How the Grammys Work

Voting Process for the Grammys
Rap duo Outkast accepts the award for best rap album for solo, duo or group at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards in 2002. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Every year, the Recording Academy gathers nominations for the Grammy Awards. Associate and voting members can nominate artists online or by mail, as can major and independent record labels that have registered with the Awards department. To be eligible, recordings must have been released in general commercial distribution in the United States between October 1 of the previous year and September 30 of the current year.

Once the Recording Academy receives the nominations, expert reviewers organize them. No judging takes place during this step — its purpose is only to sort each nomination into one of 30 musical fields, such as rap, country, jazz and rock. Although people most often associate the Grammys with music, the awards also recognize comedy, spoken word recordings and music videos. As the industry evolves, the Awards and Nominations Committee can also add fields or remove existing ones (no more awards for best polka album for instance). The Academy Trustees must approve the changes [source: Grammy].

After sorting the nominations, the Recording Academy mails ballots to its voting members. The purpose of this first round of voting is to select the five nominees for each award. To make sure the voting process is accurate, members may vote:

  • For the four general categories of record of the year, album of the year, song of the year and best new artist
  • In a maximum of 15 categories, all within their areas of expertise

Members return their ballots to the independent accounting firm Deloitte, which tallies the votes [source: Grammy].

The Recording Academy then distributes a second round of ballots to each voting member. This time, finalists from a special nominating committee that looks at technical and other specialized awards are included. The member may vote for the four general categories and a maximum of 15 categories in his or her genre of expertise. Deloitte tallies the votes and places the results in envelopes that remain sealed until the ceremony.

Most people associate the Grammy Awards with the televised awards show and its live performances. But the awards cover far more categories than you see on TV. In 2017, the Recording Academy awarded Grammys in 84 categories within the 30 fields (pop, classical, R&B, etc.) [source: Grammy]. In addition to the best-known awards like Song of the Year, the Recording Academy recognizes a wide range of musical accomplishments, down to album notes and package design. The Recording Academy presents most of these awards separately on the afternoon before the televised ceremony.

Regardless of whether they receive their award on live TV or earlier in the day, all winners get a small statue of a gramophone. The Grammys gets its nickname from these statues.

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