What follows are three exchanges excerpted from Paul Grein’s revealing interview with Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow. The Q&A will appear in its entirety in HITSGrammy-focused year-end issue, out 12/21.

I’d like to ask about the committee that determines the final nominees in the top four categories. Is the committee there simply to veto a choice that might be embarrassing to the Academy, or can they go beyond that and make changes because they merely prefer one over another?
The genesis of these nominations review committees was to ensure that we would have a level of excellence that was commensurate with the organization’s reputation. Sometimes we’ve had embarrassing moments in the past. It was felt that these specialist groups would be a good overlay. Over time, we’ve found that they’ve been effective and helpful. Also, sometimes there are moments and opportunities which can be helped by the fact that they’re a smaller group with a greater focus, with a mission to have the best nominations that we can have. But we’re not working in a random world here. We’re working in a world of the voters’ opinion. It’s based on the top 20 of the voters’ opinions. To get to the top 20, that puts you in a very small percentage of the entries. We have literally hundreds of entries in those categories.

So something has to rank in the top 20 in those four categories? If something great comes in 22nd, you can’t consider it?

CBS apparently pulled the plug on the one-hour nominations special, but you seem to have a standing invitation to do a two-hour “Grammy Salutes” special every year as long as you can come up with the right artist and a good hook. Is that a fair summary?
Actually not. This gives me a chance to clarify for you and for those who read HITS. Last year, CBS didn’t have that much going on in the way of holiday specials, so we did a special celebrating the music of the season, incorporating the nominations at the end of the show. This year we got a wonderful phone call from Tina and Nancy Sinatra and the people who manage the Frank Sinatra estate. They said, “You know those shows you did on The Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston? We’d like to do something on television to honor Frank on his 100th birthday.” One of the things that was very important to Nancy and Tina was that it air in the month of Frank’s birth, which happens to be December.

So we were faced with a question. We typically have the one-hour show to kick off Grammy season in December. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to do two separate specials prior to the Grammys themselves. There is a point of diminishing returns on any brand and what you want to ask of an audience. So we decided, let’s do the Sinatra special—we’ll kick off Grammy season that way. Let’s see how that goes. If that works well, maybe we will look at the calendar a little differently. There hasn’t been a CBS cancellation of the nominations show at all. It’s just we are reconfiguring the real estate that we have on the air in the course of a year and trying to mix it up…

What’s the current Grammy philosophy about acts doing other music award shows? It used to be, “You can do other shows, but please save your Grammy song for us.” Then it was “You do that show and you can forget about doing the Grammys.” What is it now?
The fact that someone may do something on another show doesn’t mean they can’t do something with us. The reality about the timeline, though, is we’re last in the cycle. By the time you get to the first or second week of February, a lot of artists have appeared on TV a fair amount. So the challenge for us, and for them, frankly, is to do something that is different, compelling and, not to sound arrogant, but Grammy-worthy. We challenge folks to be thinking about that. A lot of artists now do that well in advance. They think ahead about what their year is going to be like: Where do they want to appear? What do they want to do when they appear? Is there something special and unique that they want to do on our stage? In many cases it works out that way, and they may not do other shows...