Goodbye Grammy Awards Nomination Review Committees, and Good Riddance (Guest Column)

Courtesy of Linda Chorney/Getty Images

I’m not sure how the major labels feel about the Recording Academy finally eliminating the Nomination Review Committees (NRC), but I can promise you that independent artists like me are doing back flips, just like I did the day I was nominated for a Grammy in 2012 for best Americana album — the first in the category without a label, publicist or manager. How the fuck did that happen? There was no NRC in American Roots. I and the other four nominees received the most votes — period.

I was able to present my sixth album, “Emotional Jukebox,” on a NARAS-hosted in-house social networking site called Grammy 365 (may it rest in peace), where members shared music for consideration. Because of that platform, and after playing in bars for 30 years, I finally got my break: a Grammy nomination.

Then the big label boys tried to break me. They made up and circulated a story that I cheated. Former Recording Academy president Neil Portnow responded to these accusations about my controversial nod, telling the Associated Press, “It shows everybody has a shot; That really is the truth.”

I received a lot of press, (including a page 1 story in Variety!) as word spread to thousands of independent artists who then joined NARAS, hoping to get their shot.

Not so fast.

After the 54th annual Grammys in 2012, where I had the honor of losing to the late great Levon Helm, I received a phone call from “the inside.” A pissed off Louis Meyers, co-founder of South By Southwest and executive director of Folk Alliance, introduced himself and informed me that because of my nomination, the big boys lobbied hard to add a Nomination Review Committee for American Roots, and succeeded — without transparency. (May the hopes and dreams of Americana indie artists rest in peace.) I also received other calls about deep dark secrets about the business. I thought to myself, “Why are all of these people telling me this stuff? Do they think I’m going to write a freaking book?” So I did. And then I made the movie — “When I Sing,” available on Amazon Prime. (Yes, we indie artists constantly have to self-promote and make no apologies for it.)

When I found out about this new committee, I obviously took it personally, remembering Portnow’s quote. What happened to everybody having a shot? More like a firing squad aimed at the indies. It broke my heart that the struggling artists out there — who are that good — had no chance of grabbing the brass ring now.

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During an interview, I mentioned my disappointment in the undisclosed rule change and was encouraged to start a petition opposing it. So I reached out to fellow members, and few were willing to rock the boat. Then the following year, another indie, Al Walser, was nominated in the electronic dance music category, and magically, an NRC was added there, too. And then another and another. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but after the release of my book, which included these undisclosed new committees, the Recording Academy created and shared a chart with members showing which categories had NRCs. The column was long… and growing.

In 2018, I took a crack at another petition addressing the awards process, and this time over 100 Recording Academy voting members signed it. I presented it in person to Bill Freimuth, senior VP of awards at the Recording Academy, who was very nice and receptive to our suggestions. He said he’d pass it along to the proper chain of command. A couple of months later, I received feedback from Bill informing me that the powers-that-be thought the system was just fine the way it was. Oh well.

Fast forward to April 30, 2021. I received another phone call from inside. “Linda! The Trustees voted out the Nomination Review Committees!” Holy Shit. My reaction was of genuine excitement and optimism for the future of music — an emotion and faith I haven’t felt in relation to the Grammys in nearly a decade.

All of our votes actually count now? The world might discover a brilliant melody, arrangement, or lyric without auto-tune that moves our very souls? Bravo! Could we see more nominated performers playing actual instruments in next year’s show?! One can only hope. Until then, and hopefully forever more, may the Nominee Review Committees rest in peace.

Linda Chorney is a singer-songwriter, noted filmmaker, author, public speaker and rebel who’s spent four decades making music and performing all over the world. In addition to sharing the stage with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, the Beach Boys, Michael McDonald, Train, Sheryl Crow, Paul Simon and Jackson Browne, among others, she produced, wrote and starred in the docudrama “When I Sing” and has been a featured speaker at such industry gatherings as TEDx, Sundance and NAMM.