As Senior VP of Awards for the Recording Academy, Bill Freimuth’s job is to oversee the entire process for the prestigious Grammy Awards. There are many moving parts prior to hearing, “And the Grammy goes to…” They consist of the song entry process, screening committees, nomination balloting, final voting and, in some cases, a further review committee. In the following Q&A, Mr. Freimuth sheds some light on the interesting process.
How arduous is managing the thousands of song entries and nominations?
It’s extremely arduous. This year we had a record number of entries, just shy of 22,500 entries. Over the last five years or so, we’ve been averaging around 17, 500 entries. We have to touch each entry at least a couple of times. Thankfully, I have this really incredible staff of 18 people in our department right now to go through all of this. They make sure the entries are spelled correctly, that the songs are verified as eligible then streamed into the proper categories. It’s a huge volume of work. I tell my staff each one of these entries is precious to someone: it’s their shot at a Grammy Award. We treat each entry with care, respect and integrity, and ensure that we get the process right.
We have 10 special committees including the General, Dance Electronic, R&B, Country, Jazz, Gospel, Latin, American Roots, Children and Classical fields. They typically get the top 15 selections narrowed from the membership; the review committee listens to all the music, and vote by secret ballot to determine the five final nominations.
A few years ago the Grammys condensed its number of categories from 109 to 78. After some controversy, how has that move played out for the Recording Academy?
The Academy had been around 50 years but there had never been a real overview of all its categories. We had been adding a lot of categories. What the group that studied this learned was there was no parity among the fields. Some fields had more categories than others, certain fields were recognizing sub-genres that were very small in terms of the low number of entries that were coming in. It’s what lead to the notion of restructuring. It also partly helped the consumer, the fan of the Grammy Awards, who doesn’t necessarily work in music to have a broader view and greater understanding of what these categories mean. Consumers classify things but most of them use larger classifications – Pop, R&B, Rock – rather than drilling things down to subgenres.
So how has a category like Traditional R&B evolved over the years? It was once perceived as a category for aging veteran artists yet Beyoncé, a current artist, won last year.
By definition the category is intended for those vocal or instrumental artists whose music may incorporate additional elements associated with Blues, Gospel or Jazz. It may include styles of Soul, Funk, Neo-Soul or Smooth Jazz. When you look at that definition, it’s not just about Soul music or older people but about a style of music and presentation that harkens back to the elements we mentioned. Traditional R&B has seen a bit of resurgence. In the last several years, you’ve seen younger artists embrace those styles.
What is the definition for Best Urban Contemporary Album, one of three new categories the Recording Academy re-established last year?
The category is for newly-recorded contemporary vocal tracks derivative of R&B. It’s intended for artists whose music includes the more contemporary elements of R&B, and may incorporate production elements found in urban pop, urban Euro-pop, urban rock or urban alternative.
The Rap Sung category used to be a catch-all for any singer or rapper that collaborates. Has that definition changed?
There’s been more of a focus put on the ‘Rap’ side of the category. The decision was in the screening committee because the category is in the Rap field. Before it used to be a bit more liberal allowing any singer featuring a rapper on tracks. I think the screening committee is now more conservative instead of allowing songs that are too Popish or too R&B-ish into that category. I think you will find most of what ends up in the category this year people will classify as Rap with singing rather than Pop or R&B with rapping.
Why are there such technical and specific definitions when it pertains to categories and awards?
It’s what keeps us current and that’s one of our biggest challenges. We work so hard to ensure the awards process is right. It really is about representing what the music community and the industry feels is the very best music of the year rather than what is the most popular or what artist had the biggest marketing campaign behind it. How a category is defined is important. Some of our categories have no definitions at all, like Rock or Country. You know it when you hear it.
How unique is your job? Except for within the Oscars or the Golden Globes organizations, is there anyone out there that does what you do?
The closest may be the person who runs the awards [department] for the Emmys. I used to run the Theatre LA Ovation Awards, which is the main reason I think I was chosen for this job. I was able to transfer those skills over here. There are so many people involved in this whole Grammy process—including our 12,000 voting members. We have some 600 people who serve on various committees. There’s my whole staff, the Chapter staffs are involved at various levels, along with the various Chapter Boards of Governors and Trustees. Every step of the process is vetted by a number of people.
To learn more about the Recording Academy, and how to become a voting member, please visit http://www.grammy365.com/