Are Grammys Overhyped? A Closer Look on How They Are Decided

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

I still chuckle when I think back to a Thanksgiving dinner conversation I had with a family member many years ago. It’s the classic scenario – you mention that you’re a record producer in LA, and suddenly everyone is brimming with curiosity about your life!

So, when they asked me what I was up to, I casually mentioned that I was collaborating with a Grammy-winning artist in the studio. Their eyes went wide, and they exclaimed, “Wow, you must be raking in the dough!”

I had to gently explain that the band was independent and not signed, so my work was largely for the love of the craft and the promise of back-end royalties.

“But they won a Grammy, they must be rolling in it! How can they win a Grammy if they’re not super popular?” they questioned, baffled.

And that, my friends, is where the misconception lies – the glamorized perception of the Grammys to those outside the music industry. Despite other award shows selecting nominees and winners by member voting, people often assume that Grammys are handed out based on record sales and popularity.

It’s understandable, considering the industry’s focus on selling records, downloads, and in this digital age, YouTube views and streams. However, it wasn’t until I became a member of the Recording Academy that I fully understood how they whittle down the vast expanse of the music industry into specific categories.

It’s quite interesting yet also anticlimactic in ways, really. So, let’s dive in and take a closer look, shall we?

The Real Way They’re Decided

Genre Submission and Category

First things first, to toss your hat in the ring for a potential Grammy nomination, you’ll need to be a voting member of the Recording Academy. Plus, you’ll want to pick a specific genre or category for your submission. The more specific, the better your chances!

Now, let’s talk about a little loophole some folks have used, unfortunately, to the disadvantage of other artists. Take, for instance, categories like the best electronic album or best dance recording.

These used to be the domain of DJs and electronic bands, those whose music was specifically released under the electronic dance or EDM genre on platforms like iTunes or in stores.

But then, major labels and pop artists caught on. They started submitting artists like Dua Lipa and Beyoncé as electronic and dance artists. Why? Well, because these artists might have a peppy track produced by a DJ like David Guetta.

Naturally, this didn’t sit well with many electronic artists. These folks usually come from a smaller, lesser-known pool and could really use the exposure and prestige that a Grammy win offers. And the situation has only escalated over the years.

A similar thing is happening with the classical genre, where any and all instrumentals are being submitted as new age or classical, regardless of their quality or proficiency.

And let’s not forget the Latin community. They have so many acts that they’ve created the Latin Grammys – an entirely separate awards show.

But even here, we see overlap with the Grammys, with a few awards mirroring those in the Latin Grammys. It’s become quite a political affair!

Chapter Promotion

Did you know that your local Grammy chapter can greatly influence your chances of becoming a Grammy nominee? It’s a little-known side of the Grammys that not many people pay attention to. These chapters are typically located in big cities like Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville.

A recent trend that’s been causing a buzz is that many artists are volunteering and promoting their work through their local chapters to get a friendly vote on their nomination. Now, this isn’t against the rules, and it’s not exactly shady, but it’s not purely based on the merit of your music and its quality.

It’s a bit like campaigning by being active in your community. I always believed the Grammys were about musical excellence, not politics. However, in today’s world, politics seem to seep into everything, don’t they?

Nomination voting

After you’ve submitted your material, either as an artist or a label, and you’ve been accepted, you go on the long list of considerations for Grammy nominations. This is where the promotion gets crazier.

Even though most award shows have a policy against self-promotion for nominations, there are still many gray areas. What they mean is that you can’t personally call around and ask for votes from other members.

However, you can release ads in Billboard Magazine and Rolling Stone, and send mass emails and post on websites that say “for your consideration.”

Also, we know that social media is a lawless universe of shameless self-promotion. As long as you’re not directly messaging people, you can certainly post “for your consideration” material and even pay for ads that might directly influence members of the Recording Academy.

So, it’s all pretty silly in some ways, even though there are clear rules against aggressively pushing for votes. There are so many loopholes around it, that it’s kind of funny.

Final Voting

Most people believe that winning a Grammy depends on the number of records you’ve sold, the shows you’ve sold out, or whether you were the highest-grossing artist of the year.

Even stellar reviews from top-notch magazines and radio stations don’t significantly influence the outcome. Here’s the inside scoop: everything depends on individual member votes. The nominee with the most votes wins, unless….

And here’s where it gets interesting.

In 2019, a brave whistleblower, Deborah Dugan, revealed the existence of special committees that influenced the final nominations.

This revelation stirred the pot, triggering a flurry of investigations into how past awards were decided. These committees, a panel of experts, would consider the voting majority and then decide which artist truly deserved the nomination.

