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Warren Workman Talks Utah Music Awards

What’s next for the future of the Utah Music Awards and the growth of Provo’s artistic community?

By Zach Collier

2016 marks the third year The Utah Music Awards have been in operation. Last year, hundreds of musicians from all over the state of Utah met in the Covey Center for the Arts in downtown Provo to celebrate the music we’re making here. With the Utah Film Awards just a few weeks away, Warren Workman – founder of both award ceremonies  – was kind enough to give us a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about the future of the UMA’s.

Hey Warren. Thanks for letting me speak with you. How are you doing?

Doing pretty good. We’re working on the Utah Film Awards PR marketing plan right now, and we’re working stuff out with a couple celebrities. So that’s kinda cool. 

Whoa. How long has the Utah Film Awards been going on now?

We’re coming up on our fifth year. We started back in the Bombay House – you know, the Indian restaurant – with thirty people. And then last year we sold out the Covey Center for the Arts and had 3,000 people watch it online. So, coming on to our fifth year is a really exciting time for us. We’re going to be in this huge arena now at UVU. It’s gonna be our biggest year by far. It’s going to be broadcast live. There will be interviews with film makers who have been nominated. Some pretty famous YouTubers are coming in as well. So they’ll be sharing their spotlight with us. It’s really a big YouTube convention during the day and then our awards show at night. So it’s gonna be pretty smokin’. You get to dress up in a tuxedo or a gown – well, typically if you’re a girl you dress up in a gown [Laughs] – but it’s gonna be so much fun. An absolute blast.

It sounds like it. I went to the Utah Music Awards this last year and it was a ton of fun. 

That was a fun one. The Utah Music Awards, while fun, was tiny in comparison. 

Robyn Cage at the 2015 Utah Music Awards.

That’s exciting! So, I don’t know a whole lot about you personally. Where are you from? How did you come to Utah?

I’ve been in Utah ever since my dad retired from the military. He was in the navy, and for some reason he decided to retire to a place that didn’t have any ocean by it. [Laughs]. So he came to Utah and I’ve been here my whole life. I majored in broadcast communications. Couldn’t find a job in that. Ended up getting a job in nursing, and I’ve been doing nursing for about the last ten years.

But there’s always that first love. So here I am, following my passion for broadcast communications and film. That’s always been my heart and soul – what I wanted to do. So eventually I said, “You know what? Let’s just do it. Let’s do something.” So I flipped on my webcam one day and just started talking about some local film makers. Just doing a little vlog. That became pretty popular and that little vlog turned into a national television show on TuffTV called the Film Buzz. Our top viewership was right around… 8 million people an episode? That was pretty popular, especially for what kind of show it was. We were all over the U.S., down in Mexico and Europe. We went international for a while – which was great. That kinda kicked us off into doing the Utah Film Awards. Year after year the attendance more than doubles. Sometimes it quadruples, to the point where we burst out of each venue we’re at because we don’t have enough room. So we’re like, “Okay, well let’s make this more Oscar-like and get a bigger venue and broadcast it for a change and see what happens,” and it explodes again. So that’s me. My passion is promoting the independent film maker in any way that I can. I mean, I’m not an independent film maker – I’m not very good. But I can put on a show that’s… pretty decent.

[Laughs] So what is your goal with all of this?

What my goal is with all this? You have the Oscars. They pretty much celebrate famous people and they’re patting each other on the back, which is great. [Laughs] The Utah Film Awards is different. We’re celebrating people who never get celebrated at all. These are independent film makers who are, like, mortgaging their houses to be able to make this movie just because it’s something that they love. It’s in their blood. They’ve got to tell a story. So now they’re being recognized by, first of all, distributors – that’s our first panel of judges – who are looking to acquire films. And secondly their peers. Other film makers are also judging them to see who’s the best of the best. This year we’ve opened it up to the entire world to see how Utah stacks up against other communities of film makers throughout the planet. It’s just really fun to see how the cream really rises to the top.

Eric Thayne at the 2015 Utah Music Awards.

Well, Utah is the third biggest YouTube community in the world next to like, LA and England –

Nope. We beat England. We are now number two. 

Really? That’s great news.

Yup. We are the second largest YouTube community, and that’s based off of views and subscribers. England has a TON of YouTubers, but we have higher engagement. Utah kicks serious trash.

Well, you’ve had things like Sundance Film Festival for a long time helping to grow the film culture here. That got started in 1978 as the Utah/US Film Festival and later became Sundance in the 80’s.

Yeah, it initially was the Park City Film Festival back in the day and later became Sundance in the 80’s when Robert Redford came into the picture. [Sundance] has, more or less, become the Oscars of film festivals, am I right? We’re doing the exact same thing that Sundance used to do. The indies. We’re all focusing on indies. We don’t have to have celebrities there. I would say that 95% of all of our submissions don’t have a single marketable star in the film. And it doesn’t diminish the fact that a film is awesome. 

So transitioning a little bit towards music: compared to the film scene in Utah, the music scene is still kind of in its infancy as a whole, even though we’ve had several big successes out of Utah recently. How did you first get interested in the music being made in Utah?

I blame Nathan Osmond. [Laughs] He said, “Hey, you’ve got a really cool show with the Utah Film Awards. Why don’t you do something for the musicians if you’ve got interest in doing that?” I was like, yeah, I’ll do it if there is anyone interested in doing that. We had 300 people show up our first year. I was like, “Well, that’s cool.” Our second year we had 600 people show up, and I was like, “Well, that’s cooler.” [Laughs] Then this organization called Equity United called and said, “We see you’re doing something pretty cool that’s in line with what our goals are as a non-profit, but we notice you don’t have a lot of money” – which I don’t – “How about we set up a non-profit for you, pay you to do this full-time and make these award shows happen. Would you be interested?” I was like heck yeah! So they bought both shows from me – they bought them as of the first of this year – and they’re helping fund it all.

