Earlier today, for the first time in a very long time, the nominees for the Best Metal Performance at the Grammys did not suck. This year sees Slipknot, Lamb of God, Ghost, August Burns Red and Sevendust nominated. In years past, the nominees list would consist of legacy acts, pointless covers or non-metal bands who end up winning. But this year, we noticed a shift in the conversation. Earlier this year. the GRAMMYs made an effort to reach out to the metal community to recruit more voting members.
But it didn't stop there! Shortly after the nominations were announced, I had the opportunity to speak to The Recording Academy's Senior Vice President, Awards Bill Freimuth. I thanked Freimuth for including more modern artists this year, and he mentioned that the Recording Academy went out of its way to make sure they got the nominees right. Freimuth revealed that they instituted a committee to ensure the right people got nominated:
"What happened this year that's a little different from the past is that the rock community as a whole, not just the metal folks, actually came to us and said 'we feel like the nominations in the last few years have really been focusing more on name recognition and popularity and maybe some of the acts that have larger marketing budgets at their disposal to get the word out and is there anything you could do about it?'" said Freimuth.
Freimuth added "What they requested specifically was a nominations review committee, which is something that is part of our process since 1989, so it's not new to the Academy, but new to the rock field this year. What that means is that the first ballot goes out to the general voting membership and they vote. Now, until this year, their top 5 vote-getters in all these categories have become the nominees. This year, with the institution of this new committee, our auditors don't give us the top five, they give us the top fifteen in the four categories of the rock field. This comittee comes in and actually sits down and listens together to all of the top 15 in these categories and then they vote by secret ballot and narrow it down to the top five.
I tried to get a better understanding of who exactly was on the comittee to determine the voters. While Freimuth wouldn't name names, he did explain a bit further how the committee was chosen:
"We formed what we call a work group, which is a collaboration of our staff from the awards side and the members services side to do a particular outreach to the metal community. We were at conferences and had ongoing discussions with a lot of the leadership in the metal community. I don't have stats to back this up, but my guess is we had quite a few more of the important metal music creators our voting membership this year and as well rock in general and I think that's what made the nominations a little sweeter to the world this year."
"Now it's very difficult to become a member of one of these committees." says Freimuth "As you can imagine, they have a lot of influence. They do all have to be voting members of the Academy. They don't have particular label affiliations. If they're artists, they don't have releases in that particular year, so they're not voting for themselves. We get a list of names submitted by all twelve of our chapter cities. They're vetted internally and then a slate is proposed to our national board of trustees and they have to ratify it. It's a very formal process to make sure there is a lot of integrity there. The folks who come to these meetings, many of them when coming to their first meeting, they have maybe a little skeptical look in their eye about how this going to work but by the time they finish, they are our biggest fans. This is a really great part of our process that really tends to help younger acts, independent acts and late-year releases that maybe didn't have the time in front of the voters to get into the top five, but maybe the top 15."
With all this renewed focus on metal this year, I was curious if we could be seeing a metal act or even the metal award on the main telecast on February 15th:
Freimuth responds "Well it hasn't been too long since we've had Metallica, at least, although I know a lot of folks in the metal community consider them maybe more hard rock these days than metal. You know, it's always a really challenging puzzle to put together a telecast. And with the performances, we have so many different masters to please, the first of which, I guess is music fans. But we do try to mix it up as much as possible. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw metal taking a little larger role somewhere during Grammy week, if not during the Grammy telecast itself. There does seem to be an appetite for it, and an overall larger awareness of this segment of our membership than in the last few years. But it's terribly hard to predict. We have the very first meeting of the television production committee tonight, so there haven't been any discussions of any of it yet.
There is a possibility [the Best Metal Performance award makes it to the main show]. That's part of the puzzle is what awards are put on the show. We usually put about a dozen out of 83 categories on the show. Four of those are the general, marquee categories. The remaining seven or eight can come from any number of different places.
While there is a small outside chance the metal category makes it on the main show, perhaps the chances are more likely that a band like Slipknot, who is certainly plugged into the mainstream, can get on the main show. When asked about the possibility, Freimuth responded:
Again, it's really impossible to say. I do think that Slipknot, with its nomination in not just the Best Metal Perfomance but also Best Rock Album, it's a bit unusual to see a metal band in that category. I think it's a good thing, honestly. Seeing that Slipknot has two nominations, that might make them that much more enticing and palletable to the TV producers but, again, it's really impossible to predict at this early stage.
The GRAMMYs just got a lot more interesting for this viewer. I think if Slipknot can nab a performance slot that would really be a huge step for getting metal the recognition it deserves on the Grammys. But just by nominating modern acts, the GRAMMYs have clearly shown, at least this year, they care about metal.