The Dave Matthews Band will not be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. This piece of news, announced on Wednesday morning with the full list of inductees, might not shock you. After all, there’s a long list of worthy acts who have been snubbed by the institution, and many of them are from the ’70s and ’80s (and even some stragglers from before then). In what world would it now be DMB’s turn? Even if you’re just considering eligible artists from the ’90s who aren’t in the Hall, are they really more vital than, say, Beck, Outkast, or Smashing Pumpkins? It’s these reasons that their inclusion on the nominee list was unexpected in the first place.
But if you’re a Dave fan, you might be confused by their omission. The band won the Hall’s Fan Vote by a large margin. That’s because they took an active role in the process, using their mailing list and social media to encourage their fans to vote on a daily basis. DMB fans are among music’s most passionate (and maybe even a little rabid) so of course they showed up in droves. The band won with around 1 million total votes, leading the second-place finisher, Pan Benatar, by more than 100,000. So what gives? Does the Fan Vote not matter?
The answer is … no, not really. The top five vote-getters in the Fan Vote comprise one “fan ballot,” which is counted as just one among a thousand other ballots. Those ballots are filled out by members of the actual voting body, which includes music journalists and other industry insiders, along with every living person who’s been inducted. So, more than 8 million fans cast their votes online under the impression that they’re having their voice heard, but really it’s just for about one-tenth of one percent of the total vote.
But the Rock Hall Fan Vote has existed since 2012 and has always operated this way. So why is this suddenly a big deal? It’s significant because up until now, the top vote-getter every year has always subsequently been inducted. There have been zero exceptions, so it’s easy to see how this could be misinterpreted as cause and effect and not just correlation. But if you analyze the previous Fan Vote winners (Rush, Kiss, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Chicago, Journey, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard) a different pattern emerges. Specifically, these are all classic-rock acts that had been overlooked by the Hall for many years. It’s this distinction, and not the Fan Vote showing, that’s likely the real reason for their induction. Dave Matthews Band is firmly not in this group; they’re after the classic-rock era and this is only their second year of eligibility.
This must hurt for DMB fans. They invested all that time for nothing. The possibility of their induction was tantalizingly dangled in front of them, then taken away. The Hall seemingly created the Fan Vote as a PR move to endear itself to a public that was highly skeptical of the institution. Your favorites aren’t in? Vote for them and change that! It worked for seven years, but this year’s result is bound to have the opposite effect. The Rock Hall has just made itself an army of new enemies.
So how does the Rock Hall proceed from here? If it puts Dave on the ballot again next year, it’s potentially setting itself up for a repeat scenario. That’s not a great narrative for the Hall. “Yeah, every year the fans vote for DMB, and then they don’t get in.” This is directly at odds with why it originally set up the Fan Vote. The other move is to keep them off the ballot for a few years, which is also not great for the Hall, optically. “Hey, remember how the fans wanted DMB inducted and then they disappeared from the ballot for a decade?” It’s a tricky position it’s put itself in. This could end up being one of the only times when the public’s general ambivalence toward the Hall actually benefits it. People can’t get that up in arms if they’re barely paying attention to you anyway.
Comedian Joe Kwaczala is the co-host of the podcast Who Cares About the Rock Hall?, along with comedian Kristen Studard.