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This article was written by E on 01 Aug 2011, and is filed under Open Letter.

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An Open Letter to Neil Portnow, NARAS, the Grammy Awards and Steve Stoute.


I’ll be frank and upfront. This letter isn’t for the literary bitchmade. This is 2200+ word letter with some serious concerns in it; if you aren’t ready to sit and give me 5 minutes of your time, just go find another post to read.

A few months back, after what I felt could have been the best Grammy Broadcast ever, somewhere out there Steve Stoute was feeling some kinda way about something, and decided to take out a $40,000 ad in the New York Times, lambasting them over what honestly was the best show they’ve done to date. While I didnt find out about it and read it til later, it looks like the NARAS actually read it and got their feelings hurt. The result? Some of the stupidest changes to the Grammys you’ve EVER seen.

This, in short, is my Open Letter/Rebuttal to Steve Stoute and The NARAS/Grammy Committee as a whole. If you agree with anything going on in here, please. Spread the word.

__________________________________________

To Whom It Concerns:

Over the course of my 2?-year history as a lover and consummate student of Music (which includes 8 years as a student at The Colburn School of Performing Arts, a 10-year history that includes work within several areas of the Music Industry; most recently as Director of Social Media and Promotions for a Small Indie Label as well as a few other job titles that will remain transparent for now), my love and adoration for all things music is ingrained in my very being. This on-going, never-ending relationship I have with music and instinctual need to protect its overall well-being is what drove me (over several weeks) to write this letter in direct response to the absolute madness that is the recent irrational decisions made by NARAS and The Grammy Committee based on the statements of Steve Stoute.

?

The changes being made are drastic and horrid, with no justification as to why and what is actually happening. I will be direct: As a person enamored with the art of music and a human who can take obvious social cues, I came to the conclusion that the Grammy Awards were never truly in touch with what contemporary/popular culture is or was a VERY long time ago. I also believe that most people who care to pay attention to The Grammys came to this understanding as well. And I was somewhat okay with that.

There are many people out there, both fans of music and members of the industry who do NOT feel that the Grammys failed to do what its Primary Goal always was; to identify and award some of the best music recorded, distributed or discovered by the committee for that particular year (maybe not all the time, and definitely not with Hip Hop, but that’s a different open letter). The only failure the Grammy Committee ever suffered in our eyes? Its own recent drastic changes that it has made to its system of nominating and awarding the Musicians it was designed to promote and support. The merging of multiple categories, the total discontinuation of other categories and awards… Most of these proposed changes will not do either the Artists or NARAS as a whole any good, in popular opinion.

I would like to start by addressing the Grammys/NARAS directly.

I partially understand Steve Stoute’s dismay with The Grammys and his concerns with…. well, whatever he feels he has concerns with. For years, many have wondered what system was being used to not only nominate and choose who wins the Grammys. Why? Well, a lot of times you will find some of the highest selling, widely mainstream artists paired up with some of the more low-key yet gifted musicians with great albums. Myself? I have always had some understanding of the complexities behind NARAS nominating the most Popular Current Names in music while also nominating and awarding the less mainstream yet musically certified artists of our time. NARAS has always been at odds over how to balance and acknowledge the obvious commercial successes behind popular music while celebrating and rewarding the achievements of long-established, successful musicians who had triumphant moments in music that year. It just seemed to be an Unspoken Truth. I was just going to go with it at this point.

Personally, I never saw this as a negative. Confusing, yes. Irritating at its worst, yes. But I understood the point. Mainstream pop culture will always appreciate pop music; it will not have a hard time selling or finding an audience. We don’t need to bring attention to musicians like Justin Bieber or Katy Perry, they have the recognition they need at this point. However, If you missed out on a key album (like that awesome Steely Dan project a few years back), the Grammys have always taken the time to focus on the stuff you might have missed that might actually be worth listening to (most of the time). Now while I may not always agree with the Grammy Committees nominee and award choices, I did hope for the day where the NARAS would turn it around and figure a way of balancing the demands of popular culture while celebrating quality music and the artist who create it. And with this previous broadcast it finally seems as if the Grammys got it right. Or at least were headed in the right direction.

