Grammys Make Sweeping Changes To Voting Criteria

A slew of changes to the rules and procedures governing the Grammy Awards could curb fraud, boost songwriters’ profiles, increase voting participation from touring musicians and young voters, and help shift races such as the best rap music from popularity contests to competitions that focus on the music itself, Recording Academy SVP of awards Bill Freimuth tells Billboard.

The changes, effective this year, include allowing the Academy’s 13,000 members to vote online, which Freimuth says will prevent voters from filling out their ballots incorrectly, voting in “blocks” to boost a nominee and bring in younger voters. “When I met younger voters and talked about the ballots going out in the U.S. mail, I got eye-rolls and sighs,” Freimuth said, adding that online voting -- which has already proven successful for the Latin Grammys - will allow voters on tour to weigh in. “It was frustrating for us to lose a segment of voters because they were on the road.”

Songwriters credited with at least one-third of playing time on the album of the year will win their own Grammys, a policy Freimuth said there was no reason the organization didn’t implement earlier. In addition, “nomination review” committees will be set up to vet the nominations for rap, contemporary instrumental, and new-age music, all of which Freimuth said came about at the request of the genre communities themselves.

Fifteen other categories - including album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist  - already have such committees, which Freimuth said can help “override the popular vote to focus on what is really the best,” regardless of age, fame or marketing budget. Freimuth said professionals from the rap world had been meeting regularly via conference call in recent years and had grown concerned that “most of people being nominated were the big names.”

“While they certainly are not saying that those people at times shouldn’t be deserving, maybe not absolutely everything they do is Grammy worthy,” Freimuth said. Meanwhile, the Academy expanded the definition of an album to include albums with just a single track, killing the previous five-track-minimum. While the old rule would have precluded many classical, jazz and dance albums from qualification, Freimuth said the academy had been making exceptions to skirt the rule, anyway.

“We don’t usually like to do that,” Freimuth said.

Below are the changes, as listed by the Academy:

Grammy Awards Voting Will Now Be Online
For the first time, voting members will cast their Grammy Awards votes online rather than by paper ballot. This transition will provide greater flexibility for touring artists, eliminate the possibility of invalid ballots, and protect further against fraudulent voting. All voting members in good standing will be eligible to vote online in both rounds for the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

Songwriters Now Recognized In Album Of The Year
Moving forward, all music creators (songwriters, producers, engineers, mixers, mastering engineers, featured artists) credited with at least 33 percent or more playing time on the winning album will be eligible to receive a Grammy in the Album Of The Year category. Previously, songwriters were not recognized in this category.

Nominations Review Committees Established For Rap, Contemporary Instrumental, And New Age Fields
Beginning this year, Nominations Review Committees will be created and implemented for the Rap, Contemporary Instrumental, and New Age Fields. A Nominations Review process was established in 1989 as an additional round of checks and balances to eliminate the potential for a popularity bias that puts emerging artists, independent music, and late-year releases at a disadvantage. Since then, Nominations Review Committees have been established across 15 awards fields.  

Album Definition Expanded To Allow For More Inclusion In Classical, Dance, And Jazz Fields
To be eligible for Grammy consideration, an album must comprise a minimum total playing time of 15 minutes with at least five distinct tracks or a minimum total playing time of 30 minutes with no minimum track requirement. Prior to this amended album definition, the only delineation was 15 minutes and five tracks. The definition expansion allows for greater inclusion of music creators who produce longer pieces, particularly in the Classical, Dance, and Jazz Fields. 

Amendments To The Music For Visual Media Field 
As a general rule, only one version of a track is permitted for entry in the GRAMMY Awards process. Moving forward, an exception will be made in the Best Song Written For Visual Media category, allowing the film version of a track to be entered in the category, even if a different version of the track is submitted in other categories. In the Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media category, eligibility guidelines have been amended to require soundtrack albums for a documentary or biopic to contain 51 percent or more of newly recorded music.

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