Portnow Discusses Grammy Nominations Concert Decision

Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy, gave an exclusive interview with MusicRow about the decision to bring the GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! to Nashville earlier this year. This is the first time the event has ever taken place outside of Los Angeles.

MR: What went into the decision to move the concert from LA to Nashville?
PORTNOW: The way I’ve been explaining it is that it begins with a business management principle, which I embrace and I encourage our staff and our elected leaders to embrace, which is if asked the question “Why do we do this?” If the answer is simply “Because we’ve always done it this way,” that’s really not an acceptable or smart approach to what you might be doing at any given time.

What that informs is a constant re-evaluation in taking a look at things to make sure that however we’re doing it that it’s the right way, it’s an interesting way, it’s unique and it really represents the values and the missions of the academy.

That’s a basic principle to this particular project and it’s fairly new one, it’s something we conceived of five or six years ago, after years of traditional press conferences to announce the nominations. I always thought that was okay, but it’s cruel and unusual punishment for artists to be up at seven in the morning to do that and then frankly at some point it gets a little bit dull and a little predictable. We realized if we’re going to celebrate music then let’s do it in a venue and an environment that really speaks to that celebration and let’s have some music. So that led us to moving from a press conference in a hotel ballroom to a music venue. That kind of inspired, “Well if we’re in this space where music is played, let’s play some music and let’s put it on TV. Let’s have this as a way to really set up and introduce Grammy season in a way that is very involving and empowering for the fans.”

When we got to the five-year mark of that adventure, it was time to take another look to see if there’s anything about it that we might change. We have been changing the content and format a little bit, we’ve been out to a few different venues in LA and so the next thing to consider was “what about somewhere other than LA?” And that’s what got us thinking about this and down this path.

MR: So why Nashville?
PORTNOW: First of all, Nashville has a lot of intersection with the Academy. The first one as basic as that when the Academy was formed 55 years ago, one the concepts was that it have the ability to incorporate the diversity that’s found in music centers around the country and not try to have one size fits all, programmatically or even culturally. One of the very early chapters, aside from Los Angeles and New York, is Nashville and we have a long history there as an organization and we have a very successful vibrant chapter, one of our largest memberships comes from that region.

Number two, to the credit of Mayor Dean and the whole team in Nashville they wisely recognize, and I applaud them for it and support them in it, that creativity and the arts are key components to a broad and enlightened culture, and specifically music is a key element to the success of Nashville on so many levels.

I’d met with the mayor for quite a few years and was very familiar with his desire and the community’s desire to ramp up, to spread the word, to paint Nashville beyond a country music city, but just music city with the diversity and the great music population that’s there. So that became a factor.

Additionally, our current chairman of the board of the academy is George Flanigen. George is in the last lap of the first chair to ever have a 4-year term and so having our chair on the ground and being part of the community really opened a conduit of information and enthusiasm for getting this done.

MR: Do you see the concert moving around the country? Returning to LA? Staying in Nashville?
PORTNOW: The great thing for us is that we view most of what we do as an artist would view a fresh canvas. So we have fresh canvas to paint on on an annual basis. I like that fact that we have no restrictions or requirements that can’t be evaluated regularly. This is the first move for this particular project and we’ll see how it goes. I’m hopeful that it’s going to be a major homerun and a great experience. So afterwards we’ll come back and take a look at it and see what makes sense for the following year.


The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music’s Biggest Night airs tonight (12/5) on CBS live from the Bridgestone Area at 9 p.m. CT. For details on tonight’s event, click here.


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