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THE RECORDING ACADEMY’S BOMBSHELL MEMBERSHIP CHANGE

It happened again on Monday night. The “safe,” establishment candidate—Taylor Swift’s 1989—beat the hipper, more adventurous choice—Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly—to take the Grammy for Album of the Year.

This has been a recurring storyline at the Grammys since 1966, when a two-disk recap of Frank Sinatra’s past triumphs, A Man and His Music, beat The Beatles’ Revolver.

But a major rule change regarding membership at the Recording Academy increases the odds that in the future the hipper choice may actually win.

The Academy hasn’t officially announced the change yet, but Neil Portnow “let it slip” in a HITS Q&A I conducted one week before the Grammys.

I asked him about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ recent announcement that it is limiting membership to a 10-year term. That membership is renewable under various scenarios, but is no longer guaranteed for life. I then asked, “Are you looking at an idea like that?”

Here’s his response: “We’ve done in this past year a requalification piece, so if you’re a member and you’re about to renew, you will have to go through a requalification submission of the application. To the extent that you meet those requirements and you’re current and actually a practicing member of the industry, you can continue to have the ability to be a voting member. If not, you can continue as an associate member, but not voting, so that’s a big step in keeping the current membership relevant.”

The Academy hasn’t officially announced the change yet,
but Neil Portnow “let it slip” in a
HITS Q&A I conducted
one week before the Grammys.

When I pressed him for additional details, he suggested I get in touch with other Academy officials. When I did, I got an email with this official statement. It’s bland, as official statements invariably are, but it contains a key detail: “Periodically, the Academy requests its members to submit updated profession credentials. As the recording industry continues to evolve, we want to ensure our member records reflect their current roles in the industry. Member records need to be updated to reflect new voting categories (voting members only), professional affiliations and primary genre. If members do not proactively update their accounts with us, we will reach out to them directly at least once within every five years of their membership. If someone no longer works in the recording industry professionally, they will not be eligible to renew their membership after their current membership expires.”

I believe this statement contains a slight gaffe near the end. It should say, “If someone no longer works in the industry professionally, they will not be eligible to renew their voting membership, but they can continue as an associate (non-voting) member.” That’s in line with what Neil said in the above quote.

In the past, you needed six credits to join the Recording Academy. A vocalist needed to perform on six released tracks. An album-notes writer needed to write the notes for six released albums. And so on, for all types of music professionals. Those six credits used to gain you membership for life (pending paying of annual dues). Now, as I understand this change, those six credits gain you membership for five years, after which you have to supply evidence of (presumably) six new credits from the past five years.

So the Recording Academy will check to see that its members are still currently working in the industry every five years. That’s even more aggressive than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which will check every 10 years.

The Motion Picture Academy announced several changes on Jan. 22, the day after a meeting of its Board of Governors. Here’s the paragraph that pertains to membership renewals:

“Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years, they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars.”

It’s interesting that the Motion Picture Academy announced this and other changes (to increase the diversity of its membership and its nominees) with great fanfare, while the Recording Academy “let it slip” in a Q&A in Hits. I can only assume that the Recording Academy will provide more details later this year, perhaps as part of its annual statement about changes in its awards structure (new categories, category changes, etc.)

I get the sense that the Recording Academy is still working out some of those details.

But as faithful HITS readers, you know what’s coming.

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