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THE RECORDING ACADEMY: A LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN

The following is part of our ongoing effort to explore the inner workings of the Recording Academy.

 We should note at the outset that our hope is for the Academy to flourish, to overcome its current obstacles and expand its reach. We acknowledge the dedication of its members and particularly admire such philanthropic enterprises as MusiCares (which has provided some $58m in aid to music people in need since its inception, according to inside sources at the Academy) and Grammy education outreach. The Grammy itself, of course, remains the most important, coveted laurel in music—and a key benchmark of success and esteem.

Still, for an institution that’s supposed to represent our industry—responsible for Music’s Biggest Night and most important awards—the Academy has shown a marked lack of transparency. We’ve encountered considerable difficulty getting clear answers to certain fundamental questions about how it operates. We attribute this not to resistance from any particular person (the staffers we’ve queried have been cordial) but to a reluctance to expose its membership and operations. A veil of secrecy appears to be endemic to the organization. But what drives this resistance to scrutiny?

The biggest issue other than diversity is unquestionably the secret Grammy committee. Everyone in the business wants to know how the sausage is made, but we’ve been unable to establish—despite multiple inquries—who’s in the room when nominations are decided, not to mention how the final vote is handled and whether Deloitte Touche actually certifies the results.

Some insiders say the secret committee remains secret because members fear “taking the heat” over their choices. This is an unsatisfactory reason; consider the college football and basketball playoffs, which appoint a group of decision-makers who are publicly known—and who explain their decisions transparently. We assume this brings more heat than even the Grammys and their secret committee. And what’s wrong with taking a little heat for something that’s so important to the entire music business? Surely, in 2018, it shouldn’t be hard to find music professionals able to withstand such pressure.

A VEIL OF SECRECY APPEARS TO BE ENDEMIC TO THE ORGANIZATION. 

Furthermore, the Recording Academy’s reputation has increasingly been affected by a perception that it’s out of touch—that it has failed to bring in new members and to involve those who are working in the most vibrant sectors of the current music marketplace. That disconnect has already had troubling ramifications. Last year, Drake declined to submit his massive More Life set for Grammy consideration. When Kendrick Lamar was awarded a Pulitzer Prize last week, New Yorker writer Doreen St. Félix wrote, “I did not expect the Pulitzers to be what finally proved the Grammys irrelevant.”

The Motion Picture Academy recently embarked on a worldwide campaign to increase voting member-ship and diversity, adding 774 industry professionals to its ranks; perhaps this could serve as a model.

Meanwhile, we’ve been trying to confirm rules for qualification and re-qualification of Grammy voting members, to no avail.

That the Recording Academy recognized the need for change became clear when—in the wake of the Neil Portnow “step up” flap and the subsequent storm of protest from prominent industry figures, many of them women—Tina Tchen was appointed to lead a task force with a wide-ranging brief. Who will sit on this group? How is that being decided? How will it address the secret committee and other aspects of the awards process, if at all? We await answers on that front as well. 

In any case, it seems obvious that the wider music business needs to know this organization better. So let’s take a preliminary look at what we’ve gleaned about the Academy by meeting a group of trustee officers and trustees

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