Awards

Who Picks Grammy Nominees? General Voters Decide in Just 12 of 84 Categories

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Grammy statues photographed on Jan. 12, 2019.

In a whopping 59 categories, nominations review committees have the final say in determining the nominees.

You probably know that the final Grammy nominees in the so-called “Big Four” categories are determined by a nomination review committee. And you may be aware that similar committees decide the final nominees in various genre fields.

But you will probably be surprised to learn that rank-and-file Grammy voters determine the final nominees in just 12 of 84 categories.

In a whopping 59 categories, rank-and-file voters vote in the first round and then nominations review committees have the final say in determining the nominees.

The final nominations in the remaining 13 categories are determined by so-called “craft committees.”

With the 63rd annual Grammy Awards less than two weeks away -- they will be presented on March 14 -- it’s a good time to explore this.

According to the Recording Academy, here’s how it works: In each of the categories that are reviewed, nomination review committees are presented with an alphabetical list of the top vote-getters by rank-and-file voters. They then listen, discuss and vote. Their votes alone determine the final nominations.

The Recording Academy’s idea in forming these committees was that experts in each of the genre fields would be more apt to be really plugged in, and less apt to vote for sentimental favorites, big names or best-sellers.

But the Academy’s heavy reliance on committees raises a fairness issue. Is it fair to allow a small, handpicked group of insiders (about 15-18 in the genre fields, about 25 or more in the so-called “Big Four” categories) to second-guess the wishes of a 14,000-member academy? Something could conceivably rank first with rank-and-file voters and not even get nominated.

The move to nominations review committees began in 1989 with classical, followed by jazz.

The committee approach was adopted in the “Big Four” categories -- album, record and song of the year, plus best new artist -- in 1995, after controversy erupted over some of the 1994 Grammy nominations. Some argued that album of the year nods for Tony Bennett and The Three Tenors -- and none that year for alternative or hip-hop artists -- showed that the Grammys were out of touch.

Many more genre fields shifted to committee review in the next two decades. The most recent fields to fall under the committee umbrella are rock, dance/electronic music, rap, new age and global music (formerly known as world music).

The biggest fields (by number of categories) in which the final nominations are still decided by rank-and-file voters are pop (with four categories) and music for visual media (with three).

The biggest fields (by number of categories) in which nominations review committees make the final determinations are American Roots music and classical (with eight categories each) and R&B, jazz and gospel/Contemporary Christian Music (with five each).

Despite the clear overall trend to nominations review committees in most fields, the nominations in pop -- arguably the field with the highest profile -- continue to be decided by rank-and-file voters.

The nominations in the rock field are reviewed by a committee; the nominations in the alternative field are not. These are distinct fields, but there’s a significant degree of overlap: Five acts have won top album honors in both fields: Beck, Coldplay, U2, Green Day and The Black Keys.

In 13 categories, the nominations are determined by craft committees -- which are different from nominations review committees, though they operate similarly. The biggest field (by number of categories) in which a craft committee makes the final determinations is Composing/Arranging (3).

In seven of these 13 craft categories, rank-and-file voters vote in the first round. In the other six, rank-and-file voters play no role in the nominations process.

Within one field -- production, non-classical -- there are two approaches as to who votes in the first round. In two of the categories in the field -- best engineered album, non-classical and producer of the year, non-classical -- rank-and-file voters vote in the first round. In the third -- best remixed recording -- rank-and-file voters have no involvement.

According to the Academy, the nominations review committee in the Big Four categories reviews the top 20 picks of rank-and-file voters, while the nominations review committees in the genre committees reviews the top 15 picks of rank-and-file voters. In the genre committees -- but not in the Big Four committee -- they have the option of replacing up to two of the listed candidates with write-ins (provided the write-ins were released in the eligibility year).

This is designed to give late-breaking releases, or simply worthy entries that voters may have missed, a second shot at qualifying.

One category, best immersive audio album, will not be presented this year, owing to difficulties in convening a craft committee posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a unique solution, the nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in this category will be announced next year in addition to (and separately from) the nominations for the 64th Grammy nominations in the category.

Here are the 84 current Grammy categories, broken down into four groupings based on how the voting is conducted. They are listed in the order that they appear on the Grammy ballot.

Final nominations are determined by direct vote of rank-and-file voting members (12 categories)
Rank-and-file voting members also vote in the first round of voting.

Pop (including Traditional Pop) (4)
Alternative (1)
Reggae (1)
Spoken Word (1)
Comedy (1)
Musical Theater (1)
Music for Visual Media (3)

Final nominations are determined by nominations review committees (59 categories)
Rank-and-file voters vote in the first round.

General Field (a.k.a. “The Big Four”) (4)
Dance/Electronic Music (2)
Contemporary Instrumental Music (1)
Rock (4)
R&B (5)
Rap (4)
Country (4)
New Age (1)
Jazz (5)
Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music (5)
Latin (4)
American Roots Music (8)
Global Music (formerly known as World Music) (1)
Children's (1)
Classical (8)
Music Video/Film (2)

Final nominations are determined by craft committees (7 categories)
Rank-and-file voters vote in the first round.

Composing/Arranging (3)
Production, Non-Classical (best engineered album, non-classical and producer of the year, non-classical) (2)
Production, Classical (2)

Final nominations are determined by craft committees (6 categories)
Rank-and-file voters play no role in these nominations.

Package (2)
Notes (often called Liner Notes) (1)
Historical (1)
Production, Non-Classical (best remixed recording) (1)
Production, Immersive Audio  (1)