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"Every year, I look at the Grammy Awards show as a fresh canvas on which to paint."

PORTNOW ON GRAMMY
NOMS SPECIAL

Don't Expect to See His High School Band the Savages
Recording Academy ruler Neil Portnow took some time out from steam-cleaning his tuxedo for Grammy Awards season to give us the lowdown on this year's Grammy Nominations Concert Live!!, which airs a week from Wednesday (Dec. 5) on CBS at 10 p.m. The show, co-hosted by producer LL Cool J and Taylor Swift, will be held, for the first time, at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.

Is it a challenge to book the Grammy Nominations show without giving away what the actual nominations will be?
While, of course, everyone is excited to learn about the actual nominations, we see this show as a celebration of music as well as an opportunity for music lovers and fans to experience artistry and some of the most talented artists in music that we present during this prime-time television event. So most artists enjoy the honor of being asked to participate, even though we never know in advance who will receive nominations. Since the Grammy is a peer-recognized award and is not based on popularity or record sales, it is ultimately up to our savvy voting membership to make those very important and meaningful decisions, which get revealed that night. 

What went into the decision to hold the event for the first time in Nashville?
We’ve successfully held the Grammy Nominations Concert Special in Los Angeles since its inception five years ago. But in our constant search for new, different and exciting ways to operate our Academy, we thought we could continue to change and freshen things up this year. And because our new contract with CBS last year includes the production of this show annually for the next decade, it made sense to think about how we might accomplish that. At the same time, we’ve had discussions with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Mayor’s office over time about their desire to bring Grammy-branded projects to that amazing city, as well as their interest in broadening the perception of Nashville beyond being the home of country music to the more accurate moniker of “Music City.” Once we all explored our mutual interests and opportunities, we were really delighted to find the common ground in order to take The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! to Nashville on Dec. 5.

How do you differentiate the Nominations program from the Awards show itself?
The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! really has become the “official” kick-off of Grammy season every year. Nominations are revealed, our annual Grammy ad campaign is revealed, and the next two months becomes a build-up for the Grammy Awards telecast, this year on Sunday, Feb, 10, 8 p.m., on CBS. Who will perform, what will they perform, what surprises and memorable moments will the show bring this year? The Awards show, of course, is the culmination of that anticipation and excitement, and it’s especially exciting in a year like this, where it seems like a wide-open field.

How did LL Cool J become involved as one of the show’s producers?
We’ve had the incredible good fortune and pleasure to have been able to work with LL since the inception of this project, and over the years he’s really become a close part of our Grammy family. And to his credit, and to our benefit, he’s taken his involvement extremely seriously; far beyond what one might expect from an artist essentially hired to serve as a host for a project such as ours. Because of his commitment and deep involvement in our work and his numerous contributions to the show, we all felt it was appropriate and a well-earned title. 

This year, you’re also doing a Grammy tribute to Whitney Houston, which was taped last month and aired Nov. 16. Does your deal with CBS involve other special shows like this?
When we signed the 10-year landmark deal for The Annual Grammy Awards with CBS in 2011, it was important to The Academy that we find opportunities over that term to present more Grammy-branded programming on-air for the benefit of our own franchise, but equally for the benefit of music fans who have become accustomed to the kind of excellence they’ve come to expect from us. So, in addition to producing what is now the annual The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!!, we’ll be developing and producing a variety of “specials” over the next 10 years; The Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston: We Will Always Love You was the first of those projects.

How has Hurricane Sandy impacted your preparations for the Nominations show? How will MusiCares’ relief efforts be highlighted?
Fortunately, the devastation from the effects of Hurricane Sandy hasn’t affected our work on the upcoming Nominations show. But it certainly has had a dramatic and life-changing impact and effect on so many people, many of whom are our colleagues and comrades in the world of music. Like we’ve done in the past—and unfortunately, we’ve become experts at handling these kinds of disasters from our experience with Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf, and the floods in Nashville—we’ve established the MusiCares Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund and deployed our amazing staff to help music people with a number of needs, including shelter, food, utilities and transportation; medical expenses including doctor, dentist and hospital bills, and medications; clothing; instrument and recording equipment replacement; relocations costs; home repairs; debris removal; and more. We’re incredibly proud of this vital and critical work that we do in order to offer help and hope to our creative community.

Does the fact Maroon 5 will be performing after the show tell us something about their Grammy chances?
One of the elements of The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! that we’ve been able to create as an “add-on” to the live show experience for our audience in the venue is an additional concert which follows the one-hour broadcast. Each year that we’ve done this, we’ve sought out an artist that offers a fun and exciting complement to the show that we produce. However, the selection isn’t at all connected with the nominations or a guarantee of receiving one, as we don’t have those results at the time of the booking. This year, we’re pleased that Maroon 5 will be performing and we expect that they will provide our live audience with an exclusive, exciting concert.

Are any themes emerging for this year’s Grammy telecast? Can we assume that there will continue to be the concept of “pairings” and “magic moments"?
Every year, I look at the Grammy Awards show as a fresh canvas on which to paint. That gives us the ability to tap into all of the great creativity that comes from the Academy and our producers each year, and I’d expect this one to keep the bar high and up to expectations. And of course, we typically wait to get into the most serious planning for the show until after the nominations are announced, so we have a better sense of what might be most appropriate and exciting to present on music’s biggest night. It goes without saying however, that our highly anticipated unique pairings and special Grammy moments will be an integral and special part of the telecast.

How are you working with the record companies to turn the Nominations process into retail gains over the two-month build-up to the Grammy Awards themselves?
Frankly, we don’t work directly with record labels during this period in that capacity. However, we do work closely with whichever company is distributing our annual Grammy Nominations CD each year. This project has raised literally millions of dollars for our Academy charities, The Grammy Foundation and MusiCares, and we’ve achieved our highest chart positions and great sales over these past few years. That said, the massive publicity, marketing campaigns and awareness generated by the Academy, including our network partners at CBS, our award-winning tune-in campaigns developed by Chiat/Day, and our record-breaking new-media strategies all provide great opportunities and windows for all those in our industry who can benefit from the exposure and focus on music that Grammy season provides.

Will this be the year we finally get a reunion of your old band, The Savages?
Yes…we may reunite on the pre-telecast, or in the men’s room.

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