At The Grammy Ballot Box
At The Grammy Ballot Box

Voters And The Voting Process

The Recording Academy -- established in 1957 -- has a voting membership process that has been honed over the years.

The first award ceremony was held May 4, 1959, and to date, an estimated 12,000 industry personnel account for the voting group of the 20,000 Academy members. To qualify for acceptance, an applicant must have at least six credits on a physical release or 12 for digital. (The latter rule was implemented in 2008.) Those with fewer than six credits can still become non-voting associate members and receive benefits like access to Grammy365.com, event invitations and networking opportunities. Student memberships are offered to those ages 17-25.

For those wishing to join the voting community, all applications are handled online with credits verified through AllMusic.com and other liner-note services. After paying a membership fee, which ranges from $100 (one year) to $420 (five years), qualified industry personnel get down to the business of voting. The number of categories in which voting members may now vote has changed-from nine fields on the first ballot and eight fields on the second ballot to 20 categories, plus the four general field categories overall on both ballots. This change was part of the awards restructuring that took place earlier this year.

Results are then audited by accounting firm Deloitte, which determines the winners and checks for inconsistencies in voting. Though the Academy tightly controls membership, the voting process is about trust.

"We ask people to stay within their areas of expertise, but we don't really police that," VP of awards Bill Freimuth says. "It's more of an honor system."

The method can also encourage self-serving votes, which Academy executives don't see as a threat to fair balloting. "We have 12,000 voting members," VP of member services Nancy Shapiro says. "In the same way that people run for office and vote for themselves, it doesn't necessarily get them elected."

Certain fields (the general field, classical, country, gospel, jazz, Latin, R&B and music video) have the final nominations determined by nominations review committees. These committees-comprising voting members with demonstrable expertise in their respective fields who have been submitted by chapter boards of governors and ratified by the national board of trustees-meet for one to three days to listen to the top selections (usually 15) from the general voting membership's first ballot. They then vote by secret ballot to determine the nominations. This policy was instituted in 1989 to level the playing field for late-year and independent releases and to ensure that nominations are not being determined by name recognition and mass sales. All members can vote online or by paper ballot, with streaming available to preview material for consideration.

"We used to mail hard copies with every single ballot," Freimuth says. While paper balloting-with the full entry list-was the standard until the Academy went digital more than a decade ago, now the ballot is mailed, and voters go online to view the entry list.

The Academy is aware of the misconceptions about voting methods, but confirms that it's an unbiased system built for industry professionals. "It's not a fan-based award, it's not a record sales award. Our membership reflects that," Nancy Shapiro says. "The most important and significant thing about the Grammys is that it's truly a peer award."

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