The Recording Academy's vice-president of awards, Bill Freimuth, came to D.C. on Friday, for a "Grammy Awards 101" education session. During the event, organized by the D.C. chapter of the Recording Academy and held at the National Press Club, Freimuth assured a room full of area artists and other music industry insiders that recent changes to the Grammy categories wouldn't take them out of the running for the awards.
On April 6, the Recording Academy announced that, beginning with the 54th annual Grammys, it would cut 31 categories (down to 78 from 109) and require a minimum of 40 distinct artist entries per category, up from 25 (categories that do not fetch enough entries will be places on hiatus; after three years on hiatus, the category would be discontinued).
“We felt like we were on a path that, in ten years, we’d have 199 categories, and start watering down the value of the Grammy," Freimuth said. He added that the changes, which he said have been in the works for more than two years, were made as a way of “ensuring the Grammy remains a rare, distinct honor.”
Since the restructuring was announced earlier this month, some independent artists have expressed concern that fewer categories, and more entries per category, could diminish their chances of scoring a nomination or award. In a recent piece in the Washington City Paper, Jonathan Fischer noted that many of the categories cut were ones that D.C. area artists, both independent and major label-affiliated, have historically done well in, and wondered how they would fare with fewer, more crowded genre races.
Freimuth, along with D.C. Chapter executive director Shannon Emamali and president Kurosh Nasseri, addressed many of those concerns.
"Every single eligible recording will continue to have a home." Freimuth assured the crowd. "It just might be a different home." He also encouraged everyone to use the Grammys category mapper tool, which allows Recording Academy members to figure out which categories their submissions belong in according to the new guidelines.
Freimuth, in addition to explaining, probably for the millionth time, the difference between "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year," and speaking at length about the Grammy process, dispelled some of the rumors surrounding the changes.
“People ask if this is in response to the Steve Stoute letter—no, we’ve been working on this for two years," he said. "People ask if this came from the labels—no.”
He also noted that independent artists have fared better in recent Grammy races than they ever have before.
“People always ask me, 'How does an independent artist stand a chance when faced with the money and marketing of a major label?' I point to Esperanza [Spalding], to Arcade Fire, and even to Justin Bieber," Freimuth said. "He started out as an internet phenomenon…everybody is an independent artist at some point.
“In the last three years, more than half of the nominations and awards have gone to independent artists and in the last three years, 'Artist of the Year' has gone to independent artists." Freimuth continued. "People read about the changes and think it’s designed to favor major labels, or that we’re in cahoots with major labels, and it’s just not true."