Why you didn’t win a Grammy

Anne Midgette of the Washington Post explains why you shouldn’t be insulted you didn’t win a Grammy this year:

For critics of all stripes, deriding the Grammys as increasingly insignificant is an annual ritual. But the classical Grammys are particularly irrelevant. "In the classical world, winning a Grammy does not translate into record sales," says Elaine Martone, the executive vice president of Telarc Records and a four-time Grammy winner. "People kind of pooh-pooh it, because it doesn’t get telecast recognition."


Classical music looks on the Grammys much as the artsy kid in school,
engrossed in creative pursuits, occasionally peeking over to see if the
star athlete has noticed him — only to look down his nose at him when
he does. …

Some say that a Grammy is a sign of respect from one’s peers in the
business. This is pure spin. For classical music, it is not clear what
the award means at all. The nomination process involves labels
submitting their best releases — Matt Whittier, senior marketing
manager of Naxos records, put in 150 nominations this year — which are
then voted on by some 11,000 eligible NARAS members to yield 10 albums
in each category. These 10 are cut to five by a committee of industry
insiders in Los Angeles in November. This process yields an odd
hodgepodge of familiar names and recordings that seem to have come in
from left field: This year’s most nominated classical album is a choral
work by the Russian composer Alexander Grechaninov, hardly a household
name, performed by the Kansas City Chorale and the Phoenix Bach Choir.

The final voting is completed by those same eligible members of NARAS
— "eligible" by virtue of appearing in some capacity on at least 12
professionally recorded albums. There is no restriction on who votes on
what. A single member can vote in no more than nine out of the 31
fields of competition (classical music is the largest single field),
but there is nothing to stop someone voting in classical, country and

The academy declines to say how many votes actually go to classical
recordings — if, indeed, it even knows…It may take very few votes for
classical music success. The classical industry still remembers the
flap in 1986 when the Atlanta Symphony won five Grammys after the
Atlanta chapter of NARAS beefed up its membership by some 160 people.

In short, Grammys (Grammies?) are marketing spin – which is not to say that the nominees, or the winners, aren’t good recordings. But they are a subset of the number of good recordings released in any given year. I doubt there’s any reason to believe that nominees, or winners, are better than many recordings not nominated.

I wonder when The Recording Academy (yes, "The" is supposed to be capitalized) is going to figure out that some very good recordings aren’t released on CD or by record labels. Maybe we need some new awards for us online-only folks. We could call them "The Downers."

What bother me  most about the Grammies is the notion that there’s such a thing as a "best recording," or "best anything," in a business like ours. If there was, I doubt that Nashville would have won over Minnesota, Slatkin over Vanska, or Joan Tower over Beethoven. But there’s not.

The whole "Made in America" project was a truly remarkable and original endeavor, and one more worthy of recognition simply as an achievement than is the umpteenth recorded Beethoven cycle by an American orchestra, regardless of how good. But wouldn’t it be better to recognize is as what it was, rather than call it better than something else? Achievement in our field should be recognized. It shouldn’t be ranked.


One Response to “Why you didn’t win a Grammy”

  1. Plush Says:

    This discussion is a good one to have. In reading it, I can’t agree that either Ms. Midgette or Elaine Martone have it right, though.
    Not only does the Washington Post author have the facts wrong but I can almost guarantee that she would not write what she did if she had won this year!

    For example, the Naxos nominations mentioned are immediately zeroed out by members and members do indeed select the majority of the five final nominees. Attempts to pack the nominations and over-vote as in the Atlanta example are usually policed quite well. (By the way, it was the members of the chorus who were added by Atlanta.)

    I spent more than a decade deep inside NARAS and great strides have been made in how voting is done and how the 5 final nominees are selected. The classical awards categories are still way too focused on American performances and, certainly, I agree that many of the most outstanding records were not nominated this year.

    The Grammy award, no matter how cheesy, does affect sales, does confer prestige and does enable one to charge more for their performances and services. For the artist who wins this is most beneficial.

    Certainly I can agree that for the tv viewer, the show is moribund.

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