What does it take to win the Grammy? Would you ever imagine that you would work your whole life, sacrifice every waking moment, every holiday, sometimes even relationships for practice and perfection of your craft, to achieve the highest honor of your industry? The most coveted five pounds four-ounce prize.
In today’s music industry, the music industry of streaming and leasing, and the place where major labels still have a home but independents have scalable sustainability me ask the question, do we now live in a time where winning a Grammy is no longer just for the major label artist and familiar radio-friendly performers?
Well, the answer is yes. But hold on, it might not exactly be why you think.
First, here is a brief history lesson of the prestigious award.
The Grammys were first conceived in the 1950s where recording executives chosen for the Walk of Fame committee worked at compiling a list of important recording industry people who might qualify for a Walk of Fame star, they realized there were many more people who were leaders in their business who would never earn a star on Hollywood Boulevard. The music executives decided to rectify this by creating an award given by their industry similar to the Oscars and the Emmys. This was the beginning of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. They finally settled on using the name of the invention of Emile Berliner, the gramophone, for the awards, which were first given for the year 1958. Source
Okay, now we know when and why the Grammys were started but that still doesn’t reveal how the process of submitting, being selected, and being nominated works.
Next, let’s talk about how you can submit your work to the National Academy of Recording Arts.
First let’s address the elephant in the room. Do you have to signed to a major label? No.
You have a chance to submit in two different rounds. For this awards season, the first was open for releases from October through the end of July, and The second round is for all albums released between August 1 to September 30. Once you become one of the 20,000 submitted pieces, 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. Source
There are 30 fields and 83 categories. (Winners of 70 of these categories are announced during the non-televised Pre-Telecast Awards.) Sorry best surround sound album, your day in the lime-light will someday come. (That’s an actual category...Michael Bay, we’re looking at you!!)
But before we go into too much depth about the physical process of the selection of grammy nominees, let’s first take note of major announcement of this year how it directly effects independent artist in today’s music industry climate.
In June of 2016, the Recording Academy announced that streaming-only releases will now be eligible for consideration for Grammy nominations, one of five big changes that will be implemented immediately. The 59th annual Grammy Awards are set to take place Feb. 12, 2017.
Under the new guidelines, any recording released to at least one of the "majors" of the space -- Spotify (due to its paid tier), Apple Music, Tidal or Google Play, for example, would qualify as a release in general distribution. Source
As streaming becomes the dominant music consumption platform, it became the biggest single source of revenue for the U.S. music industry in 2015, according to the RIAA.
Not only was Chance The Rapper’s may release Coloring Book the first streaming-exclusive album to debut at #8 on Billboard’s Top 200, but it was the first streaming-exclusive album to be nominated for the Recording Academy (you know...our five pound four-ounce friend).
And even more good news for independent artists. Free music, thanks to streaming pioneers like Chance, continue to break down the walls to the coveted gramophone.
On January 20th 2017 it was announced that starting in 2018, music released on Soundcloud and from popular underground music community sites like DatPiff and LiveMixtapes will be eligible to win Grammy awards.
According to Grammy.org: "Previous eligibility guidelines required recordings to be commercially available via general distribution or digital recordings/downloads, thereby precluding works released solely through streaming services. The eligibility guidelines have been revised to include recordings released via streaming platforms, and are updated as follows. Source
"I’m proud of this year’s changes because they’re a testament to the artists, producers, and writers - the people who rolled up their sleeves to shape the proposals and, in turn, the future of the GRAMMYs. It’s exactly what they should be doing. It’s their award, "said Bill Freimuth, Senior Vice President of Awards for The Recording Academy.