Ask Them Anything
Artists put the Recording Academy’s new leaders in the hot seat
How can artists, especially newer ones, help the academy achieve its goals?
DJ KHALED artist, producer, We the Best Music Group founder, Grammy winner
Panay This is an organization
made by peers to recognize excellence and give [opportunities] to peers for talent to shine. So for us, creating as many channels for conversation as possible is critical. If you’re an up-and-coming creator, we encourage you to reach out to us, to help us understand better ways to serve you. How are you using new platforms, new technologies to create? Where are you going to get educated about how to grow and evolve your talent? We want to be there with you every step along the way, from the minute you want to start creating all the way until you can’t create anymore because you’re so darn old. And even then, we want to support you with MusiCares or access to good resources.
Butterfield Jones Participation is so important. Khaled’s global impact, the magnetic way that he can attract talent across every region, every country, every age and genre — we need that, and we can’t do it by ourselves. And so to Khaled, I say directly, “You are the best, we need you, and we invite you to be even more involved with us.”
What’s your favorite collaboration that has happened at the Grammys?
NATHY PELUSO, Argentine singer-songwriter, Latin Grammy winner, 2022 Grammy nominee
Mason Beyoncé and Prince, Eminem and Elton John ... there’s so many, I couldn’t even imagine one being my favorite. Panay As a young person at the time, Elton and Eminem was just so powerful. People forget Eminem was at his all-time “dangerous” height, right? And there was all this tension. To see them coming together, joining hands, it sent a very powerful signal. It made my hair stand up. Butterfield Jones It wasn’t a performance, but earlier this year, when Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé held hands and took the stage [to accept the best rap performance Grammy for “Savage Remix”]. It just sent chills up my body to see the sisterhood, the women’s empowerment, the appreciation of each other.
What was the motivation behind the new 10-3 rule, and what is the desired effect?
DAVE KOZ, jazz saxophonist, nine-time Grammy nominee
Mason The 10-3 rule, instituted this year, specifies that as a voter, you pick three fields — basically three genres — and within those, you can vote in 10 [total] categories. So if you happen to be an expert in rock, you should clarify that and sign up on the ballot with that being one of your three fields of expertise so that you’re voting from a place of knowledge.
The other benefit: We want to make sure we’re not seeing people vote for each other frivolously. You have to be judicious when you know you only have certain categories you can vote in. So you can’t say, “Hey, I’ll vote for your person, you vote for my person.” That’s obviously against the rules and something we don’t want to see. Having 10-3 in place will make it almost like having a large nomination review committee — experts in a genre all voting for people in that genre.
What’s your most memorable Grammys performance?
Colombian singer-songwriter, eight-time Latin Grammy nominee
Panay Adele honoring George Michael. She was interpreting “Fastlove” — the arrangement itself was brilliant — but she started off wrong, and I’ve never seen another performer on national television have the presence of mind and the bravery to just say, “I’m going to start again because I care too much.” We saw an artist at the top of her game acknowledge her own imperfection and vulnerability. That’s what music is about, and we forget.
The Grammy Awards are only one day a year — what is the Recording Academy doing the other 364 days?
GIVEON, R&B artist, five-time 2022 Grammy nominee
Mason We’re doing some other things really, really well: advocating on behalf of music people in Washington, D.C., and locally, and making sure that we’re able to continue to make a fair living, making sure we’re taken care of with stimulus packages similar to what you saw during COVID-19 and just making sure that music people are top of mind for lawmakers and legislators.
Also, MusiCares — making sure there’s a safety net year-round in place for people who have fallen ill or can’t afford their rent or who might have lost an instrument or have a mental health or drug-addiction issue. And then, with education [initiatives] and our Grammy museum, making sure we’re preserving music and educating the next generation. A lot of schools don’t have music teachers or instruments, especially in underserved communities. And if we don’t [ensure] that we’re introducing people to music, we’ll lose artists, we’ll lose creators. We won’t have people even having an appreciation for music.
Butterfield Jones A lot of what Harvey just said culminates through our 12 chapters. We have chapters in almost every major music market. We have webinars, master classes, programs focused on financial literacy and mental health. And that work is year-round. So thank you, Giveon, for the question — and I would love for you to be involved, too.
