Even as the Recording Academy works toward becoming more transparent about the Grammy voting process, each year’s batch of nominees leaves plenty in the industry wondering who behind the scenes makes it all happen. The answer, at least in part: Awards Department head Bill Freimuth and his team of genre managers — yes, actual humans! They spend months assembling, administering and facilitating first the genre screening committees (calling on genre experts ranging from artists and producers to label executives and journalists to meticulously sort entries), then the nomination review committees (working with local academy chapters to populate them as thoughtfully as possible and with no conflicts of interest) — all to aid in narrowing down the more than 23,000 entries in 84 categories to the names ultimately on ballots. (Their job doesn’t end with the Grammys: They spend the rest of the year repping for the academy within their genre communities.)
Though largely Los Angeles-based now, they’re a diverse group from all over (and outside) the United States and unified in their mission: to ensure their individual communities are informed, and that their music is heard.
Michael Almanza, 35
Fields managed: Package; Immersive Audio
Hails from: Pico Rivera, Calif.
Key Experience: “I managed grassroots marketing campaigns for Universal Music Group and assisted music supervisors in the music, TV and film department at Capitol Records.”
Hobbies: “Parent of two. When rare free time does occur, I enjoy writing short fiction, playing guitar and improving my cooking.”
Grammy Memory: “Meeting Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the families of John Lennon and George Harrison, when the Beatles were honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Ceora Brown, 36
Fields managed: Awards Archivist
Hails from: Washington, D.C.
Key Experience: “At the university-level, as the Director of Library Services, I supported film and music business faculty, staff and students with innovative resources to support research, teaching, and lifelong learning. My expertise is in research, data discovery, data management, data analysis, integrated systems, digital resources, collection development and archives. As the awards archivist, I manage and maintain the awards databases that contain the 62-year history of Grammy nominees from all category groups, special merit recipients, performers and presenters data.”
Hobbies: “I’m a devoted music appreciator — singing artists’ songs in the shower and in the car is my forté! I also enjoy watching documentary films, reading literature, hiking and teaching my daughters how to cook.”
Fields managed: Rap; R&B; Reggae
Hails from: Brooklyn
“The job is so all-encompassing, it’s almost hard to put in words,” says former music journalist Brown of managing three genre categories. “You’re an A&R, you’re artist relations, you’re on the ground interacting with everybody in the business from executives to upstart musicians, just letting them know how we work and how, basically, we’re an organization for them.” Since taking the job in early 2018, Brown has overseen a reimagining of sorts for his categories as the academy endeavored to grow and diversify its membership and, in turn, produce Grammy nominees more reflective of the genres’ current states — particularly in rap and R&B. But that’s just one part of what he does. “We have so many different initiatives on our minds throughout the year — everything from advocacy, to MusiCares, to letting people know they can actually have an impact with Grammy in the Schools, Grammy Youth,” he says. “There are so many more ways that people can contribute toward a brighter future when it comes to music.”
What do you enjoy most about the job?
The camaraderie. I get to build with my colleagues in the building, as well as with music industry professionals, breaking down stigmas and just coming together. I’ve noticed that this business is more of a community than any other business, maybe other than TV and film. I think being part of that community just gives a better sense of purpose.
How do you ensure that your categories’ nominees actually reflect what’s currently going on in those genres?
It comes down to education. You just want to be able to educate the people that are eventually going to make these choices when they vote; they need to know where the music’s going and also where the music should be going, and where it is currently. For me, it’s about listening to the community. I want to be able to get feedback from them — which they’re never shy about. (Laughs.) We just communicate [that] within and we work on trying to make things better.
What do you wish people understood better about the process?
We are an organization for creators, by creators. That’s who we aim to serve and that’s who we want to be a part of this organization as well. People are learning that more and more, and I know it’s obviously a learning curve for a lot of folks. But I think our message is getting out there: We’re for you, and the more you align with us, the better this organization’s going to be for the entire music community.
What Grammy moments stand out in your memory most?
I could probably send you a spreadsheet. But one that stuck with me — which was right before I started — was Kendrick Lamar’s opening [at the 2018 Grammys]. He’s one of my favorites and it just showed that he’s a powerful artist that I’m glad the world got to see. And also that Nipsey Hussle tribute that just happened [in 2020]. Between his and Kobe [Bryant’s deaths], it was really heartfelt, it was really poignant, it was time-sensitive — it had everything it was supposed to.
