Over the last several years, the Recording Academy has increased its efforts to make its membership more inclusive. In 2018, the Academy switched to a community-driven model that introduced a peer-review process requiring two professional recommendations. And in 2019, the organization’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion released a report that found the Academy could improve its outreach to underrepresented communities. That same year, the Academy announced its aim to double female voters by 2025 — it is 60% to that goal.
“All of us have seen a push in making sure communities are reflected,” says Ashley Thomas, director of member and outreach systems for the Academy. She and Kelley Purcell, the Academy’s vp of membership & industry relations, oversee six membership managers, who are tasked with supporting — and expanding — their assigned chapters and musical genres. “We’re actively seeking women, we’re actively seeking different genres and different disciplines,” Thomas says. “And so when the outreach managers are doing this work, it’s always at the forefront of what they’re doing.”
The Recording Academy’s current membership includes more than 12,000 voting members and an additional 3,000 non-voting, “professional” members. It has increased the number of invitees each year — from 1,300 in 2019, 2,300 in 2020 and 2,700 in both 2021 and 2022 — and looking ahead, Thomas says, there is an emphasis on global membership. “This year, we’ve invited over 200 music makers from the global music community. Our outreach team works on finding global music makers and professionals within all of their genres. This is a big priority.”
Below, Billboard asked each membership manager about their specific genres and chapters. Their answers are condensed for clarity and space.
Janette Becerra / Membership Manager
Latin, Visual Media, Music Video/Film
Chapters: Florida, Atlanta
Becerra started at the Academy as an intern in 2015. She previously worked at Sony/ATV Latin, Magnus Media and Hollywood.com
The Academy stated 56 percent of the invitees were from underrepresented communities. How did that play into your outreach efforts?
As a Latina, I am very passionate about reaching underrepresented communities, and ensuring that these folks feel that they have a place at the Academy is a priority for both me and the organization. Personally, it’s been useful for me to work alongside the Chapter teams to recruit and identify creatives and professionals that represent all corners of the music industry. Working collectively with our internal team and alongside our members helps drive continued progress toward diversifying our membership.
The Grammy Awards added a best score soundtrack for video games and other interactive media category this year. What opportunities does that open up for increasing membership in that sector since they now have their own category as opposed to being part of best score soundtrack for visual media?
The global shift towards recognizing video games as a mass cultural movement is here to stay. By paving this pathway to recognition specifically for the global Gaming/Interactive media industry, we’re able to connect with and recognize a vast community of creatives and professionals. It allows for more visibility for them in this space and I feel strongly that it will encourage membership growth.
Laura Crawford / Sr. Membership Manager
Country, American Roots, Gospel/CCM
Crawford worked as a publicist in both the contemporary Christian and country genres before joining the Recording Academy 11 years ago. The Nashville native moved into membership in 2014.
Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves both expressed unhappiness over their entries being moved out of the Americana and Country categories in which they were submitted for the most recent Grammy Awards. Was that a concern among Americana and Country artists when you were recruiting new members from that community?
In having membership conversations with artists in these communities, we get a lot of questions about how the Awards process works. When new members have concerns, I make sure they are aware that the process is fluid and there’s an opportunity to lend their voice to changes each year. I think members find it encouraging that they can submit proposals if they feel that adjustments or changes need to be made to the Awards process.
The Academy said 56% of the invitees were from underrepresented communities. How did the efforts to diversify the membership play into your country outreach, which is predominantly a white genre? What are the challenges there?
Like many genres, the face of country music is evolving, and I anticipate in the coming years we’ll see a more inclusive space within this community. Our membership model is peer-driven, so I work closely with key genre stakeholders on our membership committees who constantly introduce us to emerging artists and future industry leaders.
Amanda Garcia Davenport / Membership Manager
Chapters: Texas, Memphis
Davenport previously handled public relations for a mental health and addiction recovery non-profit and did music marketing for Visit Austin before joining the Academy in 2020.
The Academy says 56% of the new invitees were from underrepresented communities. How did that play into your outreach efforts?
As a Latina from Texas, reaching underrepresented communities is always top of mind for me. I’ve found that often prospective members don’t realize they already meet our membership qualifications, so our initial conversations are simply providing information about our process. Nine times out of ten, once someone realizes they qualify, they automatically mention people within their own circles that also qualify. It’s truly a ripple effect and further proves how we all must work together to build a more inclusive membership.