Panay This is an academy, and in some ways, the awards show is the equivalent of the graduation ceremony. It’s one day, there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance, but the other 364 days of the year, that’s where the work happens. Ultimately, our intention is to continue to develop those platforms because there are millions of creators and music people around the globe, but only a handful of them get to be recognized with a Grammy.
How will the inclusion rider, which you developed with online social justice organization Color of Change and the law firm Cohen Milstein, affect the show?
VALEISHA BUTTERFIELD JONES This year, the Grammy Awards production was a very diverse set. However, we wanted to introduce a tool and a method by which we, as an organization, could hold ourselves accountable and ultimately be a model for the industry. Something that was very important to Harvey, Panos and I was that we were creating ways to drive systemic change — because one day we won’t be here. Behind the camera, you’ll see more gender diversity, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people and persons with disabilities working. But we’re looking in front of the stage, too. We are making sure that we are reflecting the diverse music community that we represent.
Panos, as chief revenue officer, part of your mandate is to find new sources of revenue beyond the Grammy broadcast and deal with CBS, which accounted for 54% of the academy’s revenue last year. What are your plans to diversify revenue?
PANOS A. PANAY There are multiple areas. I believe that there is a lot of room for expansion for us in the education sector. That is ultimately how we elevate and give opportunity to people. The skills that our collective members have — we have 24,000 incredible creators — are desired by countries around the world because creativity and imagination are in need everywhere. The other area is global expansion. We like to say here at the academy, talent is evenly distributed around the planet, but opportunity is not. I don’t like us to demarcate based on somebody’s passport or someone’s language or somebody’s place of origin. We are here to illuminate talent, no matter where it lives. This is the most recognized brand in music around the world, so that gives us permission to expand responsibly.
Does that mean you are looking to monetize some of the educational offerings the academy has in order to bring in revenue?
PANAY I think so. We’re looking at everything that we’re doing and trying to figure out the best way to approach all of it. Whatever we do, it has to be consistent with our mission and ultimately consistent with the values that this organization has. Revenue generation for us is not an end. It’s a means toward advancing the mission of what we’re doing. It’s important at this early stage that we don’t jump into things just because they might be revenue generators.
The current deal with CBS runs out in 2026. How much of your revenue would you like to see coming from other sources by then?
MASON By the time the CBS contract runs out, we’d like to see diversification around that. In the next few years, we’ll be working with our partners on figuring out how to structure our next opportunity for our telecast and our show. But we’ll also be doing a lot to find new ways to monetize. I don’t think we’ll set down a goal for you today as to what percentage we would like to see in five years, but know that it is a major focus and a priority for all three of us.
In addition to declining ratings, this year awards shows have had to contend with how to handle artists’ problematic behavior offstage. Louis C.K. and Marilyn Manson, both of whom have been accused of sexual misconduct, are Grammy nominees this year. What is the academy’s policy on their eligibility?
MASON We don’t regulate whether or not they can submit their music, and we’re not going to tell our voters who to vote for. But beyond that, looking at the platforms that we do control — our website, our socials, our TV show, our Grammy events — those are things that we will evaluate based on the health and safety of our membership and our music people and what we’re hearing from those communities. We’ll pay close attention as we go forward.
The genre-screening committees — which comprise around 350 creatives, music experts and executives — came under criticism this fall for removing works, including those from Kacey Musgraves and Brandi Carlile, from the genres in which they were submitted and reslotting them elsewhere. Why shouldn’t an entry stay where the label or the creator of the work thinks it belongs?
MASON You’re seeing genre lines blurring. You’re seeing people switching from song to song as to what [their music] sounds like. With the screening committees, we’re listening and making sure that we’re paying attention to that, because if not, we’re just stereotyping everything: “Oh, this person makes these types of songs, they should go in that category.” The committees are made up of the artist’s peers. They’re evaluating and deciding, “Does this fit within the confines of the construct of what this category means?” Those definitions are created by our members that are ratified by our board. If we’re opening it up to just anyone to decide where they want to submit, there could potentially be problems that come along with that. But also, you have to remember that we are looking at the process and how we do everything is always up for review.