Fields managed: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year
Key Experience: “I was a software engineer in Silicon Valley for 15 years before joining the Recording Academy as a project manager.”
Hobbies: “I love going to Disneyland, eating out and going to movies — all things we’re not able to do in the pandemic.”
Grammy Memory: “Being in the middle of a conversation where two of the best artists in the world were discussing a collaboration — then later seeing that the collaboration actually took place.”
Brian Clasby, 30
Fields managed: Rock; Alternative
Hails from: Boyertown, Penn.
Hobbies “Golfing (poorly) and surfing (also poorly).”
Highlights of the Job: “A panel on mental health in the rock community I recently produced, featuring Yungblud, Lzzy Hale, KennyHoopla and Laura Jane Grace.”
Grammy Memory: “The Highly Suspect performance a few years ago.”
Uziel Colón, 40
Fields managed: Gospel & Contemporary Christian Music; Music for Visual Media
Hails from: San Juan, Puerto Rico
A pianist, composer, musical director and music educator, Colón was a session musician in Puerto Rico and Boston before he moved to Los Angeles looking to shift to another sector of the industry. He interviewed for a position with the Latin Recording Academy, became a temp in 2010 and ultimately an awards manager there, and then switched to working for the Recording Academy five years ago (“Same building, opposite sides of the same floor”). As manager for the soundtrack-focused visual media category, he’s already thinking about how the film industry’s pandemic-induced delays will affect the 2022 Grammys. “We’ve had a healthy number of entries for this year,” he says. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen next year.”
What is the vibe of your screening committee meetings like?
It depends on the artist and the product. Some are straightforward, others are big debates over what it is, stylistically. A lot of people submit, and maybe they’re not aware of our rules or our criteria, what actually determines the type of music that we accept: “Hey, this doesn’t go into this category, it should go into the other one.” And there are some artists who push the envelope or are trying to do something different — those are where the committee spends the most time, discussing, arguing, analyzing the music, listening.
What issues tend to come up in the music for visual media category?
The visual media world is one that has changed so quickly with technology. So you can imagine somebody [making] something at home: Is it eligible or not? [The committee] always tries to be up to date.
You also oversee the contemporary Christian category.
Growing up in a Christian family and playing music at churches for the longest time, I can tell you I really do care about the community.
And you’ve attended 10 Grammys now, right?
Yes! And I loved every single one of them. To be honest, maybe my wife enjoys it a little bit more than me.
Marlon Fuentes, 35
Fields managed: Global Music; Contemporary Instrumental; New Age
Hails from: Mexico City
Fuentes was an “immersive producer” for BuzzFeed and Red Bull virtual-reality projects who moonlighted as a DJ (he opened for Shakira on her Sale El Sol tour) when the Recording Academy called in 2018, asking if he would manage the Grammys’ world music category. (Late last year it changed to “global music.”) “It so happens I have an ethnomusicology degree from UCLA,” says Fuentes. “It was like, ‘Twist my arm.’ ” The other genres he manages excite him as well: Fuentes calls new age music “some of the most relevant” in the “noisy” world we currently live in, and he loves how the contemporary instrumental category spotlights performers who “really are very innovative and progressive.”
Why the category name change from “world” to “global” music?
This was a result of extensive conversations with artists, ethnomusicologists and linguists from around the world. For many people, it expressed a reset button for the way we viewed the world’s music. It allowed us to categorize and better describe the most influential and relevant music happening worldwide. We’re at a point now where, culturally speaking, borders are nonexistent. There’s so much more equity now in this space and so many more opportunities to listen to music from all over the world.
How do you make time to listen to all the eligible music in your categories?
I’m always listening to music. And because we receive thousands of entries each year, it is a very focused period of listening. Listening to music can be very much a ritual. When I’m home, or when I’m at work, I have extra headphones. I like to switch moods. Fortunately, we’re never lacking a good record to play.
You’ve attended two Grammys shows as a genre manager. Do any moments stand out?
My job during the awards show is actually very fun. I work backstage and often am the first person that artists see after they win their Grammy and give their acceptance speech, so it’s just this burst of joy and excitement that I get as they walk offstage and I usher them to where they need to go. Last year, I had a chance to congratulate Koffee on her win [for best reggae album]. As a DJ, I’m a big selector of reggae music and Afrobeats, and to spend time with these folks that have traveled thousands of miles to be with us is just such a treat.
