I like to think I came pretty close, once. If we’d released this album a year earlier, we’d have been almost guaranteed a nomination in the Best Polka category: there were five openings and only four entries. This, though, was the last straw for the GRAMMY folks, and so it was that what may very well be the best (or at least the most elaborately orchestrated) polka album ever made was released the year they dropped the category altogether.
Anyway. After a lot of therapy and with the help of my sponsor, I’ve been able to get over the injustice. In the process, I’ve also learned some valuable strategies for coping with life without a small brass model of an obsolete record player.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the GRAMMYs, so let me explain how it works:
Any record released in the US is eligible for entry. You or your label can enter. There’s a form. Somebody has to fill it in.
You have to specify which category you want to enter (this year there are 81). This is fun, because the definitions of the categories are secret.
Inevitably this means some records are entered in the wrong categories, so a committee of volunteers from the industry goes through the thousands of entries to check they’re all in the right categories. I did this once. It took three days.
Once your record has been accepted (and moved to the right category), you have to get nominated. You can nominate yourself. There’s another form. Only voting members of NARAS can fill it out. To be a voting member of NARAS you have to pay an annual fee and fill out another form, enclosing proof that you’ve actually appeared on an album.
If lots of people nominate your record, you make it to the ballot, except that the names of the nominated records aren’t printed on the ballot because we learned nothing from the Patriot Act.
Consulting a second document containing the actual names of the nominees, the members of the academy (the 20,000 people who appeared on at least one record, paid a fee and filled out a form) fill out another form and select the winners.
If the definitions of the categories are completely secret, the criteria for selecting the winners is at least marginally less opaque. The letter accompanying the ballot cautions you “please judge by quality alone, uninfluenced by personal friendships, company loyalties, regional preferences or sales”. Clearly, the idea is you’re supposed to vote for the best ones.
Obviously, then, what everybody does is vote for themselves and then use their remaining votes for anybody they know, anybody on their label, anybody local and finally anybody they’ve heard of.
If you want to win a GRAMMY, I’d suggest you bear all of these things in mind, and for pity’s sake don’t forget to vote for yourselves. Orchestras? You know who you are.
When the votes are counted, you get to go to the Staples Center in LA to see the prizes get given out at an A-list televised event. Unless, that is, you want to see the classical awards, which happen somewhere else earlier in the day. All voting members can get tickets. You have to pay for them, and fill out a form, obviously.
Is it all worth it? Well, there’s some evidence that winning the GRAMMY for Album of the Year will improve your sales, but there’s not a lot of evidence that winning any of the smaller categories will sell a single extra record.
I was always more taken with the prestige of it, although as time goes by I’m less excited by this. You see, any prestigious club derives its prestige from its exclusivity, and while I have my doubts about any club that would have me as a member, some of the past winners make you wonder how many voting members live next door to the authors of “Who let the dogs out?”.
Similarly, if a miniature gold victrola is an essential accessory for the successful musician, how come so many big-time musicians have never won?
In the end, the GRAMMYs are a lot of forms and hoopla, which is nice if you like forms and hoopla, but it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t win. Led Zeppelin, Queen, Abba, Justin Bieber and Diana Ross all did ok without a GRAMMY, and so can you.
* Which they write out in all caps, a trademark issue everybody else quite sensibly ignores