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Male Executives Call on Neil Portnow, Recording Academy to End Gender Disparity: ‘Now Is the Time to Lead’

In the wake of two separate letters from female music industry executives criticizing the lack of female representation at the Grammy Awards, in the Recording Academy and the music industry as a whole, a group of 38 male executives has issued a similar letter.

While this one does not call for Recording Academy president Neil Portnow to step down — as the first letter from female executives did — it says in part: “Structural flaws in the makeup of The Recording Academy itself have led to systemic issues in the selection of nominees and winners for the awards. Now is the time for NARAS [the Recording Academy] to lead and be transparent and dedicated to transforming its member base to truly mirror the rich gender and cultural diversity of our community.  NARAS should reveal the diversity (and/or the lack thereof) of its voting members and make necessary changes to the population of the Academy to better reflect the diverse music business voices the organization is meant to serve.”

Paradigm’s Tom Windish, who helped to spearhead the letter, tells Variety that he did not intentionally exclude label and publishing execs, but did focus on his circle of friends, acquaintances and colleagues in the business. Thus, the signees are primarily agents, managers and attorneys (as well as songwriter Justin Tranter).

Last week, Portnow announced the formation of a task force focusing on “female advancement” in the Academy and the industry, although further details have not been revealed.

The text of the letter follows in full:

Dear Mr. Neil Portnow and all members of The Recording Academy:

We are writing to stand alongside and in solidarity with the women who penned letters to you regarding gender disparity and ask that more significant and robust action be taken by The Recording Academy to answer their call.

From 2013 to 2018, of almost 900 Grammy nominations, 90% were male and less than 10% were female [per an Inclusion in Popular Music study from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism].

NARAS is meant to reflect all of the music industry and be “by the people and for the people”.  Structural flaws in the makeup of The Recording Academy itself have led to systemic issues in the selection of nominees and winners for the awards. Now is the time for NARAS to lead and be transparent and dedicated to transforming its member base to truly mirror the rich gender and cultural diversity of our community.  NARAS should reveal the diversity (and/or the lack thereof) of its voting members and make necessary changes to the population of the Academy to better reflect the diverse music business voices the organization is meant to serve.

We realize the entire music industry, ourselves included, has significant work to do to achieve gender and ethnic diversity.  If NARAS aspires to be an authentic representation of our music industry, then now is the time for The Recording Academy to lead through balanced inclusivity.  The Recording Academy has a responsibility to take aggressive steps in order to move forward for the greater good of our creative community.  

We have faith that NARAS will rise to the task. 

Signed,

Chris Anokute, Young Forever, Inc.
Dave Ayers, Big Deal Music
Joshua Binder, Davis Shapiro Lewit et al
Scooter Braun, SB Projects
Cliff Burnstein, Q Prime
Steve Bursky, Foundations Music
Rich Cohen, LoyalT Management
Matt Colon, Deckstar
Jaddan Comerford, Unified Music Group
Pat Corcoran, Haight Brand
Phil Costello, Red Light Management
Marty Diamond, Paradigm Talent Agency
Dan Friedman, Equative Thinking
Eric Greenspan, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light LLP
Elliot Groffman, Carroll Guido & Groffman LLP
Michael Guido, Carroll Guido & Groffman LLP
Randy Jackson, 1963 Entertainment
Evet Jean, Opulent AM
Kenny MacPherson, Big Deal Music
Billy Mann, Manncom Creative Partners
Peter Mensch, Q Prime
Brian Message, ATC Management
Ian Montone, Monotone, Inc.
Craig Newman, ATC Management
Scott Rodger, Maverick
Aaron Rosenberg, Myman Greenspan Fox Rosenberg Mobasser Younger & Light LLP
Anthony Saleh, Emagen
Rich Schaefer, LoyalT Management
Brian Schwartz, 7S Management
Dalton Sim, Nettwerk Management
Drew Simmons, Foundations Music
Chris Tetzeli, 7S Management
Justin Tranter, JSFG Publishing
Jake Udell, TH3RD BRAIN
Dean Wilson
Tom Windish, Paradigm Talent Agency
Henny Yegezu, Equative Thinking
Jeremy Zimmer, United Talent Agency

While the flashpoint for the controversy were comments made by Portnow and executive producer Ken Ehrlich immediately after the show — particularly Portnow’s comment that female artists and executives need to “step up” in order to advance in the industry — the problems are deep-seated. Female artists were significantly under-repesented in the 2018 Grammy nominations, despite an unprecedentedly diverse slate of nominees in terms of race and musical genre, and despite a powerful #MeToo-themed performance from Kesha and speech from Janelle Monae during the show.

As Variety noted shortly after the nominees were announced, female artists were significantly under-represented in the biggest categories.

While three of the five new artist nominees were women — Alessia Cara, Julia Michaels and SZA — solo female artists received exactly two of the 15 total nominations in the other three categories, and even that came with a caveat: Michaels’ “Issues” was nominated for song, a songwriters’ award she would have shared with four other (male) writers. That’s unlike Lorde’s “Melodrama,” up for album, which is awarded to the artist. And though SZA, Cara and Ledisi had strong showings (with five, four and three nods, respectively), three men had five nominations, six men had four and 20 men had three.

Several quick answers emerged when examining the situation. The biggest female artists and/or winners in recent years — Beyoncé, Adele, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Pink, Kelly Clarkson — did not release albums in the eligibility period, although the latter three are nominated for individual songs. Hip-hop, which dominates the top categories, is indisputably ruled by male artists. Recent albums from Katy Perry and Lady Gaga underwhelmed critically and commercially. Miranda Lambert’s “The Weight of These Wings” was expected by some to receive an album nomination, but in another surprise, country music was absent from the top categories for only the second time in 24 years.

Yet other categories show how many women qualified for this year’s awards. Clarkson, Pink, Gaga and Kesha comprised four of the five nominees for Best Pop Solo Performance; Lana Del Rey was up for Best Pop Vocal Album. Cardi B, Kehlani and Ledisi scored rap or R&B noms; Alison Krauss and Maren Morris were nominated along with Lambert for country awards. Kesha, who has become a rallying figure against sexual assault for her ongoing lawsuit against former mentor/collaborator Dr. Luke, was nominated twice. And despite their high profiles, with the exception of Best New Artist, females have won relatively few big categories in the 2000s: Album of the Year winners were Adele, the Dixie Chicks, Norah Jones and Swift (and Krauss with Robert Plant); along with the above artists, Song and/or Record has gone to Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Lorde and Amy Winehouse.

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