Yesterday the Recording Academy announced major changes to the annual Grammy Awards, reducing the number of categories from 109 at the last awards show to 78. For those who think the awards show is already over-long and unfocused, the changes may seem too long in coming. But nothing done will impact the actual show, since most of what is changed isn’t the stuff that makes the Grammy Awards a long and dreadful affair …
The image at top shows part of a list that the Recording Academy has for comparing the current list of categories to what will be around for next year.
The thing that immediately struck me was that while there were cuts everywhere, there are significant differences. While in the pop realm most of what happened was combining male and female and solo and group awards – most of which were meaningless and more like giving two of the same award (could you imagine ‘best male instrumental solo’ and ‘best female instrumental solo’?) – in other areas the cuts were more substantive.
As expected, few are happy with the changes. As noted at the, the Jazz and Classical awards got some sweeping changes:
For classical music, the Grammys will feature a new category called best classical instrumental solo, which replaces two previous categories that covered solo instrumental performances with and without orchestra. The category called best small ensemble performance will absorb the best chamber music category.
The category known as best classical vocal performance will now be called best classical vocal solo.
For jazz, the academy has created a new category called best jazz instrumental album that replaces three previous categories — best contemporary jazz album, best Latin jazz album and best jazz instrumental album, individual or group.
The category known as best jazz vocal album will absorb some of the submissions from the best Latin jazz album category.
Perhaps the biggest hit is in the so-called ‘indie’ world. These are folks not making huge record sales, but catering to a specific audience – Hawaiian music, Native American music, bluegrass, and so on. These categories have largely been eliminated,:
Hardest hit are indie labels and artists who often benefit from recognition in many of the eliminated categories. The minimum number of entries per category has been upped to 40 from 25. Award categories often won by indies that that have been combined or eliminated include:
Best Tejano Album
Best Norteño Album
Best Banda Album
Best Contemporary Folk Album
Best Hawaiian Music Album
Best Native American Music Album
Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album
Best Contemporary World Music Album
I also lament the loss of the instrumental rock, as it recognizes one of the few areas of actual musical creativity and exploration in the popular realm and has given folks like Jeff Beck and Joe Satriani the acclaim they would never see otherwise, and had nominees like Alan Holdsworth, Yngwie Malsteem, Steve Vai and King Crimson!
And isn’t it interesting that we are seeing the biggest and deepest cuts in the very areas that folks like Steve Stoute complained about?
Not that I would push a pet conspiracy theory, but I have little doubt that these category eliminations, combined with the new rule that has upped the minimum nominations required and added a ‘three years below the limit and you’re out’ clause, are concessions made by the Academy to the big labels (with their big money backing and the fact that they have the artists who go on stage and draw the viewers). The goal of the labels is to eventually get things to the point that they own every award being presented … well, if there is a conspiracy at work, and I haven’t said that there is …
My guess – the Academy was looking to streamline things anyway, and for the major labels Arcade Fire and Esperanza Spalding were the last straw.