Shockingly, it was revealed that areas like electronic music and dance had a non-elected group of advisors making decisions instead of solely relying on votes.

Kudos to the Academy for changing things. The major awards of the year will now be determined purely by who gets the most votes.

However, I must admit, this system had its flaws. I was a member for nearly 15 years before I even heard of these committees.

This might explain why there’s often a chorus of complaints about the final nominations. One can’t help but wonder if these people were just nominating their friends.

What Does a Grammy Do for Your Career?

So, let’s circle back to our Thanksgiving dinner chat. You might wonder if Grammys doesn’t necessarily mean you’re selling an enormous number of records or racking up heaps of streams, what’s the real deal with earning a Grammy?

Well, it’s not like you’re getting a cash prize. But, believe it or not, there’s a significant boost that can come from bagging one of these awards. And, it really hinges on how much visibility you can score through the award.

The three major beneficiaries are:

The Artist

I bet many of you have noticed the interesting little quirk about the Grammys: part of it hits our TV screens, and part of it doesn’t. It’s clear that there’s a bit of a pecking order when it comes to which Grammy takes the spotlight.

But let me tell you, to an artist, seeing their name shining in bold on any nomination feels like a victory, even if the golden gramophone isn’t in their hands at the end of the day. And it’s extra special if this happens during the part that’s televised!

Here’s a fun fact you might not know: whenever there’s a category for best album – be it rock, country, pop, you name it – it isn’t just the main artist who gets to celebrate. The producer and mix engineer also get their own Grammys. As for the musicians, they receive a certificate acknowledging their contribution to a Grammy-winning album. Cool, right?

The Producer

That’s the beauty of the Grammy awards – so many talented producers rack up multiple awards because all they need to do is contribute to a Grammy-winning album and voila, they’ve got a Grammy! This allows producers to garner multiple Grammys from various artists all in a single year, while artists themselves can only nab a Grammy when they’re personally nominated or featured.

A producer earning multiple Grammys, particularly with the same album, truly highlights their exceptional skills. This not only helps them attract more clients and artists but also gives them the leverage to increase their rates.

And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t love that?

The Engineer

Engineers, much like our good friends the Producers, often find themselves automatically nominated, especially in the bigger categories.

The landscape is changing, though, and it’s all thanks to smaller setups and home recording studios. These humble setups often churn out Grammy-winning records, which is really quite amazing!

They involve a whole team of recording and mix engineers. So, as you can see, this field has become a bit more crowded over the years, but that’s just a testament to the evolution of the industry.

Potential Conflicts of Interest

Elected Members

It’s quite a surprise that individuals serving as elected chapter governors – essentially overseeing affairs in their respective cities – can be nominated for Grammy Awards. It’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it?

I remember working with an artist who snagged a nomination while he was serving as a governor of the Academy. It was all in good fun when I teased him about it because the situation was so obvious, he had the power to influence members directly!

Although he’s not exactly a salaried employee, it’s still an interesting position to be in.

This year, there are a few more in similar situations. I know them personally and, honestly, it still stuns me that this practice hasn’t been prohibited yet.

Big Money and Label Artists

It’s pretty clear that one of the reasons why the Grammys may seem a bit too hyped up is due to their focus on ratings. They’re not just about recognizing excellence in music, but also about putting on a great show for CBS and attracting as many viewers as possible for the commercials.

It’s just like any other big event, such as the Super Bowl.

Naturally, they need the biggest acts to draw in the most viewers, and many of these acts happen to be up for nominations. So, it’s not a stretch to imagine that there might be a bit of give-and-take – if your artist agrees to perform on Grammy night, it might boost their chances of winning (wink, wink).

Of course, these artists don’t get paid to perform at the Grammys, so they need to get something out of it.

Final Thoughts

While I have no qualms about the Grammys and would be thrilled to win one, it’s important to remember they aren’t the ultimate measure of musical success.

As a member of the Recording Academy, I’ve attended several award shows and can attest that they’re enjoyable. However, the Grammys often favor big-name artists, albeit with occasional unexpected choices.

The Oscars are a different story. The nominees reflect the highest caliber of talent, making it clear why they’re considered the best of the best.

Meanwhile, a Grammy win doesn’t necessarily indicate an extraordinary album. In fact, if we were to compare the Grammys to movies, some might barely pass as a decent Rom-Com.

So, while the Grammys aren’t exactly the music equivalent of the Golden Globes or Oscars, whether they’re overhyped is subjective and depends on one’s expectations about their role in celebrating the best in music.

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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