32 years later, SDMAs still highlighting local music

The annual San Diego Music Awards (SDMA) holds its ceremony Tuesday, April 25 at the Humphreys Concerts by the bay to recognize accomplishments from local musicians.

The SDMAs were started in 1991 by founder and organizer Kevin Hellman and are now in their 32nd year running. Hellman is also known for being the publisher of former altweekly San Diego CityBeat and SLAMM magazine.

Hellman said that when he founded the SDMAs, San Diego bands were making a splash on the national stage. “It was the whole ‘we’ll be the next Seattle’ vibe,” Hellman said referring to the Seattle grunge scene of the ‘90s.

Thirty-two years later, the awards ceremony remains important to the community, Hellman said.

“It’s a platform for the bands in town,” Hellman said. “It’s become an annual music gathering.”

One hundred fifty artists have been nominated for awards this year. There’s 27 categories that include genres like folk, rock and hip-hop.

To be nominated, bands need to either submit their material for consideration on SDMA’s website or be nominated by members of the award program’s academy. Members were recruited by Hellman for this volunteer position that requires deep knowledge of San Diego’s music scene.

32nd annual San Diego Music Awards

Tuesday, April 25, 2023 at 7 PM

Humphreys Concerts by the Bay


The 32nd annual San Diego Music Awards is a celebration of San Diego Music. During the show, there will be 27 award presentations in multiple musical genres. Performances this year include Gilbert Castellanos, Anthony Cullins, Daring Greatly, Mike Keneally, The Inflorescence, and Jeff Berkley & the banned.Related links:San Diego Music Awards on Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

Justin Pearson, vocalist for Deaf Club, is among the nominees — Deaf Club is nominated for Best Rock Artist. Although Pearson doesn’t think his punk band fits into the “rock” genre they were nominated for, he said he’s flattered to be nominated.

“I think getting recognition on any level is important and flattering and people should appreciate that,” Pearson said. “It’s great to get recognized in a city that has a ton of weird and interesting and diverse stuff. For even the nomination — I feel like that’s a success.”

Ash Easton, a musician nominated for Best Rock Artist, Best Rock Album and Best New Artist, said SDMAs help represent San Diego’s arts and culture.

“San Diego has given me so much, and I’ve gladly accepted that, and I feel like I deserve to give back to those people that have really helped propel me to do what I’m doing now in a very big way,” Easton said.

Easton thought that having her album “Rough and Tough” considered was important because of its message. The album captures a year when Easton went through many life changes — divorce, moving and joining a new band.

“Submitting for this was really important to be able to share that message because I think that connection is really where we make our greatest moves together,” Easton said. “Music does a really great job of bringing people together.”

While it’s a gathering of artists and music fans, Hellman said the SDMAs are also a fundraiser for nonprofit San Diego Music Foundation. Its main program is bringing guitars to schools — ticket sales from the SDMAs go toward buying guitars from Taylor Guitars, which was founded in El Cajon.

Winners are selected by members of the public through an online voting system and the academy. Fans’ votes are worth 50%. The academy’s collective votes are also 50%.

Winners are announced at the awards ceremony Tuesday night. For more information about the ceremony and showcase, visit SDMA’s website.

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