With the Grammys airing from Los Angeles on Sunday, January 26, 2020, MIQ thought it would be an excellent time to speak with Len Brown. Having been with the Recording Academy just over 2 years, Brown has the unique and distinct responsibility of interacting with the R&B, Rap and Reggae music communities, on behalf of the Recording Academy.
Describe your role with the Grammy organization and what’s a typical day like for you?
I’m basically responsible for everything that encompasses the R&B, Rap and Reggae categories; that includes the committees that help us narrow things down around the screening and nominations process. It can mean having meetings with a variety of record and publishing companies, or meeting with individual artists who want to learn more about how the Grammy process works. Despite this organization being over 60 years old, there are still a lot of people unfamiliar with our process.
There are so many moving parts to the Grammys. How much time is put in throughout the year preparing for the 3 ½ hour Awards show.
When it comes to the actual Awards, our process is pretty extensive. We have 84 categories and we get some 20,000 plus song entries every year. 20% of that music is roughly Urban titles. We spend half the year ensuring all of the music entries are accurately inputted. The other half of the year is spent in outreach—letting people know we’re more than an annual Awards show. We’re an organization for musicians by musicians. There’s the philanthropic side, and the advocacy side to what we do. There are so many ways to get members involved other than just trying to win a Grammy.
Twenty-thousand entries…how much music do you personally listen to?
When I think about the music I listen to for work, and then for pleasure. It’s a lot. It’s easily thousands of songs each year. If I hated music, this would be torture [laughs]. But fortunately, I love music so much.
How have the R&B and Rap music categories evolved in the time you’ve been with the Recording Academy?
I think they’re becoming a lot more inclusive. It’s no longer about only seeing the typical A-listers flooding these categories. It’s a pretty good mix. Just look how the Rap categories have evolved, with nominations for the late Nipsey Hussle, 21 Savage, Dreamville, Lil Baby & Gunna, artists who have credibility and are well-known within Hip-Hop circles, but as far as mainstream success not as much. It’s good to see that inclusion. It shows there’s a variety of Rap music being presented.
It’s also happening in R&B. Look at Lucky Daye who’s gotten a number of R&B nominations this year. He’s gotten a lot of love while being an emerging artist. There’s also diversity within the R&B categories like with Emily King, NAO and Jesse Reyes.
This is all coming from a musicians’ perspective because these are peer-based awards. It’s the members, many who are musicians, who share the room and make these decisions. We bring together our growing and diverse room full of experts –whether they are people who create a certain genre of music, or people like music executives, journalists, and the like who actively work in the industry. They have the perfectly tuned ears to pinpoint where music is and where it’s going.
Lizzo certainly is representative of why the screening process is so important. How challenging is it to screen when an artist covers a number of genres such as Pop, Rap and R&B?
We do it based on the sound. An artist’s sound can take on different shapes with each song, and each project. We can’t just place an artist into a certain genre because that’s where they have always been. It’s short sighted. Sometimes an artist sits outside of the genre they traditionally have been known for.
With 24-hour news media and a very loud social media force coming at you, how is it dealing with the constant scrutiny. I mean the show can’t please everybody.
At the Recording Academy we understand you can’t please everybody. All we can do is educate and inform. There’s a lot of miscommunication of our process in the media – where people just get confused about what we do. Again, this is a peer-based award and not a popularity award. This is what musicians and fellow artists have chosen. Not the Grammy staff or a board member, or fat cats in suits, or a bunch of fans that may or may not know the types of categories we are trying to award.
The Grammy organization are facilitators to the entire process, and what the results are. We’re bolstering up our efforts to communicate that with the music community at large and the general public, so that way when people ask, ‘why did the Academy pick this?’ they will understand that it was our membership of fellow artists and musicians who chose these nominations, and eventual winners. Now, will people still complain? Of course. We can’t really do much about that but maintain integrity with the process. We encourage people from the superstar level of a Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, to your independent Soundcloud artists who may not be part of the Academy yet, to join up and exercise their voices.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love music. Besides that, these Awards do change lives and careers. It’s a blessing to be able to go out and educate how we advocate for music creators around the globe. Many of these artists are people I’ve long respected and looked up to as a fan. So, it’s amazing to be a resource for the music community.
The Recording Academy recently appointed Deborah Dugan as its new CEO/President. Are you feeling a culture change or new energy inside the building?
Definitely! Whenever you bring somebody into such a high-profile position, along with new ideas, there’s going to be a newfound energy. Deborah is showing that she cares about where we’re going as an Academy, and how we maintain our prominence within this business. She has also talked about how we can become more inclusive and how to give back to the community more than we have in the past. The energy is welcome. It’s infectious. Although, it’s still fairly early, I have a good feeling so far.
For more information regarding the Grammy Awards and membership, visit https://www.grammy.com/