Voting for the first round of the Grammy Awards ended Sunday, and so has the blizzard of For Your Consideration posts on social media.
If past is prologue, it's likely that the lion’s share of attention will go to the people allied with those throwing the party: the major label artists with big sales and advertising dollars to burn. The Grammys have always been far more about commerce than art.
But Richmond is the city that can rock a poll. In 2012 Outside Magazine named us the best river city in the United States. The Mekong was the best beer bar in America, year after year. This is not to suggest that the James River Parks are anything but wonderful, or that An Bui doesn’t run an exemplary operation. But the reason Richmond won was organization and group effort.
While it is nowhere near as easy to impact the Grammy process as it is an online poll, much less an online poll that allows multiple voting, it is an interesting thought experiment to see if there is a way to increase visibility in this high-profile contest. Record labels have a strategy, why shouldn’t we?
The first step is getting as many Richmond artists as voting members of the Recording Academy. This requires professional or technical credits on six commercially-released tracks within the last five years. The cost starts at $100 annually. Everyone in Richmond who is eligible should be a member, at least in this hypothetical approach. There are about 12,000 eligible voting members, so the more who participate, the better.
Next, they need something to vote for. There is an element of luck here, as 20,000 entries submitted by either media companies or voting members are screened by 350 experts before being eligible for consideration. There are a number of Richmond artists whose work made the first cut in 2019. These include Hector Barez for “El Laberinto Del Coco,” Christina Gleixner for "Yeni Nostalgi," and both Scott Clark and Alan Parker for the Standing Rock-influenced “Tonow.”
The next phase --nominating-- is the one most open to direct influence. Every voting member can vote in as many as to 15 categories. The question is how to most strategically use those votes? Split among all the local nominees, any potential influence would be lost. It is probably against the spirit of the awards for multiple voters to strategize allocation to maximize effect. So anything like this should be kept on the down-low. The good news is that in some categories, jazz and world, for example, the voting is likely to be lighter than for new artist or album of the year.
The top five nominees with the most support end up on the final ballot, which is again sent out to voting members. There is security in place to prevent refreshing the screen and voting again, a technique that worked in some early online polls. But Richmond’s winning streak at online polls continued even after those running them clamped down.
It seems like a long shot to get a local artist without a major label deal in that elite final mix. But what is the downside of trying? According to Bio Ritmo and Miramar pianist Marlysse Rose Simmons, there is at least a potential upside.
“I used to not care about this crap, but to have a nomination means you can actually maybe make some money off a few gigs. So why not play the game?” Simmons says. “I have seen it work for small-time bands too, especially if the community is strong.”