Lil Nas X, Gunna and Victoria Monet are among 2,321 people who have been invited to join the Recording Academy. That is nearly 1,000 more invitations than the academy issued last year, when it invited 1,340 new members. (Of those, 743 took the academy up on its offer.)
Kelley Purcell, the academy’s senior director, member outreach, notes that, unlike last year, the academy had a full year to work on its member class. Last year, in the first year of its new, peer-review membership model, it had just seven months, from the launch in November 2018 to the announcement of the 2019 invitations on June 6, 2019.
This year’s “freshman class,” as the academy calls it, is 48% female (compared to 49% in last year’s freshman class invites), 21% African American/African descent (compared to 26%), 8% Hispanic (compared to 7%), 3% Asian American/Pacific Islander/Asian (same as last year) and 51% people who are age 39 or younger (same as last year).
Some of those invited did not disclose their demographic details. On gender, 3% did not disclose. On ethnicity, 13% did not disclose. On age (possibly the most sensitive topic in a youth-dominated industry), a whopping 25% did not disclose.
Women account for 26% of the academy’s overall membership, not just the freshman class (same as last year). People from traditionally-underrepresented communities account for 25%, up a point from last year’s 24%. People who are age 39 or younger account for 25%, down from 29% last year.
These stats suggest that it’s hard to make an impact in the overall numbers.“It’s definitely hard but not impossible,” says Harvey Mason, Jr., the academy’s chair and interim president/CEO. “We’re headed in the right direction. We just have to maintain it. We have to continue to work on it and look at other ways to improve and increase it and get to the right numbers.”
And what are the right numbers? “We just want to be representative of the people making music,” he says. “It’s also more than gender or race or age. It’s region, it’s genre, it’s location. There are so many factors that go into how we invite our members.”
According to the academy, 79% of this year’s freshman class is being invited as potential voting members, the other 21% as (non-voting) professional members.
This is the second year that the academy has had a peer-driven membership model. Under the old model, the academy insisted on 12 credits on recorded tracks. Under the new model, the academy looks for recommendations from two industry members (not necessarily academy members). If the recommendations and/or other factors are strong enough, the 12-credit rule can be waived.
“It allows us to be able to get a more diverse and a bigger representation of the music industry if we allow people outside of just our membership to nominate people,” Mason says.
Adds Purcell: “Our membership model allows us to be flexibly selective. There is a base line number of credits that the peer review panel would like to see a candidate have. However, if the other aspects of their career are outstanding, they’ll certainly consider folks that have less than 12 credits.”
How low will they go? “It really depends on who the nominee is and what are the things they’re bringing to the committee,” Mason says. “Somebody can be a true professional who doesn’t have 12 credits. They could have a gigantic No. 1 record — it might be their fifth credit. They’re professional. They’re working in the industry. They’re very relevant. Those are the people we would like to have as our members. That’s why we asked for flexibility so we can make sure we have the right people coming into the academy.”
The academy announced a goal of doubling its number of female voting members by 2025. According to the academy, it is 14% of the way toward meeting that goal.
Asked about the disparity in the percentage of this year’s invited member class that are African American/African descent (21%) compared to Hispanic (8%), Kelley suggested that the numbers next year might be closer. “Being able to take a close look at each new class is a really helpful tool for us in assessing where we need to apply increased strategic focus. It’s certainly our plan to do so and create goals and metrics around it.”
Laura Segura, now executive director of MusiCares, said last year that it will become harder and harder for the academy to find qualified new members to invite unless the music industry extends more opportunities to women and people of color. “We will face challenges with future new member classes if not enough women and people of color are being hired, mentored and have access to opportunities to lead and excel,” she said.
Mason agrees, but adds: “It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we’re doing the extra work that it requires to continue to uphold the numbers that we want to accomplish. As it gets harder, we will have to work harder to accomplish it. We expect that. We also hope the industry as a whole continues to improve its overall numbers. That’s one of the things that we hope to accomplish by setting some of the initiatives in place. We’re hoping that reverberates out to the music community as a whole and has an impact on the actual numbers in the overall community.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences adopted two strategies this year, which they announced on June 30 when they revealed the names of the 819 people they invited to join their academy. First, the motion picture academy announced that “those who accept the invitations will be the only additions to the academy’s membership in 2020,” an indication that it wants to control who joins its membership — and perhaps to control the demographic numbers.
“That’s an interesting concept,” Mason says. “We have not considered doing that, at least not during my tenure.”
The motion picture academy also said that, in a major shift, “the membership status of all artists’ representatives [agents] will change from associates to members-at-large. As members-at-large, agents will now have Oscars voting privileges.”
At the Recording Academy, professional members do not have voting privileges. “We are really the only peer-to-peer award [in music],” Mason says. “People who are voting for our awards are actually music makers and music creators. If we change that, then it really changes the dynamics of our awards. I’m not saying it’s completely off the table, but for now we are going to continue to be a peer-to-peer voting body.”
The academy has some strategies to boost membership: For the first time in its history, it is waiving annual dues for members who are experiencing hardship amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Academy created a 90-minute video, “Your Academy: Welcoming the 2020 New Member Class,” in which both current members, such as John Legend and Yolanda Adams, and 2020 invitees, including Monet and Ozuna, discuss membership. The discussion, held on Zoom on June 24, was moderated by Justin Joseph, Grammy.com editor-in-chief. The roundtable debuted today on GRAMMY.com.
Some of the comments in the video are provocative. “We still need to be more diverse,” Legend says. “The only way that changes is if we’re recruiting more people to bring an influx of diversity into the academy. Rather than throw up our hands and say, ‘It’s going to be a stodgy, old white guy organization, we’re the people that are going to change it.’”
Legend amplified on that point, noting, “As much as we all complain about who won the Grammy this year for this or that, and how we’re not being represented in the right way, we literally can change it by being there — by showing up, by telling our collaborators to show up and be there. As locked in as so many of these things feel, they actually are dynamic and can be changed, but we have to literally be part of that change.”
Later in the roundtable, Monet added: “At first I had the idea that the academy was more of over 40, non-Black men who would base all action on popularity and stats. Now, learning more about what is actually happening, I think that’s important to communicate to my peers, because I think they also have no idea — they just want the Grammy. If they don’t get it, they complain and have no idea about the process.”
In order to participate in the process for the upcoming Grammy Awards, prospective new members have to accept their invitations by Sept. 15. The 63rd Grammy Awards are scheduled to take place Jan. 31, 2021, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.