The committees include label executives and managers — some of whom may have competing artists — not just creative peers. Are you looking at reevaluating the constitution of the screening committees?
MASON We’re looking at everything, and we will consider any alternative that is brought to the table by our members. We don’t want anyone to be upset. We’re not in the business of pissing off artists. We want to acknowledge greatness. We want to do it in a way that we believe is most fair. Is it an exact science? Absolutely not. This is subjective. It’s not math or basketball. We’ll keep working on it. We’ll keep trying to do our best and we’ll try and get this right.
Valeisha, you oversaw the last round of invitations to prospective Grammy voters, part of the organization’s ongoing effort to increase diversity. This round, 83% of the 2,710 music professionals you asked to join accepted. Do you know how many voted in the first round?
BUTTERFIELD JONES The membership acceptance rate is the highest that we’ve had in several consecutive years. To me, that signals relevance, real trust being established with the music community and, ultimately, folks saying, “We want to be involved.” We’re 60% there on our 2025 goal of 2,500 new women members. We saw a huge uptick this year in voter turnout. Our get-out-the-vote efforts are so vital, and we’re being very intentional this year around participation because we removed nomination review committees.
MASON Submissions are higher than last year by a couple of thousand. The voting for the first round was up double digits year over year.
The academy launched a Songwriters & Composers wing this year, similar to the Producers & Engineers wing. Is that a step toward a songwriter of the year Grammy, like the producer of the year awards?
MASON I think it was, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Shining a bright light on the songwriters makes a lot of sense from an academy standpoint.
Your longtime chief advocacy and public policy officer, Daryl Friedman, recently left the academy after 24 years. How do you envision that role going forward?
BUTTERFIELD JONES Advocacy and public policy is a passion point for me. I spent years in D.C. working in a presidential administration, and there’s so much opportunity for us to advocate for music creators here in the
U.S. and beyond. In addition to our federal advocacy efforts, there is huge opportunity at the state level to unlock access and funds for music creators and music economies across the United States. A lot of work to dive into there to ultimately make sure that the music creators in different states have access to education and resources that they need.
PANAY It’s important that, as we are looking to advocate for music creators, our efforts on [Capitol] Hill are also about informing lawmakers that all these shifts in technology ultimately don’t just impact the consumer side of things, but they impact the very livelihoods of creators. So taking a much more active stance in those conversations is going to be part of our focus as well.
You began looking for your first in-house counsel six months ago. What’s the status of the search?
MASON It’s a process that has taken some time because there are a lot of stakeholders, a lot of people that will be interfacing with this person. We have come to the end of the process, and we’re almost at the point where we can name someone.
One of those stakeholders is Joel Katz, who has been your general counsel for decades. [Dugan accused Katz of sexual harassment in her EEOC complaint, a claim he denied.] What will his role be after the new person is in place?
MASON He has been working with the academy for over 30 years, and he has been critical in us negotiating our last two [CBS] television contracts. What has allowed us to do what we do is the income from that show. As we move forward, Joel will continue to play a role in certain elements of the academy.
Your jobs must, on some level, feel like waging a never-ending PR battle. The community will be thrilled with one action, like getting rid of the nominating committees, then come after you — say, about how the screening committees work, or when The Weeknd didn’t receive any nominations this past year, or this year when a snubbed Machine Gun Kelly tweeted “wtf is wrong with the Grammys.” Does that distract from the work?
MASON It’s not distracting, it’s understandable. People that make music are passionate people inherently. These [projects] are their babies. When they get upset, it doesn’t affect us or offend us. Getting this right is the priority. The perception of the academy and our process is important because it allows us to do the work that we want to do. Having input from the community is important. Sometimes it might be nice not to hear it always in the press; maybe it’d be nice to get a phone call or a text. But regardless of how we get it, it’s important that we evaluate it and find out actionable steps on how to be better. At the end of the day, when our members and our community say, “We’d like to look at something differently and we think there is a new way of doing this, it’s better,” we listen, and we move.