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FROM THIS EPISODE

The Grammys: To Watch or Not to Watch

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Tonight, the American music business is anticipating its most exciting night of the year. Tonight, years of self-sacrifice, coupled with exceptional talent will be validated with the presentation of golden statues. Yes, it's Grammy time again.

The event is quite the spectacle. Artists rehearse for days in advance of this televised production. Hair, makeup and wardrobe are at the ready and nothing is left to chance. Which, of course, is why it's the most packaged music award show of them all.

This year stands to be more of the same.

I like the music of Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and Bruce Springsteen, but it would seem that every year they are nominated for yet another Grammy award. I can't imagine anyone would have thought that in 2006, artists like Robert Plant, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Merle Haggard would be once again, representing our best and our brightest in contemporary music.

Why are so many of the same artists, who hit their prime 30 years ago, still being nominated for Grammy awards, year after year. The easy answer is that they all make amazing records today. But look a little deeper, and you'll find there's a very strong bias toward the elder statesmen, and that bias lies in the organization that nominates them.

The Grammy Awards television show generates enough revenue to run the organization that governs it, which is the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, often called NARAS. NARAS is a professional membership association with more than 20,000 members and 12 chapters. One would think 20,000 members could potentially create a balanced view of the contemporary music world. But only NARAS members with Voting status can actually vote for a Grammy nomination. To earn voting status, members music have six technical or creative credits on commercially released tracks. Once you've been accepted as a voting member in NARAS, you are in. Though the actual number is not known, I would submit to you far less than 20,000 members actually participate in this voting process and many of those members may not be active in the contemporary business.

Historically, NARAS has a policy of not disclosing the number of voting members in their organization. Though the actual number is not known, I would submit to you far less than 20,000 members actually participate in this voting process.

I served on the boards of the Los Angeles and New York NARAS Chapters, in elected positions in the 90s. During my time of service, I never witnessed a serious campaign to bring in new voting members.

In my opinion, NARAS is really a fraternal networking organization for music professionals. But given that the Grammy awards are a multi-million-dollar worldwide television event, with significant financial interests for all concerned, it important that the awards maintain impeccable credibility. It's hard to believe that some of the artists chosen are the only ones who can measure up to the standard of extraordinary achievement and overall excellence, year after year.

In an industry where consumer trust is melting like ice, it's truly unfortunate that NARAS doesn't cultivate younger voters to balance the awards in contemporary music. Now that would be something to watch.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

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