With that being said: To NARAS and anyone involved. From my viewpoint, and in my very humble opinion, this was one of your best All Around Shows to date. Possibly ever. I was very satisfied with the format of The Grammy Awards this year; MANY of us were. With an unprecedented focus on live music and the musicians being honored, along with the choice of winners… it was actually entertaining and a pleasure to watch. So before you start retooling an entire awards show based on one man’s letter and start changing things that don’t need to be changed, let me highlight and praise everything that you did right this year.

The live format and music performances were some of the best that you’ve done so far. Instead of having people come up and have pointless banter/chatter in-between awards, it seems as if someone came up with the brilliant idea of having every artist who was nominated for an award (who was able to be there) perform the songs they were nominated for. Intelligent,  entertaining and great promotion for all the bands involved. You could have had a better Teddy Pendergrass tribute, but I’m not really concerned about that right now. What is important is that there was finally a balance between pop music and independent music, which was great to see. Not only that, It appeared as if you were finally headed in that right direction with certain choices and awards within Hip Hop, Soul and Independent Rock music. Personally, I felt like there was FINALLY a balance between what is commercially known and what is musician certified. I send nothing but praise and appreciation for a Grammy Broadcast where I had the honor of seeing good friends singing in the background of Katy Perry, for a show where The Arcade Fire and The Roots finally received some well deserved attention. Honestly… I wouldn’t change a thing you did this year at all. As a matter of fact, I was hoping to see you stick to this wonderful new plan and see you build on these ideals for the next awards show.

Alas, that does not seem to be the case. Why? Because you have taken the words of a man who is less into music as an art and more of music as a marketing tool waaaaaaaay too seriously. Yes, Mr. Stoute brings up some valid points in his letter to you, but to take the drastic and extreme action that you have taken as a committee based on this one mans letter? Many within the industry honestly feel as if you are doing irreparable damage to not only your brand, but the legacy of The Grammys and the NARAS as a whole. It is important to include whats popular and commercial in your Grammy Award winners and Performers, and you did that. You don’t owe anyone, especially Steve Stoute… anything.

Which brings us to you, Mr. Stoute.

Sir, I honestly question the motivation behind your letter, and I question why the Grammy Association would take it as seriously as they did. After reading your letter and heavily assessing your point of view, the only reasonable conclusion I can come to is this. Truly your problem isn’t with The NARAS, Grammys, or the winners of the Awards in question. Your problem is that the winning artists in question (Esperanza Spalding; The Arcade Fire) are not commercially popular/mainstream, are not within your marketing specialty, or something that you can (or have) feasibly make money from. Quite frankly. Also, its rather disappointing that you would disregard blatant and respected talent in the Music Industry to in favor of what is most commercialized and bland in mainstream culture. It is not the job of the NARAS to pick music nominees based on popularity. From my understanding, the committee chooses who they believe have the most comprehensive and complete song and/or album of that year. If it wasn’t obvious to you sir, let me point out that they were clearly picking pop artists but rewarding the real musicians. Much like they’ve done in the past. For example; you brought up the year Steely Dan won over Eminem in 2001. Great point. Yes, it sounded nuts to most lovers of hip hop, as Eminem had basically outdone himself in ways never imagined. Nevertheless…. that was an AMAZING Steely Dan album. I mean, I even loved it, and I technically had not listened to Steely Dan previous to that. While I don’t agree with the choice made… I definitely understand why Steely Dan won. It was a great project. I doubt that you ever listened to it… did you sir?

Mr. Stoute; with respect. You are not speaking for the art nor the love of music. You are speaking from the Marketing Company POV you work for, and nothing else. And I don’t blame you honestly; that’s your job. However, Its very clear with your choice of words down to the artists that you chose to cite and support, that you really are not that much of a fan of music. Really, you’re not. You simply cannot be. You are a fan of what generates profit within music, and you might be great at doing that. However, if it wasn’t obvious to you… this type of mass commercial influence is already heavily present and not needed in Pop Culture right now. Clearly.

