Grammy Nods

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

We live in a time where anyone with a computer can have unprecedented access to all the music they want. We can scour the Northern and Southern hemispheres for the greatest musicians recording and performing today. With that scope in mind, are we really saying that the finest in music excellence this year is represented by The Eagles, Metallica, James Taylor, AC/DC, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, and George Strait?

Welcome to the 51st Grammy nominations, released last week. I know, you're probably saying, “Hey, it's just the Grammys. It's always been out of touch”. But in an age where music access has been finally been democratized, the Grammy nominations stand as a pointed reminder of what is exactly wrong with the music business.

Politics as usual played its heavy hand in the nominees this year. The why of it, is definitely financial. Winning a statue can be so significant to the economic success of the artist and bragging rights of a label's annual report, that much time is spent positioning artists for award categories long before the nominations have been announced. And that means, the four largest label conglomerates are fighting for positioning.

The Grammy nominations are chosen by members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, or NARAS. Its members are recording artists, producers and engineers for sure, but a block of voting is weighted to employees at record labels. One way the organization placates the four major labels is by filling the ceremony with insignificant categories for nominations. That way, traditional artists can earn a Grammy Award without having to compete with a relative newcomer. You never see these awards on television. They are distributed before the official telecast begins. Take for instance, the Instrumental Category. Just how many instrumental records have you listened to recently? NARAS has over a half dozen specific categories of instrumentals. In addition to the traditional jazz & classical instrumental categories, the Grammys offer Awards for the Best Rock Instrumental, the Best Pop Instrumental, and the Best Country Instrumentals. This year, The Eagles, Metallica, and Rush were all nominated in these categories.

It's not that great talent isn't being recognized. Newcomers like Adele, Sara Bareilles and Jazmine Sullivan are getting recognition well deserved. In fact, certain categories show a profound sophistication in nominations. For example, in the electronic & dance music category, artists like Daft Punk and Brazillian Girls have been nominated; and Rufus Wainwright has been nominated in the Traditional Pop Vocal category for his Carnegie Hall tribute to Judy Garland. These are thoughtful nominations, well placed. But the majority of the Grammy nominations still reek of a political selection process desperately in need of reform.

Change may never come. In reality, the television show is merely the financial means to fund the NARAS organization. And with each of the four major labels pushing their own agendas, using their biggest name artists as bait, reform is difficult.

Maybe the last show will serve as a reminder for NARAS. The 2008 Grammy Awards, their 50th Anniversary, was the third least watched show in the Awards history. If that's not motivation for change, what is?

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.