We’re going to have a lot of new things happening with the Utah Music Awards as well. We’ll be actively recruiting bands, sending a lot of free vouchers out to these bands and musicians to participate in the show. We have a lot more sponsors coming on to help pay for the bills, which is neat. It’s interesting that what’s happening with the film [awards] is happening with the music awards show. We’re going to be broadcasting performances of these indie musicians live around the world. It’s just going to give that kind of promotion and branding back, that’s worth millions of dollars, to people who aren’t signed with big labels. People who aren’t particularly wealthy. Usually the world wouldn’t give them a chance. But because we’re focusing on the independent musician who is just making really good music. With a little bit of marketing sense, we want to help them achieve as much as we can. We don’t make any weird claims like, by participating in our awards show you’re going to strike it big and you don’t ever have to worry about money anymore. But one thing we’re proud of is that every winner from the last four years [of the Utah Film Awards] still has a very active, vibrant career. I mean, that’s rare! Most people will try for like a year or two and quit! Every single person who won is a professional film maker and is still working. They’re still making money doing what they love. 

Foreign Figures at the 2015 Utah Music Awards.

Do you expect the same thing to happen with music?

Absolutely. I want to be able to come back fifty years – well, okay, maybe twenty years [Laughs] – after our first show and bring back people from our first show and have them perform. Because they’ll hopefully be at a point in their career where they’re legends.

One of the other things that has been helpful is that, for the first time, a lot of these musicians have been told (other than by their mom) that they’re good. That they have talent. That they should really pursue this as a full time career. So what we’ve seen is we’ve had several people quit their full-time jobs and pursue music as a career since winning a Utah Music Award. And they’ve found success.

The people who are judging aren’t there to just give lip service. They really are looking for the best musicians. In the world. Not just the best musicians in Utah. In the world. People who have this preconceived idea that being a Utah Filmmaker or a Utah Musician is somehow less because of geography – that’s a fallacy! We have some of the best musicians in the world here, and I think that given the right venue space – like what we’re trying to provide – we will help take them to the next level, you know? So they can make that step. Go from flipping burgers to flipping… venues? [Laughs] We want them to get booked all over the world. We may be the Utah Music Awards, but that doesn’t mean our musicians are only for Utah. We’re gonna get up-and-coming, rising artists with lots of hunger and talent that are ready to move to that next step. That’s what I’m excited to see.

I like that. You said that the UMA’s were more sparsely attended than the Utah Film Awards. What can members of the Utah music scene – and more specifically, Provo – do to get more involved or to show greater support?

You know, a lot of people are doing the right thing. When people go out to like Velour or Audio West or Rooftop Concert Series, and they support these venues that are bringing in great bands, that helps! That’s huge. Musicians are getting in front of an audience that they may not have been in front of before. What the local music scene can do to help the Utah Music Awards grow is to talk about it. What is it that you guys love about the Grammy’s or the CMA’s that you would like to see incorporated into this show, minus the celebrities? Because our celebrities are the musicians. Whether this is their first year out, or whether they’ve been around for twenty years but never gotten that big break. Go to TheUtahMusicAwards.com, send us messages. Send us some suggestions. Not criticism – we can do that plenty ourselves [Laughs]. But say something like “Hey, if you guys ever wanted to do a performance at XYZ venue or something like that, we can help you with that!” That would be something that would be helpful for us.

Right now we’re looking for our next venue. We really enjoy the Covey Center, but we’re looking for other places as well. We’d like to keep it in Utah County, but we’re not limited to that. If we find out our audience is really in Salt Lake, we’ll move to Salt Lake. But, you know, personally I’d like to keep it in Utah County because I live in Orem. [Laughs] But no, we’re going to go where the audience is. If people want to get involved, they can enter their music at TheUtahMusicAwards.com. We’re also still looking for sponsors. Until we get more sponsors, we’re still solely funded off of those submission fees. That’s the only place we make money so that we can pay for a sound guy and a venue – you know, the things we need for an event.

VanLadyLove at the 2015 Utah Music Awards.

Do you anticipate a day when you’ll be able to to waive some of the submission fees because of sponsorships?

Absolutely. I expect it will happen after our third year. We’ll have one more year where we probably won’t be waiving a whole lot of submission fees. Hopefully one day we’ll have Imagine Dragons who’s like, “Hey, we just want to come perform.” That would BLOW MY MIND. 

[Laughs] That would be cool. I guess the last question is this: when’s the date?

Typically we plan on doing it in September or early October – so the fall. But when in the fall, we don’t know yet. We don’t want to compete with things like Comic Con or nothing that’s going on with the LDS Church like conference sessions. We definitely don’t want to conflict with that, especially in Utah County. We’d have one single person show up [Laughs]. If anyone has a good suggestion for when to do that, we’re open for a week day or weekend, during the day, evenings. We want to hear from you. That’s something we want suggestions on. 

Well, thank you so much for letting me interview you. I’m really excited for the UMA’s this year. It’s really inspiring artists to move and to put out some good work.

Thanks! We’ve got about 200 submissions in so far. People are really excited about it. And I think they should be.

To show support for the Utah Music Awards, get involved! Visit TheUtahMusicAwards.com. Keep an eye out for the Utah Film Awards, coming to the UCCU Center in Orem March 25, 2016. Check out Kenz Hall’s performance from the 2015 UMA’s below!

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