Also, I will be frank and direct, Sir. The fact that you would actually have the nerve to question why Justin Bieber did not win the Best New Artist Grammy over Esperanza Spalding is appalling. It also speaks volumes of your depth of knowledge (or lack thereof) in music. There is no way you can be as involved (as you think you are) in the music industry and not know/respect Ms. Spalding’s music and story. You highly tout Justin Bieber and his story in your letter to NARAS as if he has done something of some clout or importance outside of large album sales. Meanwhile, Ms. Spalding is a bit of an interesting story herself. Naturally picking up the Violin, then moving to the Bass when she needed a new challenge, she is youngest teacher at the Berklee School of music, already on her third album with a fourth one forthcoming (note that she’s just NOW being nominated for New Artist now by the way),  and revolutionary in the promotion and support of Music in Schools, all at the age of 25. Not only has Esperanza mastered her craft, but she has made it a point to share and SPREAD that craft with everyone via her work in Music Education and has left a positive impact with many. Meanwhile, Justin Bieber is a bitter 17 year old boy who turns to his rabid fanbase to attack Esperanza when he doesnt get his way. He’s an emotional little boy with plenty of time and room to grow and develop as an artist, just like Ms. Spalding did. In this situation, Justin Bieber rightfully lost to the right person and in turn, the Grammys actually got it right in a REAL WAY. The fact that you would actually question this… honestly makes me question your entire career in the music industry. Respectfully.

Now if you wanted to point out something that was questionable or odd in award wins Mr. Stoute, how about the landslide wins for Country Music Group Lady Antebellum. You have no problem with a song that really wasn’t that great of an achievement in the writing department, outlining a story that essentially is about drunk dialing your ex when you’re alone, lonely and desperate. Or that it comes from a band with a historically questionable name. This band and their song won 5 Grammys, and honestly I don’t know why. And this is coming from someone who enjoys country music. It wasn’t that great of a song, in all honesty.

What this comes down to is this: There is Music as an Art form; a Technical Skill and Form of Expression. Then there is Music as a Marketable Object for Profit. Essentially Mr. Stoute, you want to ignore blatant talent for what sells. You claim that you want diversity, but the changes being made to the nomination process and categories you eliminate the entire ideal of diversity within The Grammys as a whole. Yet you don’t see the problem you potentially create. No. You have a problem with Esperanza, certain Hip Hop wins and The Arcade Fire. What you are successfully doing is turning The Grammys into the Billboard Awards, sir. I need you to stop that. I understand that you want to obviously highlight what is profitable versus what is actually quality. So now, the battle is how do you recognize and reward both talent and profit once? Is it even possible? Or should we just keep the two as separate as Steve Stoute obviously wants them to be?

Mr Stoute, at the end of your letter, you say “Demand that they change this system and truly reflect and truly acknowledge your art.” Well, this is the point where I stand up and make that demand. I also demand that you step out of the process of The Grammys whatever changes need (or not need) to be made. No good can come of it sir. Sincerely and Truly. As for NARAS, if you even read this, I would IMPLORE YOU to rethink these unnecessary changes that you are making to not only your show format… but the entire legacy of The Grammys as a whole.

So this is all it takes nowadays. A full page ad in The New York Times making a complaint that most of us didn’t even read initially? Wow. This is what gets NARAS attention to the point they would destroy their own awards format to please one man. I don’t understand it at all. If this was the case I would have loved to do that years ago to reach out to NARAS, but some of us would have taken that $40,000 and finished off our degrees on it. In all honesty. This, in addition to your being removed forcibly from The Essence Jazz Festival compels me to speak to you directly and openly about your decisions, and what fuels them.

I’m about 1 billion percent sure this letter will not be read by ANYONE whom it is addressed to, let alone the average reader… as most people seem to be scared of words nowadays. Even if it is, the addressees would be to scared/busy/not give enough of a shit to reply. But frankly… fuck life. Something had to be said. Whether its ever read or not.

So yeah.

Good luck with all of that, NARAS.

-Ericka.

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