Recording Academy Announces Membership Model Changes to Help Drive Diversity

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Courtesy of The Recording Academy

The new submission process relies on industry recommendations and peer review, accepting a new class of members annually.

The Recording Academy has announced a new community-driven membership model that it plans to use to help drive diversity in the music industry.

As of Monday (Nov. 19), the Academy's member submission process will shift from a rolling basis to an annual cycle, where applicants will require two professional recommendations from fellow industry members and undergo a peer review. These changes are intended to allow the Academy to analyze an annual class of applicants as a whole, empowering the organization to make decisions that will better represent culture at large. Each spring, an anonymous roughly 25-person Peer Review Panel of existing Academy members will judge applicants based on a range of criteria, such as craft, genre and overall diversity, determining who will be invited into the Recording Academy.

"This really allows the Academy through the Peer Review Panel to look holistically at an annual submission body," Laura Segura Mueller, vice president of membership and industry relations, tells Billboard. "It's not enough just to reflect the music industry, because as we've all been seeing the data coming out on the makeup of the music industry. We all have a lot of work to do to be more diverse and inclusive as an industry overall. So yes, absolutely, we want to be leaders in changing the makeup of the music industry."

The Recording Academy has had a rough year on the public relations front, following an awards show in New York City where many believed women were underrepresented and widely popular hip-hop projects failed to take home top honors. When asked about that issue of gender disparity following the show, President and CEO Neil Portnow commented it was incumbent upon women to "step up" in the industry. Though Portnow apologized and said his comments were taken out of context, a firestorm of criticism erupted, leading the Academy to form a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force that later invited 900 women and people of color under age 39 to join the roughly 13,000 current voting members for the 2019 event. In June, it announced an expansion of the Big Four award categories -- record of the year, album of the year, song of the year and best new artist -- from five ­nominees to eight, a move intended to boost diversity and level the playing field across genres.

But while this membership initiative will be used with a similar purpose to help the Academy drive diversity in the music industry, Mueller says the move to a more community-driven admissions model has been years in the making. It follows intensive studies and research of current members and non-members, examining how it could improve membership operations. Just as the Grammy awards are voted on by fellow musicians and professionals, the intent has been to help mirror that in membership admissions.

"The Recording Academy is committed to not only being responsive in the situation that we're dealing with currently, but it's also an opportunity for us to work with industry leaders and affect historic change in attitudes on the long-term," says Mueller. "This process, and the work we've done to build this, is really meant to signal institutional change more than just being sort of a one-off responsive initiative. I look forward to seeing where we can go on the long-term with these kinds of changes in terms of impacting larger scale change at the Academy."

Mueller says the Academy is doing more than taking a top-down approach to address diversity issues in music and looking at ways to impact "pipeline challenges" for potential future members. That work ranges from Grammy U student programs to mentorships and postgraduate support, along with greater outreach efforts targeting different communities among its 12 regional chapters and cross-departmental genre work groups intended to connect with a broader swath of the music industry.

"This is just one change that The Recording Academy is signaling to demonstrate our commitment to being a diverse and inclusive organization," she says. "We can't just look at our membership numbers and think somehow the quantity of our membership will ultimately solve the diversity problem. Diversity problems are not just a metric space challenge that if you increase your numbers, everything is solved. You have to create an inclusive culture, so we're trying... We want to do that not only within our organization but we also want to be leaders and helping the music industry at large be more inclusive."