Lisa Goich-Andreadis, 58
Fields managed: Jazz; Comedy
Hails from: Detroit
“I’ve been working in the entertainment industry since I started working,” says Goich-Andreadis, who began her career as a copywriter for a humor-based boutique agency. Since then, she spent two decades as a stand-up comedian; landed radio gigs in both Detroit and Los Angeles; married pianist and harmonica player Teddy “Zig-Zag” Andreadis (Carole King, Guns N’ Roses, Chuck Berry); and spent years working for Playboy at the Playboy Jazz Festival before becoming a genre manager in 2011. In January, she’ll celebrate her 10th Grammys.
What would people be surprised to learn about your role?
One question that people ask is, “It’s a one-day show. Do you just work half of the year?” No! We start in the spring with entries coming in. We print lists, alphabetically; we check for eligibility with release dates, and for my categories, we have to check recording dates — it has to be recorded within five years of release. We check basic things like artist lines and titles of albums — every i is dotted and every t is crossed. Each entry gets checked at least five times from start to finish.
When do you get to take a breath?
Many times, jazz is in the premiere ceremony [a livestream event ahead of the main telecast]. Between that and the telecast, there is about an hour break, and that’s when I take my first breath. I look at all of my entries as my little babies. Once I know that they’re all safe and tucked in, I can rest.
What’s the highlight of the process?
Working annually with the jazz community for our screening and nominations review committees is my favorite part of the year. We spend a lot of time alone listening to entries, and being able to hear experts from our genres weigh-in on what we’ve been listening to for months is like taking a master class. It blows my mind every single year.
How does working on the comedy categories differ?
Most of the comedy is either stand-up, comedy music or spoken word comedy. It’s more of a clear-cut process, so we don’t need a screening meeting and we don’t have nomination review committees. It goes from the first ballot votes to the nominations.
How do you ensure that the nominations reflect the current moment?
We are what the industry gives to us — what they submit. As genre managers, we’re very neutral — like beige. This is a peer-reviewed process, so we don’t influence that at all. Every year, people in the industry are allowed to send in proposals if they see change that is needed, and we have a meeting in the spring to go through those. The industry is constantly morphing and we always want to stay on top of that.
How have you seen Grammy wins affect artists’ careers?
Every year when the premiere ceremony starts, I get super choked up. When you see somebody come backstage after a Grammy win — especially their first — you know how much this means to them. You can’t watch a talk show or see an obituary without someone being identified as a Grammy winner or nominee. When you think, “Wow, I have a part in that process,” it’s a dream. It can change careers and it can change lives.
Shannon Herber, 41
Fields managed: Pop; Dance/Electronic
Hails from: Denver
Growing up, Herber always knew she wanted to work in music: “I was in band, played a bunch of instruments and pretended to be Whitney Houston.” Grad school at the University of Southern California’s entertainment-centric communications program led to an internship at Universal Music Group; a stint as publicity and artist relations manager at UMG’s catalog division, UMe; and eventually a job with Moby. “Once I started learning from him and getting more into dance music,” she says, “it was like, ‘This is my community. These are my people.’ ” She joined the academy’s awards team in 2017.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Since we do have a brand that can have a specific meaning in people’s minds, a challenge can be crossing the bridge from opinion to reality. If someone says the Grammys don’t give out awards [according to] whatever methodology they would prefer, the bridge to reality is us saying “Please, come be a part of the community. Come help us. We are so open to your thoughts, what you’d like to see or how you’d like to see this done differently.”
Given the scope of the dance genre right now, how do you ensure a diverse yet cohesive pool of potential nominees?
We can’t really make that decision: It’s peer-voted. My purview, as admin of an award, is to make sure the folks on our [genre] screening committee and nominations review committee are experts in the genre. I don’t find out who the winners are until the day of the show.
The last time I looked at one of those dance music flowcharts, there were, like, 250 subgenres. It’s a lot. The good news is that the work that we do is cyclical. There is a lot of admin leading up to the show, but the rest of the year I consider us the A&R of the academy — going to a lot of shows, talking to managers. I’m lucky that I have such a long history of working in music in general, but specifically in Los Angeles. I just do my best to do community outreach: I know a lot of folks, and they know me, so I just utilize my network and ask people who they’re working with and who they wish they were working with.
