The first thing to know is that it’s an honor just to be nominated. Really. Winning a GRAMMY is completely independent of an artists’ record sales or chart position. Of course, if you’re sitting atop the Billboard 200 for weeks on end, there’s a good chance that your record is actually good.
So the first step to winning a metal gramophone is to get in good with the voting body, which is made up of all GRAMMY members and labels. They’re the ones who vote on which submissions become nominees. More than 20,000 albums are submitted to the The Recording Academy every year, and only a handful actually take home hardware.
It’s not only top artists and producers who have the honor of voting. But it’s also not every dude who works in the industry either. You must apply to be a Voting Member, and in order to be eligible you must have released a commercial recording in the U.S. (either in stores or “recognized” online music retailers). Not only that, but the album also has to have a certain number of tracks, it has to currently be available and it has to have documented liner notes (or the online equivalent).
If you’ve been nominated for a GRAMMY in the previous five years, don’t worry, you qualify.
If you don’t have any of that, you can get sponsored by two Voting Members. Once you have their nod, you have to back up your worthiness by submitting every album, promotional material, street team member, local news profile and that tiny blurb you scored in AP. Then it’s in the hands of the gods. Or Member Services.
You have a chance to submit in two different rounds. For this awards season, the first was open for releases from October 1, 2013 through July 31, 2014. The second round was for all albums released between August 1, 2014 and September 30, 2014.
Once you become one of the 20,000 submitted pieces of audible genius, your music (or album art, or spoken word or numerous technical achievements) is sorted by a panel of 150 experts who determine what field your art belongs in. Is it R&B or rap? Classical or country? Latin or jazz (but not Latin Jazz)?
GUIDE TO THE CATEGORIES
There are 30 fields and 83 categories. (Winners of 70 of these categories are announced during the non-televised Pre-Telecast Awards.) The fields are made up of the broad genres: Rock, Alternative, Pop, Rap, R&B, etc. Those fields are then broken down into smaller categories. Take Rap, for example. Within the genre there are four categories. Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
THE BIG FOUR
These are the major categories you wait all night for and have been presented since the first GRAMMYs in 1959: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. Throwing out Best New Artist for a minute—because that’s least like the others—Record, Song, and Album can be broken down thusly:
- Record of the Year recognizes every aspect of the recording of a single song—from the performer to the engineers to the guy playing the triangle.
- Song of the Year recognizes the songwriter of the song.
- Album of the Year is all about—ding, ding, ding, you guessed it—the album. It also recognizes the artist, producer, recording engineer and mixer.
Dave Hogan/Getty Images
Gregg DeGuire/WireImage for NARAS
SGranitz/WireImage for The Recording Academy
Gregg DeGuire/WireImage for The Recording Academy
Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
WHAT IS A BEST “NEW” ARTIST?
So, it’s not a “you’ve never heard of them” artist, but rather it’s an artist who that year “first establishes the public identity of that artist or established group” as a performer. The loophole is that you can have been featured as a performer on a GRAMMY nominated album or single and still qualify, as long as you didn’t release a solo album yet. Which means Kanye West could be making beats for Jay Z, but until he released “The College Dropout,” he wasn’t a “performer.” Or, like last year, Ed Sheeran was a Best New Artist, even though the previous year he was up for songwriting—technically he was still eligible.
Once all the submissions are in and categorized, a first round ballot goes out that narrows all the candidates down to just five per category. Congratulations! You've just been nominated!
Then the final ballot is mailed in early December. Only those who are experts in their genres will vote. Voting Members may vote in up to 20 categories within their genre. And anyone can vote for the General Field, which includes the Big Four.
Once all the ballots are in, they’re counted by the accountants at Deloitte—y’know the guys with the briefcases chained to their hands. The first time that anyone (besides the nerds at Deloitte) knows who won is when they open the envelope live on international television.
That's when you find out that you just won a GRAMMY.