Awards

The Grammys 66-Page Rule Book Is Now Online: Here Are 12 Rules That May Surprise You

Grammy trophy
Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A finished Grammy statue, wrapped in protective foam sits in a cardboard box at Billings Artworks in Ridgway Colorado on Jan. 12, 2019.

Don't trash-talk the competion and other Grammy rules.

For the first time in its 63-year history, the Recording Academy posted its entire rule book online on Wednesday morning (June 10). (OK, there was no “online” for much of the Academy’s history, but you get the point.) Under the direction of Harvey Mason, Jr., the Academy’s chair and interim CEO/president, the organization is striving for greater transparency.

Here are 12 rules that struck me as surprising or at least interesting as I read through the rulebook. Passages in quotation marks are taken straight from the rulebook.

1. An album—defined: The rules state “To qualify as an album, a release must contain at least five tracks (different songs, not different mixes) and have a total playing time of at least 15 minutes or it may have any number of tracks if the total playing time is at least 30 minutes.” Lil Nas X’s EP 7, an album of the year nominee this past year, just barely qualified. It has eight tracks and runs 18:44.

2. In best new artist, voters should focus on performance: “In adjudicating this category, the primary element to consider is the artist’s performance. If the artist wrote most or all of the songs, this may be a secondary consideration. Production elements of the recording should not be considered.”

3. The country field would like to keep it country: “This field includes recordings and songs that are country in content as opposed to those that may have a country flavor, but are aimed at a contemporary or pop audience.”

4. The Gospel/Contemporary Christian music field also sees itself as separate: “This field is distinguished from all the other genre fields by the nature of its lyrical content, which explicitly embraces the Christian world view.”

5. In the best musical theater album category, listen to the album, don’t vote for the for show: “This award honors excellence in the performance(s) in and production of musical theater recordings. Elements of the corresponding stage production should not be considered in evaluating the recording.”

6. The Academy is looking for new blood in its committees: “At least 20% of each committee must differ from the previous year’s committee.”

7. Good manners are important when serving on Grammy committees: “When committee chairs and genre managers bring to the attention of individual chapters the names of members who were unprofessional, uncooperative, disruptive, and/or caused egregious breaches of confidentiality, chapters must remove those names from their lists and not be permitted to resubmit them again.”

8. Voting members get a virtual seat at the table on review committees: “The membership vote will be factored into the nominations review committee vote to determine the nominees. This assures the membership will have one virtual seat at the table. The membership vote will be calculated exactly the same as the committee members’ votes.” [But that virtual seat is just one vote, compared to “at least 20” people on the nominations review committee for the “Big Four” categories and “between 13 and 17” people on most other nominations review committees.]

9. Don’t trash-talk the competition: Grammy contenders may issue “for your consideration” (FYC) communications. But there are rules governing what they may say: “FYC communications cannot cast a negative or derogatory light on a competing recording. Any tactic that singles out the competition by name or title is not allowed.”

10. So that’s why there’s was no replacement winner for Milli Vanilli: “The Grammy process does not produce a ranked result with a winner and ordered runners-up. In any situation where a Grammy Award is withdrawn following the presentation, no award is given in that category for that year.”

11. Don’t fall below 25 entries in a category whatever you do: “Each category shall have at least 40 distinct artist entries. If a category receives between 25 and 39 entries, only three recordings will receive nominations in that year. Should there be fewer than 25 entries in a category, that category will immediately go on hiatus for the current year—no award given—and entries will be screened into the next most logical category. If a category received fewer than 25 entries for three consecutive years, the category will be discontinued, and submissions will be entered in the next most appropriate category.”

12. They don’t make it easy to add new categories: The Grammys went on a crash diet in 2011, when they dropped from 109 categories to 78. They since added six categories, but they’ve held the line at 84 categories for the past five years. And there are indications they don’t want to go back to their old ever-expanding ways: “Any proposals to create a new category requires a 2/3 supermajority vote of both the awards & nominations committee and the board of trustees to pass.”