What’s most exciting about the categories you cover?
With pop, think of any huge star who releases music and there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see them up there. It’s sometimes easier to predict what’s going to happen with pop. Whereas what I love about dance/electronic is even though I might have my personal favorites, I still can’t necessarily predict what happens. For me, the throughline with dance/electronic is that voters reward experimentation and artistic strides. I love that.
Shelly Maree, 32
Fields managed: Country; Musical Theater; Music Video; Music Film
Hails from: Bethel Island, Calif.
Key Experience: “I grew up line dancing and eventually taught it as well. I also grew up in the musical theater world and got my degree in that. It was a wonderful coincidence that they were looking for someone to fill both roles at the academy.”
Toughest Part of the Job: “The public perception, or misperception, of the process. It’s something we care so deeply about, and we’re constantly trying to inform the music community on how it all works.”
Grammy Memory: “My favorite moments are on nominations day. I love watching the reactions of everyone when they get the news.”
Jayln Nelson, 26
Fields managed: Composing/Arranging
Hails from: Shreveport, La.
Key Experience: “I studied at Loyola University New Orleans and worked in radio throughout college. I also worked in a local recording studio for awhile.”
Highlight of the job: “Being able to bring my parents to the Grammys as my guests a couple years back.”
Ralph Olivarez, 44
Fields managed: American Roots
Hails from: Los Angeles
Key Experience: “A BA in business administration with an accounting concentration. I worked in management for nearly 20 years and have DJ’d for more than 25.”
Toughest Part of the Job: “Deciding which music festival or event to attend for work. They’re all so good!”
Sean Riley, 48
Fields managed: Composing/Arranging; Package; Notes; Historical; Engineering, Non-Classical; Producer, Non-Classical; Remix; Immersive Audio
Hails from: Boston
Key Experience: “I worked in film/TV production on indie films and music videos, even a pilot for a game show with The Muppets. I was also a DJ at WNUR in Chicago.”
Highlight of the Job: “Meeting the artists I loved growing up; helping the artists my kids will love growing up.”
Toughest Part of the Job: “Nominee seating. It’s like planning a wedding with 900 brides.”
Ashley Robinson, 34
Fields Managed: Executive assistant to chief awards officer; assistant for Best New Artist
Hails From: Sacramento, Cal.
Key experience: “I previously worked as a clearance administrator and coordinator/executive assistant at Warner Bros. Television in the clearance and integration department. I worked there for 4 years before coming to the Recording Academy.”
Hobbies: “Working out, reading, cooking, hiking, and baking. However, I do miss my pre-Covid hobbies, which included going to live shows and festivals with friends, bike riding, and going to the movies.”
Highlight of the Job: “My involvement in the 63rd Grammy Salute to Music Legends. I worked as the project manager from the awards department and I was able to meet and work with some Legends. I was also excited and surprised to see my name in the credits at the end of the show.”
Grammy Memory: “Meeting Toni Braxton, an artist that I have admired and listened to since childhood. And watching Michelle Obama walk on stage with J. Lo, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, and Jada Pinkett Smith. I wasn’t an employee of the academy yet but that was such an amazing moment, even just watching from my couch at home!”
Julie Smith, 50
Fields managed: Classical
Hails from: Seattle
Key Experience: “I was a buyer for 12 subgenres at Virgin Megastores, including classical and jazz. But I started my music business career at a CD store in Seattle, Silver Platters.”
Hobbies: “I played bagpipes in the Pasadena Scots for 9 years, sang for 3 years with the Donald Brinegar Singers, and have been in the Angeles Chorale for the past year. Unfortunately, all that has ended during COVID. But my choir is doing a virtual concert for the holidays.”
Grammy Memory: “I managed to get opera star Joyce DiDonato to perform at the premiere awards. She basically blew the roof off the Microsoft Theater, and the entire audience stood before she was done!”
Fields managed: Latin; Children; Spoken Word
Hails from: Los Angeles
Highlight of the Job: “When nominations are read — that’s my blood, sweat and tears!”
Toughest Part of the Job: “Verifying over 20,000 entries in a very short time.”
Grammy Memory: “I was called to the boardroom to help Lou Rawls with an award issue, only to be serenaded by him with ‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.’ ”
Contributors: Katie Bain, Josh Glicksman, Steve Knopper, Dan Rys