Every year the Recording Academy fine-tunes its rules and regulations and establishes a series of new amendments to the Grammy process, and the organization announces this year’s changes Wednesday (June 14) morning. All changes go into effect immediately, including the transition to online voting for all of the Academy’s more than 13,000 voting members, as well as changes to the Album of the Year category, album definitions, and Music For Visual Media Field. Academy SVP of Awards Bill Freimuth got on the phone with Variety on Tuesday to further explain some of the changes and the impetus and reasoning behind them. The Academy’s official wording on the changes appears below, and is followed by Freimuth’s comments.

The 60th annual Grammy Awards will be held at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Jan. 28, 2018.

Grammy Awards Voting Will Now Be Online
For the first time, voting members will cast their Grammy Awards votes online rather than by paper ballot. This transition will provide greater flexibility for touring artists, eliminate the possibility of invalid ballots, and protect further against fraudulent voting. All voting members in good standing will be eligible to vote online in both rounds for the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

Freimuth: “More than just convenience, the real benefits of this are being able to get more votes from musicians on tour who have trouble catching up with their paper ballots — and they can [fill out the voting forms] on their phone or pad, not just their desktop. It also increases participation from all voters: The Latin Grammys, our sister organization, implemented this last year and they found that voting participation increased significantly. Also, paper ballots would often be filled out incorrectly — people would vote in categories they weren’t [authorized to vote in] and things like that — and this way the software will not let them submit incorrectly. Finally, on the same site, voters will be able to listen to or watch all of the nominated recordings or videos, or look at the nominees for package design. It makes for more informed voting on the whole, than voting based on name recognition and popularity and charts and things like that.”

Songwriters Now Recognized in Album of the Year
Moving forward, all music creators (songwriters, producers, engineers, mixers, mastering engineers, featured artists) credited with at least 33 percent or more playing time on the winning album will be eligible to receive a Grammy in the Album of the Year category. Previously, songwriters were not recognized in this category.

Freimuth: “As you might guess, we heard a lot about this one from songwriters, and a couple of very highly regarded ones developed a proposal, and about a year ago submitted it to the Awards and Nominations committee, which meets every year to go over proposed changes. The initial response was that we need ed to look at it more deeply, so we formed a subcommittee, which met throughout the year and heard from more people, and it became obvious that it was something we should do.

“It might seem like this will result in a lot more trophies being given out, but it probably won’t be that many more — the 33 percent participation requirement will limit that to a degree. We don’t get into publishing splits and all that, if there’s a credit on a track, that’s what counts. And 33 percent felt about right — this was discussed quite a bit over the year, we had a whole subcommittee working on it, with everyone from songwriters and producers and mixers and our trustees involved, [the percentage] swung back and forth, and ultimately 33 percent felt right. You can only get so scientific when you’re dealing with these kinds of issues.”

Nominations Review Committees Established for Rap, Contemporary Instrumental, And New Age Fields
Beginning this year, Nominations Review Committees will be created and implemented for the Rap, Contemporary Instrumental, and New Age Fields. A Nominations Review process was established in 1989 as an additional round of checks and balances to eliminate the potential for a popularity bias that puts emerging artists, independent music, and late-year releases at a disadvantage. Since then, Nominations Review Committees have been established across 15 awards fields.

Freimuth: “These committees started with classical and jazz, and essentially when we hear from a musical community that the nominations are not reflecting what the general community believes to be the best in music in that field — and more often than not, that’s a result of name recognition and popularity and sometimes marketing. They wanted some kind of extra step between the first ballot and the announcement, so my predecessors came up with this concept of a nominations review committee, which is a very formally formed group — people have to prove their expertise, they get submitted by our chapter cities and then things are weighed by other experts and myself and [Academy Chairman] Neil Portnow and our board of trustees, and then it gets ratified by the national board. In most cases they’ll listen to the top 15 selections from the first ballot from the general voting membership, then they may discuss them or they may not, and then they vote by secret ballot. Those ballots are collected by a reprentative of Deloitte, our tabulators, their votes get tallied, and their votes directly determine the top five nominees.

“The most recent [prior community] we heard from about this was Rock. People felt there was too much of a lean toward legacy artists and the softer side of rock, and this year we heard from Rap, Contemporary Instrumental and New Age. For Rap, and the other categories to a degree, a lot of their argument was kind of similar — it was going more to big-name folks and felt like more of a popularity contest. That’s not to say that someone who’s very famous can’t put out a fantastic track or album, but maybe some younger up-and-coming folks deserve that spotlight.”

Album Definition Expanded to Allow for More Inclusion in Classical, Dance, and Jazz Fields
To be eligible for Grammy consideration, an album must comprise a minimum total playing time of 15 minutes with at least five distinct tracks or a minimum total playing time of 30 minutes with no minimum track requirement. Prior to this amended album definition, the only delineation was 15 minutes and five tracks. The definition expansion allows for greater inclusion of music creators who produce longer pieces, particularly in the Classical, Dance, and Jazz Fields.

Freimuth: “This was almost more of a housekeeping exercise. We did have that existing rule of five tracks and 15 minutes, but that rule was getting bent fairly often, primarily in jazz and dance music — if an album has one or two tracks and is 75 minutes long, we’re not going to disqualify it, and this is kind of codifying that and making it a harder, more black-and-white rule.”

Amendments to the Music for Visual Media Field
As a general rule, only one version of a track is permitted for entry in the GRAMMY Awards process. Moving forward, an exception will be made in the Best Song Written For Visual Media category, allowing the film version of a track to be entered in the category, even if a different version of the track is submitted in other categories. In the Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media category, eligibility guidelines have been amended to require soundtrack albums for a documentary or biopic to contain 51 percent or more of newly recorded music.

Freimuth: What I think prompted the proposal was we had a rule that only one version of a song could be submitted in any given year, and last year, it was [Justin Timberlake’s] ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling.’ They submitted the soundtrack version [from “Trolls”] because they thought it had the best chance for recognition, but that version had Anna Kendrick and James Corden and basically the whole cast singing it. That worked great for the movie, but that’s not the one that was getting radio play — it was Justin Timberlake’s track, and they were not allowed to submit that for Record of the Year. So after giving more thought to that, it seemed that music for visual media is so specific that it made sense to allow [the change]. People will not be able to submit a radio edit in one category and a dance remix in another — it’s only for when it’s being used in a visual medium. And while [the decision of which version to submit] is initially up to whoever’s submitting the track, we then have a whole process of making sure things are in the right category — we have experts from all the genres meet, it’s 24 different committees with about 350 people, and for example if someone submits a track to rock these committees can say “this is more pop” or country or Americana or whatever and move it to the other category. But there’s an excellent chance it will remain where it was submitted.”

Additional amendments were made to the Technical Grammy Award qualifications, and procedural updates were made to Nominations Review Committees. For information, visit www.grammy101.com.

Eligibility Period: Oct. 1, 2016–Sept. 30, 2017
First-Round Ballot Period: Oct. 16–29, 2017
Nominations: Nov. 28, 2017
Final-Round Ballot Period: Dec. 7–21, 2017