Skip to main content

Thank You, Neil Portnow: Guest Post

Music Confidential editor and publisher Susan Butler reflects on her own experiences with the embattled Recording Academy chief.

Dear Neil Portnow,

You must have been taken aback at the negative reaction when two of your many words taken from a backstage interview at the Grammy Awards spread across national media: “Grammys So Male? ‘Women Need to Step Up,’ Says Recording Academy President.”

You must have been astounded from the angry tweets that attacked you for two words, “Step Up.” After all, the attacks came not long after Janelle Monae‘s moving speech on the show: “We come in peace, but we mean business.”

I was astounded because I have two words for you.

Thank you.

Thank you for that time in the early 1990s when, as a young music lawyer, I was elected to the Academy’s L.A. Chapter Board of Governors. You were a member of the Academy’s Board of Trustees and, as I recall, running the West Coast office of Jive.


I wanted to make a difference in the way rock music was represented at the Grammys. After all, Jethro Tull had recently won a metal category. Even though you only knew me as a new board member, you made the time to meet with me in your office. You helped me come up with a strategy to get the Academy’s national president to approve a rock committee that I wanted to form — something several board members told me would never happen. Your strategy worked.

Thank you for again helping me to strategize how to get more top rock musicians and producers to join the Academy and to convince them to actually vote on the Grammy ballots.

Last week, rock producer Mike Clink testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on behalf of record producers. He reminded and thanked me for bringing him into the Academy all those years ago to make a difference for rock music. I pointed out that now he was actually testifying before Congress. He should have thanked you because you were the one who encouraged me to go for it.

Thanks to you and to the three other music executives with the Academy who asked me to join you all for a drink many years ago. We had been part of a group interviewing candidates for the position of running the L.A. Chapter for the Academy — a position that was later filled by a woman.


During drinks, the four of you noted that I could never run for president of the chapter because I was not a voting member; I did not have sufficient credits on records or songs to qualify. I had produced one indie record, and you all encouraged me to do more. You all even offered to introduce me to some people who might be able to help as well. You all then encouraged me to consider running for the position of president of the chapter in the future after I qualified as a voting member.

Of course it was me who concluded that men in rock would never accept a woman as a producer. I did not even try. I confess, I did not step up. In fact, I even stepped away from the Academy for awhile.

Thank you again for your encouragement seven years later. You were appointed Recording Academy President. I called to congratulate you. I had moved to New York City, and you encouraged me to again get involved with the Academy and run for the New York Chapter’s Board of Governors. I did, and during that time a woman was hired to replace a man to run that chapter office.

The only mistake you made during the Grammy Awards interview was to think that you were talking to an audience of women who wanted encouragement, just as you encouraged me so often during my career.

Unfortunately, you did not know that they wanted you to criticize the state of the industry.

I know what you meant by your words. You meant carpe diem, seize the day, do not give up.


Today I own and run my own international business. Thousands of music executives and government officials pay to read my words every week.

Right now, at this moment, however, the most valuable words I can write are:

Thank you. Your professional support and encouragement early in my career helped pave the way to my success.

Susan Butler
Executive Editor/Publisher, Music Confidential

Susan Butler is an American business journalist and media publisher, entertainment and tech attorney and published author. Through Butler Business & Media LLC, she writes and publishes the weekly international news & analysis report Music Confidential and produces a few select private executive summits in Europe. From 2004-2008, Butler was a staff writer and editor for Billboard, covering legal issues and publishing.

2018 Grammy Awards