This change reflects the reality that this is increasingly a streaming business. The Academy framed it as also being part of its "desire to make the online entry submission process more convenient and cost effective for the users."
The Academy stresses that "The links will be used for all of our verification, screening and reviewing stages; thus it is imperative that the links remain active and accurate throughout both rounds of voting.
"Eligible streaming services are Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal. In cases where a recording is not available on these services, physical product will continue to be required. For music video/film and certain craft categories, physical products are still required."
The cost of submitting multiple physical copies of each release has long been an issue for smaller and independent labels. It has not been as much of an issue for large labels. Now, they are on an equal playing field.
The change is part of the Academy's annual review of its rules governing awards and nominations. Here are other changes to come out of that review.
Separate Screening Committees Added for Pop and Rock
The Academy will add separate screening committees in the pop and rock fields, bringing the number of screening committees to 20. Previously, pop and rock entries were screened by the large "Core Committee," which meets each fall for a two-day session. With the addition of pop and rock committees, the Core Committee will become a smaller, one-day event. It will remain focused on determining eligibility for best new artist (traditionally the hardest category to define) and on resolving conflicts from other screening committees, such as trying to find the best home for borderline entries that fall between genres.
Definition of Best Traditional Pop Album Broadened
In addition to honoring older forms of traditional pop, "such as the Great American Songbook, created by the Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley songwriters" and "cabaret/musical theater style songs and previous forms of contemporary pop," the category will now also accept "contemporary pop songs performed in traditional pop style -- the term 'traditional' being a reference, equally, to the style of the composition, vocal styling and the instrumental arrangement, without regard to the age of the material."
The Academy frames this as a desire to have the category "remain robust and inclusive." It's a positive change. The category, which was introduced in 1991, could stand to be broader and more competitive. Tony Bennett has won it 13 times. As great as he may be, this suggests that the category has been too narrow.
The category's overall mission remains the same. "This category is for performances of a type and style of song that cannot properly be intermingled with present forms of pop music," the Academy said.
Spoken Word Recordings for Children Moved from Children's to Spoken Word
Since 2011, spoken word recordings for children have been eligible in the best children’s album category. They will now move to compete in the best spoken word album category. The children’s category has been renamed best children’s music album.
It's debatable whether this was a smart move or not. Some might argue that spoken word recordings for children have more in common with musical children's albums -- their target audience, for one -- than they do with spoken word albums for adults.
From 1993-2010, the Academy had two categories for children's recordings -- best musical album for children and best spoken word album for children. The categories were consolidated as part of a major streamlining, in which the number of categories plummeted from 109 (in 2010) to 78 (in 2011). (The number has since creeped back up a bit, to 84 in 2018.)
Spanish-Language Albums Officially Welcome in Gospel/CCM Field
Having learned of some confusion as to the eligibility and category placement of Latin Gospel/Christian music, the Academy has amended the definitions for the Gospel/CCM Field in order to state, explicitly, that Christian recordings in Spanish are, indeed, eligible in that field.