2019 Year-End Charts

7 Things You Didn't Know About the Grammys: Inside the Recording Academy

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Grammy Award trophies on display backstage at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California.

Bill Freimuth, senior vp of awards, explains how music's biggest night comes together.

The Grammy ballot deadline is coming up fast -- as in, this Friday fast. (If voters don't have their ballots delivered to the accouting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 16, they're out of luck.)

With the main event just weeks away, we spoke with Bill Freimuth -- the Recording Academy's senior vp of awards -- about how everything comes together.

From clearing up some Grammy misconceptions to finding how the Recording Academy reacts to the inevitable yearly backlash, here's seven things we learned from Freimuth about the process behind music's biggest night. 

Grammy Ballot Deadline Day Is the Music Industry's Equivalent of Tax Day

"January 16 is the absolute final day ballots need to be in the hands of Deloitte. Not postmarked, but in their hands," Freimuth tells Billboard. Although the Recording Academy doesn't handle any of the ballots, he says the firm of Deloitte tells them that the deadline day is full of last-minute FedEx envelopes and overworked messengers delivering ballots in-person with hours to go. "People procrastinate."

The Recording Academy Does Not Decide Who Wins Grammys

"This is confusing to a lot of people," Freimuth admits. "We have a handful of voting members on our staff, but it's not the people in our building who are choosing who gets nominated [for Grammys] and who wins. It's the voting members." To become a voting member, you have to meet certain eligibility requirements set by the Recording Academy -- namely, have credits on six commercially-released tracks or credits from 12 digital-only releases.

In short, the Grammys are awarded by people who spend more time in the studio than behind desks. "A lot of people see Academy as this ivory tower that makes proclamations on high, but it's really the people who make the music. We're here to serve the process that makes this happen."

Not Tone Deaf: The Recording Academy Hears the Backlash

"Right before we announce the nominations each year, we have a great sense of pride. And then there's backlash, every year, and it always surprises me where it comes from." While Freimuth acknowledges that those complaining about Grammy snubs "tend to be a lot louder than the ones who think we got it right," he thinks the nominations still reflect the majority's tastes.

When we mention the outcry over Macklemore & Ryan Lewis winning best rap album in 2014, Freimuth gives his take. "There's passion on both sides. It reminds us that people care about the Grammys and what they stand for. Very often I find the people who are the loudest detractors are qualified to be members and don't choose to be members -- or are members who don't vote. That's where it gets frustrating. I'd like to think our membership is a perfect reflection of music community and industry, but we don't know that. But we know we're standing here with open arms saying, 'If you are a music creator, we would love to have you in the academy, no matter what genre you specialize in or country you live in.' To make this a peer award, we need as many qualified people raising their voice as possible."

Grammy Voting Relies on the Honor System

Grammy voters aren't segregated by genre. A hip-hop producer can cast votes in categories like best country song, best instrumental jazz album, best dance recording, etc. [Certain craft categories, like producer of the year and best engineered album, are exceptions to this.]

But the Grammy ballots aren't a free-for-all. Each voter can vote in the four general categories (best new artist, album of the year, record of the year and song of the year) plus a maximum of 20 additional categories.

Based on what the firm of Deloitte has told the Academy, Freimuth says people don't seem to abuse the process. "We believe our voters care about integrity of the process and don't have reason to vote in categories where they know very little," Freimuth says. "Deloitte lets us know that quite a few ballots come in with just the general four categories and two or three more. And of course, some come in with 20 filled out. It gives us a sense that people aren't saying, 'Okay, I need to find a bunch of random categories to vote for.'"

Non-Voting Members Can Help With the Process

Freimuth says the Recording Academy taps nearly 300 people for the screening committee each year, which sifts through 20,000-ish submissions and categorizes everything -- without eliminating anything. "There are songwriters, artists, scholars, musicologists and more on the screening committee. We even invite journalists and publicists and label executives. They're only sorting -- not making quality judgments. This is a place where we open it up to people who are not in the voting academy. A scholar is not necessarily eligible [to vote], but they can be on the screening committee."

From there, the first ballots go out -- again, no submissions are eliminated at this point -- and from there, Grammy voters decide who/what actually gets nominated.

The Recording Academy Knows Absolutely Nothing About Who Votes for What

In order to protect the integrity of the process, Freimuth explains the Recording Academy "doesn't have access to results. Part of our agreement with Deloitte is they are the only ones with knowledge of how many people voted and what they voted for."

Grammy Blackouts Do Happen

After the labor intensive weeks leading up to the Grammys, Freimuth co-produces the Grammy premiere ceremony prior to the telecast. By the time he sits down to watch the actual show, exhaustion can get the best of him.

"There have been a few years where my phone goes off and there's an emergency I have to deal with [mid-telecast], but most years I get to sit and enjoy all the incredible music. But what's really funny is that I DVR the show to watch it a week later. And there are entire numbers where I must have been so exhausted that I didn't remember that it happened. When I watch it later, I'm like, 'I sort of remember this.' I'm pretty beat up at that point."


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