations, either online or over cocktails, about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” says Molanphy. “Indeed, I’ve been nerding out about the Hall since last Thursday, when the institution announced its shortlist for induction into the Hall Class of 2015. And when I find myself in polite but argumentative company debating the Rock Hall, I have an approach I use. It comes in handy when my fellow nerd has been griping about the definition of “rock and roll,” and why this mysterious institution inductor of Donna Summer, Madonna, and Grandmaster Flash; persistent nominator of Chic and N.W.A has got it all wrong.”
When you compare all of this with the Country Hall of Fame process, it couldn’t be more different. The Country Hall struggles to capture the American zeitgeist even on the day it announces its annual crop of inductees. By the afternoon, it’s an afterthought, except for the predictable vitriol about who didn’t get in, which fizzles out by dinnertime. The actual induction ceremony to the Country Hall of Fame, called the “Medallion Ceremony,” is described by the Hall as a “private occasion” where “families, friends, and business associates [gather] to welcome the new class of honorees into their midst.” Compare this to the Rock Hall’s raucous ceremony and concert that is simulcast online and then shown on HBO for weeks after, and you can see the difference between the approach of these two institutions.
Of course there is inherent differences between these two hall of fame institutions that parallel the music itself. “Rock” was the long-standing catch-all phrase for rebellious American music for the last half century, and so there’s simply a lot more music embodied by that term, meaning more interest, a more laid back attitude, and the need for more inductees. Meanwhile country, at least in the traditional sense, is not about a big show. “We don’t make a party out of loving,” as Merle Haggard once said in the song “Okie From Muskogee.” The fact that the Country Hall of Fame doesn’t make a spectacle of their induction process is one of the reasons the institution is held in a higher regard. But is there some happy medium here, and is country music missing out on an annual opportunity to promote itself and its inductees to the greater masses by keeping their process so dramatically understated?
Things are changing, and country music is now the most dominant genre of American music, not rock. And it’s hard to not sense that the Country Music Hall of Fame is missing out on a big promotional opportunity by keeping the process nothing more than a small press conference and a private ceremony. It doesn’t need to be some wild concert, and I’m not sure the public can be trusted in participating in the voting process. But how about announcing the final ballot nominees to stir up interest before the big inductee announcement, or including a concert around the induction that all the public can enjoy, even if you want to keep the Medallion Ceremony private?
The induction of new members in to the Country Music Hall of Fame each year should be a joyous occasion that all country music fans should be welcome to participate in at least in some capacity, and should stir and energize the public about country music through the process. Looking at the annual event as a bigger promotional opportunity should be a priority.