The organization has a goal of adding 2,500 female voting members by 2025. How does that play into your EDM recruiting efforts in a heavily male-dominated genre?
I see this as a challenge a lot of genres are facing and constantly remind myself of the various disciplines that qualify for voting membership – producer, engineer, songwriter, etc. — this way I don’t get stuck only thinking of one profession. We’re also leaning on our membership’s peer-to-peer model (each member can recommend two new members per year) and tapping into existing [ally]organizations with a similar focus like Key of She, Sound Girls, and Girls Make Beats.
Maurice Kalous / Sr. Membership Manager
Rock, Alternative, Spoken Word, Children’s Music
Chapters: Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.
A 13-year veteran of the Academy, Kalous had already been supported the Chicago chapter and last year, his role shifted to focus on outreach within the rock, alternative, spoken word, and children’s music communities while supporting membership efforts for the Chicago, Philadelphia, and D.C. chapters
The Academy added the best spoken word poetry album category this year. How has that helped in recruiting artists in that genre?
The addition of the best spoken word poetry album category is a monumental achievement for the Spoken Word Poetry community. Some of the strongest voices in Spoken Word Poetry advocated for the category addition, including Grammy-nominated artist J. Ivy. Throughout the process of proposing this category, J. and his peers put in the work to ensure recognition for the community by connecting with artists in the genre, leading to an overwhelmingly positive response from their fellow creators.
Of the genres that you cover, which one presents the biggest challenge in recruiting new members?
Right now, I’d love to see more artists in metal engage with the Academy, lead some of our member-facing programs, and take on leadership roles within their respective chapters. We have fantastic voices in our new membership class that I can see leading those discussions…Broadly speaking, I believe our biggest challenge is ensuring all artists working in music understand what the Recording Academy has to offer outside of the Grammy Awards recognition. We are an organization working to better the lives of everyone working in music, and everything we do is powered by our members.
Brittany Presley / Membership Manager
R&B, Rap, Reggae, Global Music
Chapter: Los Angeles
Presley held several positions at nationally syndicated radio stations and production companies before starting with the Academy in 2013 and moving to membership manager four years ago.
What are the challenges in recruiting members from the rap community when some have a still lingering belief in that community that rap isn’t fairly represented in the big four categories?
We’re working hard to continue building relationships and trust with the artists that call this genre home, and we’ve made great strides thanks to the intentional efforts made on behalf of Harvey [Mason jr.], Valeisha [Butterfield Jones, co-president] and so many other leaders here at the Academy. I often find that connecting with these artists directly and uncovering what we do outside of the awards show related to creators’ rights, the Black Music Collective (BMC), and MusiCares helps paint a full picture of what Academy membership can offer them. There is still much progress to be made, and we’re committed to putting in the work that needs to be done to break barriers and build more trust with the rap community.
What areas do you see the greatest potential for growth in the genres that you cover and in the chapter that you oversee? What are the biggest challenges?
I see great potential for growth within the Global music genre. For example, there are so many incredible artists coming out of Africa, and we’re only seeing a subset of that here in the states. I strongly feel that Global music will soon become the music of our time.
Lewis Robertson / Membership Manager
Jazz, Comedy, New Age, Ambien or Chant, Contemporary Instrumental
Chapters: San Francisco, Pacific Northwest
A music professional who worked as a studio musician, tour and studio manager and professor, Robertson started at the Recording Academy three years ago.
The Academy says 56% percent of the new invitees were from underrepresented communities. How did that play into your outreach efforts?
I would estimate that over 80% of my outreach efforts this year were dedicated to identifying and supporting music people in underrepresented communities. Our hope is to not just defend against existing industry biases, but to ultimately help affect positive change that will reverberate throughout the world of music.
What areas do you see the greatest potential for growth in the genres and regions that you cover?
The UK Jazz scene is exploding with innovation, Colorado and Seattle have become quite large music hubs, the comedy genre at large is an untapped gold-mine of creativity, ideas, and artists pushing boundaries. Music from the Bay Area is filled with important calls to action, Contemporary Instrumental music is continuing to breed some of the greatest musicians of our time, and New Age, Ambient and Chant music is becoming more and more important as our lives get busier and more stressful.