Why the Grammys Need a ‘Songwriter of the Year’ Award (Guest Column)

Says Maverick's Nick Jarjour: "These music makers are consistently under-credited and largely ignored. ... A change must be made."

Grammy Award trophies

The time has come for the Recording Academy to recognize songwriters in a more significant way with a Songwriter of the Year award at the Grammys. Songwriters are in many ways the lifeblood and backbone of the music industry but they are still incredibly overlooked at the Grammy Awards. During an era when Hollywood so strongly celebrates screenwriters at the Oscars and Emmys, and throughout film and television, the music industry is still woefully behind the times.

Why is this so?

As a manager for successful songwriters and producers, I work with my clients to craft hit records for the most popular artists of our time. Every time I step out of my house, I see a billboard for an album we contributed to. and in every Uber I take, I hear the music we help create. Yet we are still fighting for recognition. While our community has gotten much better over the years when it comes to honoring producers – since 1975, the Grammys have awarded a “Producer of the Year” category — there remains a glaring fundamental issue with the awards ceremony that has not been implemented: an award recognizing individual songwriters.

Considering how essential songwriters are in the creative process by which music is generated, then produced and performed, these music makers are consistently under-credited and largely ignored. I constantly notice just how reluctant certain people in the industry are to give songwriters credit where it’s due – and a change must be made now.

The vast majority of artists my clients and I have been privileged enough to work with — Calvin Harris, Maroon 5, and Camila Cabello to name just a few — all understand the unparalleled value of having that one person in the room who can offer the magic melody or hook that really brings a song to life. So why is it that the Recording Academy, whose stated mission is “to positively impact the lives of musicians, industry members, and our society at large,” neglect to give proper appreciation to those writers?

In the “Best Song” categories, songwriters are mentioned solely in passing and in the context of others. There is no real opportunity for them to be recognized on the same level as those on the record label side, and most people watching the awards don’t even know the difference between the “Song” and “Record” categories. To the Grammys’ credit, this past year, songwriters with a 33.33% credit became eligible to receive Album of the Year – but there is still much work to be done when it comes to humanizing the craft beyond the credits.

The Canadian, Chinese, and Swedish Grammy equivalents have implemented distinguished “Songwriter of the Year” categories for years to ensure that these individuals are not swept under the rug like they too often are. With the United States controlling such a massive amount of the global publishing market share, we need to do the same.

We have made progress in certain areas, one notable example being Spotify, with their Secret Genius Awards and recent visibility of writer credits on their tracks. Implementing a Songwriter of the Year award and seeing that play out on stage at the Grammy Awards would make a world of difference, not just for the current individuals who deserve to be recognized, but for the next generation of songwriters — the kids at home watching closely every year and the future hitmakers that our industry depends on.

If the Grammys don’t celebrate these songwriters and empower them in the same compassionate way they do artists, what does that say about how we value art in general? I sincerely hope that the Recording Academy upholds their mission to champion all musicians by formally executing  appreciation for those who receive it the least, in order to foster a more supportive, conscious community where we can all thrive together.

Nick Jarjour is a partner at Maverick Management and represents Alex Da Kid, Starrah and Cirkut, among other in-demand writers and producers. He was profiled in Variety‘s 2017 New Leaders report in October. Follow him on Twitter at @NickJarjour.