Pittsburgh Rock Music Awards honors, unites local artists

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And the winner is ... Pittsburgh's music community.

Actually, that won't be one of the honors tonight at the third annual Pittsburgh Rock Music Awards at Mr. Smalls in Millvale. But that will be the result once Allie Nickel is finished handing out the hand-made hardware to winners in all sorts of categories.

Ms. Nickel, a 24-year-old tattoo artist from Shadyside, organized the Pittsburgh Rock Music Awards three years ago to bring together local musicians. Not to feed their egos, but to support them.

"I am also a musician and I've played tons of shows in Pittsburgh since I was probably about 14 years old," she said. "And I've seen the local music community at strong points and at weak points.

"We have so many awesome bands, so many great venues, and really talented, creative, innovative people in this city, but geographically speaking we're all spread out. I really wanted to unite the different pockets of our community. A lot of people are working toward the same goals, but they don't even know about each other and they don't have that reinforced strength. There's a lack of connection and networking."

So how does handing out awards build unity?

"I've played a ton of battles of the bands. And they [stink]," she said. "They're usually organized by a local promoter that's trying to find a young cash cow to sell tickets. They'll typically say, 'Sell this amount of tickets or get these many people to show up or pay to play and you might win this rinky-dinky package.' It's almost always popularity based and it's usually not fair. I had in mind something that was more camaraderie-based, instead of cut-throat competition.

"The first two years, I just did [the events] by myself. They were very small, not a lot of people knew about them, and they weren't very well-organized or well-executed. Luckily, I think a lot of bands and people involved understood the idea behind it and the cause, so they were patient and understanding with me.

"This year, a lot more people stepped up to the plate. I had a lot more help, and I think this year is going to be the year it all comes together."

The event has grown each year, with a wider range of bands and musicians.

Here are the various categories for Pittsburgh's best of 2012: Band, album, video, song, music video, live performance, venue and concert promoter.

And those categories are, in turn, broken into five genres: alternative, metal, punk, indie and hardcore.

That's a lot of winners, which naturally meant a lot of nominees, all submitted online.

"This year was incredible," Ms. Nickel said. "I had to hand-count 800 emails with 25 different votes in each one. It was awesome. I ended up with 130 nominated bands."

The judging was by the musicians themselves and a panel of four judges.

"Luckily, most of the judges were already pretty familiar with a lot of the bands," said Ms. Nickel, who was not a judge herself.

"I don't think that would really be fair," she explained. "I would love to, but I wouldn't want a band to think that I was trying to manipulate it."

Only she knows who tonight's winners will be. So it's kind of like those big, fancy award shows you see on TV.

"I had a pretty hefty email campaign where we got all the nominees to RSVP to the event," Ms. Nickel said. "So, hopefully, if a band wins an award, we're not just going to be standing around. They'll be there to pick up their award."

The winners get awards that Ms. Nickel designed and made herself. Spray-painted vinyl albums in etched resin with LED lights. But they're a secret, so don't tell anyone.

"They're pretty bad-ass looking," she said.

And, as in all award shows, there are no losers.

"I tried to make it as beneficial to all of the nominees as possible," Ms. Nickel said. "Because there's so many musicians that come to this event, it's sort of like an industry trade show kind of thing. I've put together promotional decks of cards with a bunch of local businesses that would benefit the bands. Discounted sticker-printing, graphics, guitar center stuff.

"Hopefully, even if a band doesn't win an award, they'll still leave with the sense that, 'OK, now I know somebody who does graphic design. Now I have a friend that does album artwork or distribution.' So hopefully they'll still feel a benefit."

Not to mention donated beer and food.

Based on the past couple years, she said, the musicians who don't win still appreciate the event.

"One of the guys in one of the bands last year said, 'I feel like I'm at this dream scenario where the jocks are hanging out with the nerds.' There's these metal bands and pop bands and they're making friends. It actually works out really well."

The event is open to the public and includes perfomances by Phat Man Dee and two of last year's winners, Fist Fight in the Parking Lot and Dazzletine. It begins at 7 p.m. at Mr. Smalls Theater, 400 Lincoln Ave., in Millvale. Cover is $15.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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