The 2017 GRAMMY awards show will be held this coming Sunday, February 12th at 5pm Pacific Time. Here’s how you could earn your own nomination the next time around.
The GRAMMYs stands out among a bevy of annual music awards shows due to its unique status in bestowing a ”peer-recognized” award.
The releases that win each year are nominated, judged, and ultimately rewarded by other artists who have joined The GRAMMYs’ parent organization, known as “The Recording Academy“. Believe it or not, if you work in music, it’s an organization that you can very easily join as well.
All active members of The Recording Academy can submit works for consideration. Later, voting members—who are exclusively musicians, producers, engineers and others who play creative or technical roles on current releases—vote to determine both the final nominees and the winners.
In theory, you too could win a GRAMMY award for your contributions to recorded music—even playing an active role in your own nomination or in a win for a favorite colleague. Here’s how you might do just that, complete with some case studies on strategies that have worked (and failed) for others in the past.
Qualifying to Enter
Before you can even submit music for GRAMMY consideration, you must first be a member of The Recording Academy in “good standing”, which pretty much means that you qualify for membership and are up-to-date on paying your annual dues of $100/year.
Qualifying for a basic “associate” membership is fairly simple, and is open to all sorts of music professionals. Obtaining this status alone is enough to earn you the ability to submit your new releases for consideration.
But to qualify as a voting member, you need to do a little more, namely: Show performance, production or technical credits on at least six tracks that were commercially released within the past five years. (Or, twelve tracks for “online-only” releases.)
Membership also includes benefits like access to GrammyPro.com, which hosts a digital library of career resources, as well as a social hub for regular networking events and communication with other music professionals, plus tie-ins with organizations like MusiCares, which offers health services for musicians, with a special focus on the uninsured. But the real eye-catching benefit for many is the ability to nominate, vote for—and possibly even win—a GRAMMY award.
Seattle singer Adra Boo, one half of the now-retired Fly Moon Royalty, was already a member of The Recording Academy for a few years before deciding to submit music from her group’s swan song, Delicious Trouble, for consideration in multiple categories, including “Best New Artist”.
“When you’re an artist on a record label that’s not that big, you just have to say ‘I’m going to see what happens’, and giggle. [As] a GRAMMY member I get to submit my stuff—that’s part of the membership—so I say ‘This is a good album. Let’s take advantage’, even if it only puts my music in front of just one other person who’s never heard us before.”
Boo, like many other GRAMMY hopefuls, completed the official forms found on GrammyPro.com, then mailed in physical representations of her music—a vinyl record, a flash drive containing a music video, and a CD for good measure.
“In my mind I was like ‘I just want to show them I’m serious’”, she laughs. She included a self-addressed stamped envelope, which would be mailed back to her along with a portion of her completed form to confirm her submission. “Dramatically, it almost didn’t happen,” Boo adds. “It’s mail, [and] things get lost.”
After a long back and forth with officials, Boo’s submission packet was miraculously located days before the deadline, and added to the metaphorical pile with almost 22,000 other submissions from NARAS’ 14,000-plus members.
Since then, the GRAMMYs have begun to accept digital submissions, streamlining the process further.
The Search Goes On
In the next phase of the process, NARAS’ hand-picked crew of over 350 genre experts, songwriters, producers, and musicologists screen each and every submission, asking hard-hitting questions like:
Is there actually recorded music on this thing? Are there enough tracks for it to be considered an ‘album’? Is it definitely in the right category?’
The GRAMMYs’ submission FAQ points out that this part of the process “is not to make artistic or technical judgments about the recordings, but rather to make sure that each entry is eligible and placed in its proper category.”
Perhaps the necessity of this step can be loosely traced back to one of The GRAMMYs’ more embarrassing moments in 1989, when the inaugural GRAMMY for “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance” was given to Jethro Tull—in all their flute-playing, non-metal glory—over a group of young upstarts named “Metallica”.
When all submissions are deemed to be legitimate and in their right place, the voting members get their first crack at the first ballot, including all 20,000-plus eligible submissions. Adra Boo estimates seeing at least 150 other submissions along with her music in just one of the categories.
Members are directed to stick to their “areas and genres of expertise” in nominating, but beyond that directive, the only rule is a limit on number of votes: Each member can vote in up to 15 categories in the genre fields, as well as all four categories of the General Field: “Record Of The Year”, “Album Of The Year”, “Song Of The Year” and “Best New Artist”.
Nominations to certain categories like “Engineering” and “Album Notes”, are not voted on by the general pool of voters, but rather by highly specialized “craft committees”, who are themselves nominated by GRAMMY chapters around the country.
On the final ballot, members are given the official nominees in each category, including the craft committee nominees. They’re again given 15 genre field votes and 4 main category votes and told to stay their lane when deciding who should get what hardware. Results are tabulated independently by accounting firm Deloitte and announced live on-air at The GRAMMY Awards.
So What Are My Chances?
Democracy can be messy. Different numbers in the same set of data can tell completely different stories. If you’re submitting in one of the four general field categories, what percentage of 20,000 other submissions are you likely to be directly up against?
Conversely, what if you had submitted back in 2006 to the now defunct “Polka” category, which at the time had less than two dozen eligible submissions? What percentage of The GRAMMYs’ membership will you appeal to?
Demographic data for The Recording Academy’s membership is hard to come by, but it is said to skew older, and this is where The GRAMMYs receive an oft-repeated criticism. An older voting bloc, the thinking goes, has a familiarity bias that lends towards valuing big names and past achievements while neglecting new and unheralded artists.
In addition, The GRAMMYs can’t enforce the ‘vote what you know’ advice they give voters. (Adra Boo admits that some of her final votes were influenced by her daughter’s tastes.) A voter may not listen to reggae at all, but if they see the name “Marley” in the category, or see that good old Snoop Lion is trying his hand at the genre, they may be more inclined to vote for one of them, rather than a potentially more-deserving but lesser-known artist.