[Exclusive] Inside The Grammys: The Recording Academy’s SVP of Awards, Bill Freimuth

Bill Freimuth

Bill Freimuth, the Recording Academy’s SVP of Awards

Bill Freimuth, SVP for the Recording Academy’s Awards Department, oversees the Awards department, leading a full-time staff of 16 (plus five temporary staffers in the fall) to manage the Grammy Awards’ submission process, and oversees production of Premiere, the Grammy Awards’ pre-telecast show, where the majority of the awards are announced.

Freimuth spoke to MusicRow about the voting process for the Recording Academy’s 13,000 voting members, the Grammys’ move to Monday night in 2016, Grammy voting misconceptions, and the next steps in the Grammy awards process now that the final nominees have been revealed.

Final-round Grammy ballots will be mailed Dec. 16 and awards will be presented Monday, Feb. 15, live from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles and broadcast on CBS. Click here for more on this year’s Grammy nominees.

On the requirements to become a voting member of the Recording Academy:
Freimuth: You have to be a music maker, and involved creatively in the production of recorded music, so that’s singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, producers, engineers, album notes writers, art directors, video directors, people like that. They are all creative folks. Our voting members are not artist managers, publicists, label executives.

To be a member, it’s really easy to join if you have those credits, and we are always encouraging those who are eligible to join the Academy. Right now, you need credits in one of those creative areas on at least six tracks that are released physically via a CD or at least 12 tracks released digital only.

On this year’s leading nominees, including Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift:
Each of them has released an album this year that, at the risk of sounding cliché, was a game-changer. They pulled out all the stops and made albums that were not just people-pleasers, but have deep, artistic integrity. They did terrific work, and I like to think that these nominations are a reflection of that fantastic work.

On the Grammy Awards’ move to Monday night in 2016:
The major reason is if we were on our normal Sunday, it would fall on Valentine’s Day. I think that is second only to Mother’s Day as far as the busiest night for restaurants so we didn’t want people to have to choose. And it’s also a holiday weekend otherwise, because it’s President’s Day on Monday, so…for those various reasons it made sense to be on a Monday this year.

On deciding which categories will be telecast each year:
It’s decided in collaboration between the production team and our TV committee, primarily elected leaders from the Academy, our trustees, along with a few senior staff members. It’s usually not decided until relatively late in the process, as far as what categories will be on air. We want to make sure we have a good mix, that the categories are relevant to the viewing audience, and of course, we want to make sure that all the nominees are actually attending.

On Recording Academy voting rules:
There is a cap on how many of the 83 categories members can vote in. Everybody can vote in the four categories in the general field and we certainly encourage every voter to make their marks in those categories. Out of the remaining 79 categories, people can vote on up to 20 of those categories. We strongly encourage people to vote only in areas in which they have expertise. No doubt there are a lot of people, for example in Nashville, that know not only country music but also rock, pop, and very likely American roots music, so there are plenty of people who really are qualified to vote in 10, 15, up to 20 additional categories.

On Grammy misconceptions:
I travel to our different Recording Academy chapters to meet with new members, or with potential members, and I will sometimes do these kind of ‘Grammy 101’ talks. I ask how many of them think that the Grammy nominations and winners decisions are made in some smoke-filled room by a bunch of top label execs and managers. I always get several people raising their hands. So we’ve done a lot of work to dispel some of the myths.

We’ve developed our awards process over the last 58 years and we tweak it every year to keep currency and relevance. We have the whole process to screen each recording into its proper genre. Some categories—country included—go through review committees to further ensure the integrity of the category. We work against marketing budgets and popularity to some extent to make sure we are actually honoring simply great recordings.

It’s funny because I meet people and they find out what I do, and they say, “OK, what do you do the rest of the year?” I’m doing this the whole year. We got over 21,000 submissions this year. Our staff needs to look at each one of those submissions at least a couple of times during the process. From July through Thanksgiving, we are just going through every single one of these, to make sure they are actually eligible and in the right category and going through the process in the correct way.

On the next steps for the Recording Academy leading up to the Grammy Awards:
The first couple of things are that we are uploading all the recordings on a site I call our “Listening Room,” a password-protected site where all of our voters can go and listen to all the nominated recordings, and we find that’s actually had a great influence on the way people vote. They may see the list and think they will vote for one track, but then they listen to another song they had not even heard, and it blows them away and it gets their vote. It helps to ensure that the best music is being honored. Of course, we have to make sure we get clearances for all that music so that’s a lot of work as well.

For me, personally, I am a sort of co-producer on the Premiere ceremony, so I’m booking presenters and performers for that event. We are getting more and more big-name artists at that event. Taylor [Swift] is always there and has been since she was a kid, which is amazing.

On nominee seating arrangements during the Grammy Awards ceremony:
It’s more contingent on whether you are a member of the Academy. If you are a member of the Academy who is nominated [for a Grammy Award], you get two gratis seats and the ability to purchase more, though the ones you purchase probably won’t be seated with you, but further back in the house. If you are not a member of the Academy, you get one ticket and the ability to purchase a ticket to sit next to you, and the ability to purchase more tickets further back. In terms of seating, if your category will be televised on air, you will be seated near the front. Also because we certainly want to please our fans and general music consumers, we tend to put some of the more recognizable faces on the front rows, as you can imagine.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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