Every year, people watch the Grammy Awards and wonder about the process, and how certain artists win, some over and over. In the process of submitting my material to this competition, I learned a lot about how this and other merit-based awards are chosen, and about our industry in general.
Record labels or “media companies” can submit products to the Grammys if they are distributed nationwide, are on a physical CD, and if the label is registered with the Recording Academy. I was able to register my (really) small independent label, Rhombic Records, with little difficulty. You don’t need to be a member of the Academy to do this. My recording, “Fromage,” was submitted in this way.
The “nationally available” requirement used to be a major obstacle in the days of the major labels, because they controlled shelf space in retail outlets. Now that music is sold primarily online, having it on Amazon, CDbaby or some other retailer will suffice. While selling your music on your own site doesn’t disqualify you, it can’t be the only way the recording is available.
I have no information about how many submissions are rejected based on “shady” or less-than-national distribution, but my CD being on CDbaby and Amazon was sufficient for my recording to be accepted. (I used the distribution bundle from Discmakers to accomplish this.)
Recordings can also be submitted by members of the Recording Academy, to which I belong. To qualify as a voting member, you need six credits on national releases. As far as I can tell, The Academy uses allmusic.com to verify these. The Academy states that label and member submissions are treated equally, and that if a recording is submitted more than once, it still counts as a single submission.
The submissions are screened by “expert” committees across the country, and you will be expected to furnish a number of CDs for these listeners. When sending in my recording, I ended up mailing about 20 discs for the various categories. The Academy states that this screening is not an artistic evaluation, but rather a process of making sure recordings are in the proper category. The screeners can disqualify or move a recording to another category.
My product got put in the “Best Jazz Recording” category rather than the “Large Ensemble Jazz” bin. This decision was made by the screeners; this distinction is somewhat subjective, based on “big-band sound,” not on a specific number of players.
Yes, the screening committee members do get free CDs. I have known a number of people who ended up with stacks of discs due to this. Many of these discs end up in garage sales or used CD stores.
All the submissions that get approved will appear on the first-round ballot; mine appeared in 5 categories. The candidates in each category appear in an online list available to Academy members, each with a number. The ballot is an actual paper form which gets mailed out, with spaces to fill in the numbers. Members are given between 2 and 3 weeks to review the submissions and mail back the ballot.
Members are not allowed to talk about what is on the ballot, nor are they supposed to vote based on anything but artistic merit. Without revealing anything confidential, I can say that in the largest, most important category, there were upwards of 800 submissions. All but a couple categories had several hundred entries. Members are not allowed to vote in every category, since one would assume they wouldn’t be familiar with all of them; however, everybody can vote in the “major” areas.
Voters are not provided with free recordings; they have to listen in the same way as the general public, at their own expense.
The Final Ballot comes out in December, and the five nominees in each category will appear. These votes determine the winners, which are revealed at the Grammy Awards show in February. Supposedly, nobody knows who the winners are until that day.
Next time, we will examine the nature of this process, and how it leads to certain results.