By Michael J Thomas
I am a voting member of the National Association of Recording Arts & Science (NARAS), better known as the Grammy Awards. Voting membership is for performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, instrumentalists and other creators currently working in the recording industry. This is my fourth year as a voting member, and I will make my second attendance at the 61st Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 10.
As a voting member, it is my responsibility to listen to submissions in the categories that I choose to vote in. The process can be tedious and rewarding. Artists from all around the world connect with me via social media, email or direct mail to pitch their submissions for my voting consideration. I get the opportunity to hear music that I would have never been exposed to without my membership, and it’s pretty cool when artists I’ve voted for are nominated for and/or win a Grammy.
People often ask me what it is like to attend the Grammys. There is so much more to the Grammy Awards than what the general public sees on television. Most of the awards are not televised. The televised portion focuses on what I would consider pop culture to the mainstream—the most popular genres of music.
However, the portion that is titled Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony (streamed online) is just as professionally carried out as the televised portion. The host on my first attendance, the 59th Grammy Awards, was comedian Margaret Cho. She was really funny and improvised quite a bit during the show by interacting with guests and nominees/winners.
There are also live performances during the show—some really incredible artists that, in my opinion, are much better than most of the performances on the televised ceremony. The Premier Ceremony lasts roughly three hours.
That brings me to the show that you will see on TV. It is amazing to see what goes on behind the scenes. The stage sets are impressive. The main backdrop hides the crews working behind the scenes. I remember watching them setting up for Beyonce’s performance. The long table she was sitting on top of in a chair during her performance was actually just several six-foot rectangle banquet tables put together and covered with decorations. There were flower petals all over the stage, and at commercial break there was probably a 30-member crew with brooms sweeping them up into garbage bags.
Because it is televised, we are given cues of when to applaud, etc. when going to commercial or coming back from a break. There is a television delay, so I actually heard Adele swear after she stopped the performance of “Fastlove” during a tribute to George Michael, who died earlier that year.
There was a technical glitch where she couldn’t hear herself sing, and it sounded to me like she started singing in the wrong key. She wanted to make it right to honor George Michael’s legacy, and after resuming, it was a magnificent performance with the orchestra backing her up. There was another tribute to Prince performed by Bruno Mars and Morris Day & the Time…that was the highlight of the show for me.
After the show, I attended the official Grammy after party, and do they know how to throw a party! There is a jazz room with a big band performing and a buffet spread. In the (massive) main room was Kool & the Gang performing all their hits. The theme was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” an ethereal soiree that included more than 50 costumed performers and aerialists, custom buffet stations, fog machines, and a performance tree. More than 5,000 guests attended.
I ended up at an after after party in the Millennium Biltmore, a famous landmark with some serious Hollywood history including the Oscars. I struck up a conversation with a guy there and asked him what he does in the biz, and he nonchalantly said he produced 2Pac. We friended each other on Facebook. He was being modest. I Googled him and found out he’s still quite active and has even worked with Mariah Carey.
Grammy day is a long day, but it’s also a lot of fun and worth it. You meet a lot of folks that are really accomplished, and for the most part, everyone is cool and respectful no matter what level of success you are at in your career. It’s great camaraderie, and the friends I have made I can ask for advice and vice versa.
10 THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT THE GRAMMYS
1. The Recording Academy receives more than 20,000 submissions each year.
2. The Recording Academy approves membership at its sole discretion based on its assessment of the submission.
3. In 2004, the Staples Center in Los Angeles became the permanent host of the Grammys. The exception was the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, which were hosted in New York City in 2018 due to it being a special anniversary.
4. Most of the Grammy Awards takes place prior to the telecast and is live streamed.
5. There are currently 30 fields (General, Pop, Gospel, Classical, etc.) and 84 distinct award categories across those fields.
6. Eligible voters are permitted to vote in the four General Field categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist) and up to 15 additional award categories, based on their genres and areas of expertise.
7. For the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards, recordings must have been released between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018. This sometimes confuses fans if their artist drops an album in the last quarter of the year because they think that artist is being snubbed. In actuality, they are not eligible until the following year.
8. The gramophone statuettes awarded to the winners are not the actual awards they will take home with them. The real ones are mailed out to the winners at a later date after they have been engraved. No one really knows the outcome until the opened envelope reveals the winner.
9. When you attend the Official Grammy After Party, you get a swag bag of goodies. There were some interesting things in mine like a Hello Kitty sweatband and a chocolate protein bar.
10. The Recording Academy’s charity MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares’ services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality.
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