Recording Academy Restructuring and Bluegrass
(This is an article originally posted on The AcoustiCana Journal)
The Recording Academy recently held their annual Nashville Chapter GRAMMY 101 educational event at the Hutton Hotel in downtown Nashville, TN on Monday April 18th. The event has gotten a heightened amount of attention due to the recent changes in The Recording Academy Awards Categories (details of the restructuring can be read at the official “micro” site), which limit the number of categories from 109 to 78. The meeting was moderated by Recording Academy President and CEO, Neil Portnow, and presided over by Vice President of Awards, Bill Freimuth.
I personally attended the meeting to understand the recent changes and how they affect the representation of bluegrass in the most prestigious and only peer-recognized award. My concern, of course, was primarily the elimination or grouping of two Categories that featured bluegrass music – “Best Country Instrumental Performance” and “Best Southern, Country Or Bluegrass Gospel Album.”
Before the conference began I was able to speak with IBMA Executive Director, Dan Hays, about the recent Recording Academy changes and their affect within the bluegrass community. He had an interesting point to make about the involvement of the bluegrass community in the Recording Academy.
“A good number of artists, labels, and other industry professionals within bluegrass (including IBMA) are very active within the Recording Academy, but there could and should be considerably more. I expect at least some in our community choose not to be involved because of their perceptions of who the nominees and the recipients of the awards are. Some of those concerns may be valid and in some cases it’s simply a lack of understanding of how the processes work within the Recording Academy. We need to be actively involved if we want to make a case for change or to have an impact on who the nominees and recipients are.”
This was the very reason why Recording Academy Members and non-members were gathered at this event to better understand the changes and have their questions answered. One of these professionals immediately caught my attention during the Q&A session with a statement that summed up the sentiments I believe are shared among many in the realm of bluegrass instrumentalists. Dave Pomeroy, bassist and President of the Nashville Musicians Association, made the following statement. “The removal of the ‘Best Country Instrumental Performance’ Category has led some instrumentalists to feel a little disenfranchised by the Academy.” It was in this Category that many of our talented bluegrass counterparts got to shine in a mainstream Field. This was a disheartening change especially since the pop Field continues to hold an instrumental Category (also addressed by Pomeroy). Vice President of Awards, Bill Freimuth, responded by stating that the “Best Bluegrass Album” category does not distinguish between vocal and instrumental entries and that “Best Country Instrumental Performance” stopped accepting bluegrass entries as of three years ago. Which is a hard fact to swallow considering that four out of five of the last nominees in this Category would be considered “bluegrass” artists by most.
I was fortunate to have a conversation about this with two time “Best Country Instrumental Performance” Nominee, Cia Cherryholmes. She stated that, “Bluegrass artists will now be limited to the one Category (Best Bluegrass Album) specifically set aside for them, unlike in the past where there was the opportunity to compete in several Fields.”
Besides this segregation of bluegrass to one Category, there is also a smaller group of Categories in the country Field creating a far larger pool of artists submitting for nominations. I do not expect to see another bluegrass nomination in the country Field such as our friends Dailey & Vincent to happen for a good while.
Similarly, the complete overhaul of the Gospel/Contemporary Christian Field also leaves bluegrass entries lacking a place to “shine.” Its Category(which was already merged with southern and country gospel) has been merged once again with “Best Rock Or Rap Gospel Album” and “Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album” into an all-new Category called “Best Contemporary Christian Album.” Here again, the problem is that there is a much larger pool of music being grouped together in an almost incomparable Category. How do you compare rap gospel with bluegrass gospel? Just saying…
I would like to offer my summary of the discussion at Nashville’s GRAMMY 101 meeting and offer a few suggestions to which I will follow up with a series of pieces that are GRAMMY related. You can follow them atThe AcoustiCana Journal website under “Editorials.” Some of the topics will include the nomination process, and suggesting changes to the Awards & Nomination Committee.
- The Recording Academy takes the stand, as stated by Vice President of Awards, Bill Freimuth, that “every entry has a home.” Not one change in the structure eliminates any entry from being taken in the awards process. There is actually a category mapper that will allow you to find where your entry should be placed in the current configuration.
- The Recording Academy Awards has experienced a lot of changes. It began with only 28 Categories and grew to 109 in just over half a decade. They state that these additions have been “approached one Category at a time, without a comprehensive vision guiding this growth.” That is why the Recording Academy has decided to realign their entire awards process for uniformity within the Fields and to assure that the GRAMMY will remain a “rare and distinct honor” in the music community. It is music’s most prestigious and only peer-recognized award.
- The Awards & Nominations Committee spent over a year evaluating each Category to develop the new structure, but they continue to review changes every year. Vice President of Awards Bill Freimuth was clear in saying that if enough suggestions were brought to his attention for a Category change then he would submit it to the Awards & Nominations Committee for consideration the following year.
- There were a record amount of almost 20,000 entries to the 53rd GRAMMY awards. Despite that amount, some Categories suffer from a lack of entries. A new set of rules have been developed to maintain that a qualified pool of entries are available for each Category. The new rules stipulate that:
- Each Category must have a total of 40 entries or more.
- Should a Category fall in the range of 25 – 39 entries, only three recordings will be given nominations.
- Should a Category fall under 25 entries, the Category will not be presented that year and the entries will be moved to the next most logical Category.
- If a Category falls under 25 entries for three consecutive years, the Category will be eliminated.
While it would seem that these changes are bad for the bluegrass community, I think it means good things for us. This is an opportunity for our professionals and artists to step up to the challenge of taking bluegrass to the mainstream. I know that those words are almost blasphemous to some, but there is a way to do this without compromising its integrity. There is a brand new audience of listeners out there that really appreciate the music. I have seen it happen first hand. They often research it, discover its “bloodlines,” and become fans of many other groups just from one exposure. Part of this will happen when the bluegrass community participates in more ways with the Recording Academy.
My next article will contain information about submitting suggestions for changes in the Awards Categories. This is part of a discussion I had with Dave Pomeroy. Please continue to follow my GRAMMY related articles at The AcoustiCana Journal website under “Editorials.”
About the Author:
Co-Founder of The AcoustiCana Journal, At the age of 16, Matthew started his own website design company and formed various successful regional Bluegrass bands. 10 years later he has a GRAMMY nomination under his belt and owns a successful marketing company called Blu Wav. He spends most weekends on the road with his band, Monroeville, and every second at home with his growing family…. Read More