How Should Artists, Managers and Labels React to the Grammys' Change in Their Eligibility Year?

Now that the Grammy eligiblity year will end Aug. 31, should artists move up their release dates or just stay in September?

Now what? The Recording Academy has moved the end of the eligibility year for the 62nd annual Grammy Awards up to Aug. 31, rather than the traditional Sept. 30, and artists, managers and record labels are left wondering how this will affect their plans.

If they were planning a September release, they can still go forward with that release date, of course, but the recording will be competing in the 63rd annual Grammys, which will be presented on Jan. 31, 2021 -- quite a ways off.

I would never recommend rushing a release just to qualify for the Grammys. And I'm not just saying that because the art should come first (though of course it should), but also because there's no convincing evidence that September releases have any particular recency advantage in the Grammys. In the past 11 years, just two September releases have been nominated for album of the year -- Ne-Yo's Year of the Gentleman (2008) and Mumford & Sons' Babel (2012). The latter album, which was released on Sept. 25 -- five days before the end of the eligibility year -- is the only recent September release to win album of the year.

Many other September album releases have won awards in their home genres, even though they were passed over for album of the year noms. These include Jennifer Hudson's eponymous debut (2008, best R&B album), Lady Antebellum's Own the Night (2011, best country album), Tony Bennett's Duets II (2011, best traditional pop vocal album) and Bennett and Lady Gaga's Cheek to Cheek (2014, best traditional pop vocal album).

And September releases have popped up in other categories. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper's "Shallow," which was released Sept. 27, 2018, was nominated for both record and song of the year at the 61st Grammys. (The full A Star Is Born soundtrack, which was released one week later, falls into the upcoming Grammy eligibility year.)   

But there are at least as many cases where September releases came up empty. Paul McCartney's Egypt Station, Carrie Underwood's Cry Pretty, Josh Groban's Bridges, Lil Wayne's Tha Carter V and Cher's Dancing Queen were all released in September 2018 -- only to be completely ignored by Grammy voters. (One September 2018 release that did register with Grammy voters outside the major categories was Lauren Daigle's Look Up Child, which won two Grammys, including best contemporary Christian music album.)

Other September releases and potential award-season favorites that nonetheless received no Grammy nominations include Darius Rucker's Learn to Live (2008), Whitney Houston's I Look to You (2009), Mariah Carey's Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel (2009), Dave Matthews Band's Away from the World (2012), Sheryl Crow's Feels Like Home (2013), Lana Del Rey's Honeymoon (2015), Shawn Mendes' Illuminate (2016), Shania Twain's Now (2017) and Demi Lovato's Tell Me You Love Me (2017).

How to explain this? It often takes a while for an album to fully register; to cut through the noise of not only other albums in the marketplace, but also film, TV, news, politics and sports. Artists might be better off releasing an album at the beginning of the following eligibility year. Of course, then they have to hope that the album made enough of an impact that it will be remembered at the end of the eligibility year. This has been the subject of countless meetings and strategy sessions at record and management companies since the Grammys launched in 1958.

The Grammys moved the eligibility year up to avoid having to go head-to-head with the Academy Awards. (The Oscars moved their planned airdate up by two weeks because they were worried that other film award shows—the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, etc.—were stealing their thunder.) Unless the feedback from the film community on the earlier Oscar date is negative, it seems likely that the Oscars will stick with the earlier date -- which will mean the earlier Grammy date will also likely be permanent.

The Grammys had no choice but to move their airdate, but they did have a choice about whether to adjust their eligibility year. The Recording Academy could have simply lived with a compressed period in which to do their work -- as they did in 2014 and 2018, when the Grammy telecast was bumped up to January to avoid conflicting with the Winter Olympics. Recording Academy officials seem to have decided that their staff could deal with that time crunch once every four years, but not every year, if this move proves to be permanent.

Critics will counter that there is already more of a lag time with the Grammys than with, say, the Oscars. This is true for two reasons. The Oscars use the calendar year as their eligibility period. Films released in December 2018 were eligible to compete for the Oscars that were presented on Feb. 24, 2019. Also, the Grammys take far more time to tabulate the votes than the Oscars do. Oscar voting closes five days before their telecast. Grammy voting has traditionally closed a full month before the telecast. (That will be shrunk by a week to 23 days in the upcoming year.) The Recording Academy has never explained why they need so much more time to count the votes than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences does.

The danger for the Recording Academy in moving the end of their eligibility year to Aug. 31 is that when the Grammys are presented on Jan. 26, 2020, eligible recordings will all be between (roughly) five and 17 months old. That's a couple of weeks older than they have been in the past. The Grammys risk being even further behind the conversation than they already were.

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