“The core of our process is the voting membership, the peers of those being honored—which is at the heart of why a Grammy means more to a musical artist than any other award on the planet.”


An exclusive HITS dialogue with Recording Academy President Neil Portnow by Roy Trakin
Hard to believe, but this will be the eighth Grammy Awards ceremony presided over by Neil Portnow since taking over as Recording Academy President in Nov. 2002. Even in the midst of a schedule made more hectic by the fact this year’s awards ceremony will take place a week earlier than usual, on Sunday (1/31), the ever-charming Mr. P takes some time from his busy day to give HITS' Roy Trakin the lowdown on what to expect at the music industry’s big night…aside from his own annual opportunity to break out his bar mitzvah tuxedo.

How much extra work was entailed by the earlier start date?
The next time you see me, I’ll be bald—all my hair will have fallen out. Actually, it’s quite a challenge. So many of the industry folks we work with are gone for the holidays, even though we work straight through. The results will be fantastic, but it’s just a little tricky.

Are you happy with the Grammy Nominations show?
It’s a way to kick off Grammy season in a fashion that involves the general public and music fans beyond the regular press conference. We reach a prime-time audience of millions on network television. We’re finding people really enjoy it, and the media would rather spend an evening seeing music in a club than get up at 6 in the morning for a press conference.

I don’t hear a whole lot of carping about the nominations this year. You must’ve done your job.|
It really comes down to the diligence and relevance of our membership. It’s a reflection of who they are, their expertise. We’ve made it our business to recruit a diverse, targeted voting body, in terms of age, gender and genre. That’s the secret.

Do you still feel competition from the American Music Awards?
In years past, that was based on the timing of the shows. But since the AMAs moved to November, we have a couple of months separating them from our show. I’m just a fan of music on television. It’s good for our industry, for musicians and for the public to be exposed to and continue to have a passion for music in that media. The ratings have been up, not only for the AMAs, but the MTV Video Music Awards, the Country Music Awards and BET. But, with all due respect, I don’t think there’s anyone that produces and delivers a music show the way we do.

There are several interactive elements to this year’s Grammys involving the audience.
For us, it’s part of a tremendous push into the world of digital and social media, because that’s certainly where the young population is living. What makes it challenging for us is the core of our process is the voting membership, the peers of those being honored—which is at the heart of why a Grammy means more to a musical artist than any other award on the planet. It’s not the result of a popular vote.

So there’s no thought to include audience tallies as part of the Grammy Awards?
It takes us away from our mission and I think it would dilute it—not only for us, but more importantly, to the recipients of the awards. That’s what separates us from the rest. We’re not the People’s Choice Awards, nor would we want to be.

I would imagine there’s a certain amount of pressure from the network to be more like American Idol.
I’m very comfortable, as is the organization, that our voting process is meaningful. What we’d like to do, without tampering with that, is to create experiences which do involve fans, consumers and the general public on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, etc. We have an iPhone app this year, a Grammy Trivia contest. Every year, we have a committee that looks into the awards process and makes recommendations how we might grow and expand. I always encourage having an open mind, not becoming set in our ways. I don’t see an audience award in our immediate future, though.

Do you secretly hope for one of those spontaneous water-cooler moments, when Kanye West storms the stage or Soy Bomb suddenly appears?
I’m a fan of water-cooler moments, but I see them as the musical performances we create that become the centerpiece of the show. Prince and Beyonce, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Elton John and Eminem… That being said, this is live television, so anything can happen and does.

There will be a Michael Jackson tribute.
We will certainly address that, as well as the current crisis in Haiti. We’ve been in touch with Wyclef Jean, and we have a good relationship, and we want to do what we can to help.

Have you written your speech yet?
I have some preliminary thoughts, but they keep changing based on events in the world. Since it’s the start of a new decade, we have some milestones to celebrate, an opportunity to look back and reflect, as we contemplate future challenges. That’s what we call “the Academy Message.”

How much longer does the Grammy deal with CBS have?
We’re about three-quarters through the current term. After this show, we’ll sit down and talk about the future. This year marks 40 years with the network. We have a great partnership and every reason to believe we will continue, but like in any business situation, it’s a matter of coming to terms. But I think the desire to do so is there on everybody’s behalf.

Is New York still a viable place to host the show in the future?
We obviously have a fantastic relationship with the Staples Center. We were a consultant on the design when it was built. That said, we still have the ability to explore our options. It’s always a fresh canvas every year. The question comes down to economics and practicality. There’s a significant financial different putting it on here, as opposed to anywhere, quite frankly. But we’ve moved around the Latin Grammys, for instance, from L.A. to Miami, New York, Las Vegas and Houston, and the energy is always great taking it to a new city.

How’s it feel just a week from the show itself?
I go into training before the holidays. This is my Olympics. If I were an athlete, which I’m not, this is how I’d get into shape.


It's the most wonderful time of the year. (12/8a)
Red and Gray, more accurately (12/8a)
...and mesmerizing. (12/8a)
Of course they do. (12/8a)
For your consideration (12/6a)
Who's likely to win in the major categories? We have no idea.
in the catalog game is...
Totally less fraudulent than Trump Corp.

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