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How will changes in Grammy eligibility affect the awards? Neil Portnow answers our questions.

March 13, 2009 |  3:47 pm

Portnow__ Changes are coming to the 2010 Grammy Awards.

As reported Thursday, the Recording Academy has shifted the Grammy telecast up one week, moving it to the last Sunday in January from the first Sunday in February. With this move, the Recording Academy also altered the eligibility period, upping it from the last day of September to the last day in August.

The changes will have repercussions on nominated albums. Pop & Hiss has noted some artists who would have been affected -- releases from Metallica, Kings of Leon and Jazmine Sullivan would not have been up for Grammy consideration in 2009 had the rules been in place last year. Additionally, the album of the year-nominated "Year of the Gentleman" from Ne-Yo would have had to wait until 2010.

With 110 categories, and countless submissions for each, the Recording Academy has the annual chore of confirming eligibility and ensuring that each is submitted to the proper category. But will the move affect the relevancy of the Grammys moving forward, as albums released in early September will now have to wait a full year to be recognized?

Pop & Hiss chatted with Recording Academy head Neil Portnow about the moves, and how it will affect the awards. Portnow also touched on other topics as the Grammys look to the future -- the Recording Academy's shifts into the digital arena and the potential return of a live nomination special on CBS.

So why does moving the broadcast up seven days require a full four-week shortening of the eligibility period?

When you look at the calendar, and all the elements -- the holidays, the times you don’t actually have to work on certain things, the fact that our entries have grown every year -- it just worked out this way in terms of having the proper amount of time to vet and go through and to get all the processes done that require our intention and manpower.

Will it ever be possible for the Grammys to operate on a standard calendar year, like the Oscars? This seems to move further away from that.

You could. There’s nothing that says that’s impossible. Part of the difficulty in switching is a) you have certain habits and expectations from both the membership and the industry, and b) you have the issue of where you place the broadcast, and where you are on schedule with the network you’re in business with. That would be a fairly radical piece of business for us to do. We’d have to change our fiscal year, from an accounting standpoint, to get into a calendar year situation. It’s not as simple as making a determination and moving.

Everything is interlocked. When you do something like that, that would mean that we would change every single element of everything that we do -- our membership dues, our trustees meeting, our elections, etc. That’s not to say that it can’t be done and would never be done, but it is to say in order to do that, we would have to have a bit of a process to get to that point. We would have to make sure we were taking care of the other business of the academy that builds off of when we have our telecast.

The music industry has always stacked releases during the holiday season. Now, you’ll be missing four more weeks of big albums. Was that a concern?

We’re not enormously concerned. There are a couple things to consider. In terms of this last year, there were only two entries nominated in the top-four categories that were September releases [Ne-Yo and Sullivan]. That’s not to say the top-four categories are more important, but that’s just an example, and there’s a lot of focus on album, song, new artist and record of the year. Of those, only one of those two nominated entries was a performer on the telecast.

So, if this had been the case last year, it’s not a make-or-break statistic. The other thing is releases could actually be released digitally in August and be eligible, even if a physical product doesn’t come until September. For those [releases] that would have a manufacturing issue, they would not necessarily be restricted to that because a digital release qualifies for eligibility.

The other point of view, taking off my academy hat and putting on an old, dusty record label A&R, senior management hat, as much as labels work from a business model and plan releases for a certain time … the bottom line is the music needs to come out when it’s ready. My experience has been that records that get released based on a timetable, as opposed to based on creative integrity, usually don’t work very well.

What constitutes a release these days is changing too. Albums are streamed sometimes weeks before an official release. Could that be enough to grant eligibility? Or will an album always need to be for sale?

Well, a broad answer is that I don’t believe we’re firm on anything in the long term. We need to be fluid, dynamic and flexible. We need to be able to react to and adjust to the marketplace. There was a time when digital releases didn’t qualify. They do now. We’ll continue to look at the marketplace as to how music is delivered and received by the consumer, and we will react accordingly.

This year you were able to get four performance videos for sale on iTunes. Since the live performances are what everyone talks about, will it be possible to host them all on the Grammy site immediately after the telecast?

Here’s the big picture on that. For the first 50 years of the academy’s existence, the thinking and the theory was that those performances were the crown jewel, and put away in a locked box and planned to be used in terms of exploitation in different ways in the future. In years past, this would be phenomenal content for the great compilation package of the future.

For some time, that worked. My feeling in the current environment, where instant accessibility is what the world is about, and because these are extraordinary, one-of-a-kind performances of material and combinations .. there is a great hunger for [these clips]. For the first time this year, we demonstrated that we’re interested and willing to create the ability -- either in a visual or audio fashion -- for the performances to be available. Getting that done is about clearances and approvals and rights issues.

Again, it’s live television, and this is the kind of thing where the artists who appear on the Grammys might want to have something to say about that, and we understand that. We’ve had conversations with the labels, and certainly, the majors all have an interest in having this content out there. So if you have a performance like "Swagga Like Us," where you have multiple artists and multiple labels and multiple songwriters, you have a lot of chefs in the brew and a lot of people who need to sign off and approve.

So, it’s not as simple as just saying, "Hey, it’s a privilege to perform on the Grammys. If you want to, this performance has to be available"?

You could, theoretically, take that point of view. We could possibly get to that over time. But unlike other producers of television programs, we’re also the academy, and are at the forefront of the fight for intellectual property rights, and the ability of the creator to have control, and have the ability to benefit financially from their work. We’re very careful to be the most respectful and cognizant of our role, and to be consistent and not be hypocritical. We want to be gentle and fair about how we approach those rights, and make sure the artists are happy with what they do.

Is the live nomination concert coming back?

We’re actually having some very serious discussions about that internally and with our network partner. Very shortly, we’ll have a conclusion. My sense is that everyone involved had a great experience, and the results were positive on so many labels. My guess is we’ll be looking at that again.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Getty Images