If you’re a musician, you’ve probably thought about going to the Grammys then wondered “How do the Grammys work?”. Whether you’ve watched them for the performances or for the awards, whether you’ve dreamed about winning one, or simply wondered what it’s like to be there in the presence of the top musicians in the country, then you’re not alone. I’m all of the above.
For my 23rd birthday, my best friend gave me a coffee table book called “And The Grammy Goes To”, documenting the history of the award and its recipients. For the next decade, I became… how shall I put it? OBSESSED. My passwords all had to do with Grammys or Bust, or Grammy By 30. I would dream about it. Watch it. Take notes. The blinders were ON.
And in that time I released my first two records. I toured with my band up and down the coasts, across the country, in Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, England. I saw my first TV placements in All My Children and Real World. I started getting asked to speak on music conference panels.
But when 30 came and went and there was no Grammy, I developed some bizarre (to me) combination of panic attacks, anxiety and depression. I had failed.
Fast forward a few years where I came to realize that even though I didn’t win a Grammy by age 30, I had been taking actions in line with someone who was up to winning a Grammy. I was becoming a success, but just not by my own definition.
How Are Grammy Nominees Chosen?
It’s about the work. It’s always about the work. Keep doing the work and you keep moving forward. I discovered that I could submit my most recent record to be considered for a Grammy because I met all the requirements to become a voting member of the Recording Academy, and my record was qualified to be on the first round ballot.
Here’s how you can qualify to be on the Grammys ballot (and you can take a look at this Infographic if you’re a visual type):
- Submit your music. No one needs to vote on it or even listen to it. It just needs to meet a variety of requirements, like release date and distribution channels (which are changing especially since Chance the Rapper is the first artist to release a streaming-only record and win a Grammy).
- If qualified, you can submit to be in the “For Your Consideration” round of voting- the first ballot. I submitted several songs to the Pop Duo category (as my record was all duets), the Pop Vocal category and the Arranging category. I think I also submitted for Music Video.
- You then get the first ballot in the mail and can vote in 15 out of the 83 categories, plus the 4 general categories (Album of The Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist). You vote for 5 acts in each category (some categories had 200 to vote from, others had close to 700). Of course I voted for myself. But it was also cool to be able to see my name with Beyonce and Adele along with friends Lake Street Dive, Sara Bareilles, Michael Gallant and Benjamin Scheuer.
- A month or two later, you get the second ballot. These are the nominees- the people chosen from the first round who are the top 5 in each category. You can vote for 1 artist in each of your 15 categories plus the 4 general categories. From this ballot, the winners are chosen and announced on the day of the Grammys, either in the pre-show ceremony (where the majority of awards are given) or, broadcast live, which is what is seen on TV.
Then comes the invitation. It’s SO pretty.
Then you get the documentation that describes HOW to get your seat at the actual Grammys. This is a tricky process- you submit an email exactly at the time indicated on the invitation. Then you get several automated emails between 2 and 10 minutes later saying a bunch of confusing things like “tickets are sold out” and “your ticket request has been received” and it’s not until a few weeks later when you receive ACTUAL confirmation that you are seated do you know if your ticket request went through.
Lastly, all you have to do is decide who you’re taking. I chose my sister who promised to be my “Grammy minion” all week. How can you turn that down?
Once you’re a voting member, you get access to GrammyPro.com, a pseudo-social site where other voting members can meet and greet each other. Through this platform, I was invited to a few pre-Grammy events which I attended once I arrived in LA.
In addition to some pre-Grammy parties and soirees, I also had to physically pick up my tickets from the Staples Center. These tickets are even prettier than the invitation! There’s definitely a shadow box creation in my near future.
Attending The Grammys
On the day of the Grammys, I wanted to make sure that I took advantage of everything my ticket offered. So my sister and I hailed our Lyft at 11am and arrived in time to grab some free buffet lunch before the Premiere Ceremony. This ceremony is where they hand out about 90% of the awards, and it’s first-come seating. We were in the Microsoft center, across the street from the Staples center, where the actual Grammys broadcast is held.
In a much more informal setting (see photo to the left), it was definitely inspiring to be seated 7 rows back from the presenters. Judy Collins performed. Our friends White Sun beat out Enya for best New Age Album. Film composers, rappers, gospel singers were all around us.
After the 3.5 hours of giving out 75 awards, we got up and walked over to the Staples Center, looking for hints of red carpets and celebrities. None were found. They keep that shit tightly closed off from the “public”.
There were, however, plenty of red carpet-type stations throughout the center. We entered a Mastercard-hosted VIP room (see to the right), took some photos and drank some champagne before climbing to our nose-bleed seats and watching the ceremony. Despite being as high as once could sit, we could still see Beyonce in her red sequence dress, sitting near Faith Hill, also in red.
It was special to be part of a 14,000 person audience who allowed silence to creep over them as Adele sang the first few (and luckily correct) notes of “Hello” (See left). It was fun to watch Katy Perry live, hear the Pentatonix, be part of the tributes and awards.
Afterwards, we were herded back through what was the original red carpet area, and if we had the after-party ticket (an additional $200 for which my sister and I sprung) then you were let through to the Grammy sponsor-hosted after-party rooms. There was a mid-summer night’s dream theme and two different rooms of live music, one was jazz, one was rock. Gavin DeGraw was playing the latter, while the Grammy High School Jazz band was playing the former. Both were fabulous performances, and the free drinks, food, and massive assortment of deserts didn’t hurt either.
Instead of feeling like I was back in high school trying to find the cool party to go to and run the risk of getting turned away at the door, my sister and I decided to end on a high after our last drink and take off while our ears were sill in tact and our feet hadn’t developed blisters.
So that’s this Recording Academy first-time voter’s first Grammy experience. Now that I know what it’s all about, I would consider going again when it’s held in New York. Or when I’m nominated.