BURBANK, Calif .– When Harvey Mason Jr. took over as director of the Recording Academy, the Grammy-nominated producer knew there would be a tough climb. Some in the music community told him the academy was not for them, the voting process was inefficient, and the organization lacked diversity.
These critical responses fueled Mason’s mission as academy CEO to right the wrongs and listen to the voices of strangers. He has already replaced the Nominations Review Board with a new peer voting system, reshuffled management with two co-chairs, increased membership, and committed to hiring more diverse candidates with a rider of inclusion for next year’s Grammy Awards.
So far, Mason feels like the academy – which produces the Grammys every year – is heading in the right direction to regain the trust of the music community.
âWe learn and we change,â Mason said in an interview at his studio in Burbank, California. He is a successful producer who has worked with BeyoncÃ©, Chris Brown and Whitney Houston. He was elected president and CEO of the academy in May after holding the interim title last year, becoming the first black person to hold the post. He was previously chairman of the academy’s board of directors.
Mason took over from Deborah Dugan, who was ousted five months after taking the job – just days before the 2020 Grammys. She claimed the awards were rigged and filled with conflicts of interest in the nomination process, then went on to reported sexual harassment and wage disparities.
After taking over, Mason quickly faced backlash from The Weeknd’s Grammy who angrily criticized the awards, calling them “corrupt” after the pop star received no nominations despite the biggest single by last year, “Blinding Lights”. The singer says he will boycott future Grammys and will not allow his label to submit his music.
Other artists called the Grammys, including Drake, Frank Ocean, Nicki Minaj and 50 Cent, who said the awards show was “offline.” Others have aimed at the transparency of the “secret” review committee, which selected the eight nominees for each of the four best Grammys awards.
Some claimed that committee members favor projects based on personal relationships, promote projects that they favor and work on.
In April, the academy eliminated its Anonymous Nominations Review Board – a group that determined nominees for the prestigious music show’s top awards.
Mason said he had his butt kicked in conversations with artists who expressed their frustrations. But he continues his outreach efforts across genres to build a strong partnership with the music community, promote academy initiatives and programs, and emphasize the importance of becoming a member.
âI’m not doing it because I want them to like the academy, and I guess part of it is,â he said. “But I do it because what we do is really important and partnering with the artist community is something we rely on.”
Despite the academy’s eventful past, Royce da 5’9 “has been a supporter of Mason’s direction.
â(Harvey is) a good addition to the Grammys,â said the rapper, who was nominated for his first Grammy in his nearly two-decade career last year. âI think just adding more black people to the board in different states would really help. I think this is the key.
With the new peer-driven system, Mason instituted the 10-3 initiative – which allows the nearly 12,000 academy members to vote for up to 10 categories in three genres. All voters can vote for the first four prizes. The first round of the Grammy ballot began on Friday.
Mason said it was imperative to create a diverse membership in the academy in hopes of clearing the misadventures of the past.
âWe want the rewards to be correct, but it’s also kind of me explaining the process,â said Mason, who said he was relating to those who are disappointed with the voting process. The producer said there were times he should have won or been nominated for a Grammy, but that did not happen.
âA lot of people who have felt (frustrated) didn’t understand that the nominees and winners are voted on by you and you and you,â said Mason, who has been nominated five times. He followed in the musical footsteps of his father, Harvey Mason Sr., the 10-time Grammy-nominated jazz drummer of the group Fourplay.
âIf you are not here and you are not with us, we cannot count on you to vote accurately,â he continued. âWe cannot rely on you to determine who the best nominees and winners are. Of course, this is subjective. But we have to have the right people voting, the right people nominating, the right people deciding who should be the winner. “
Mason said the academy recently made a breakthrough when 83% of 2,710 music professionals applied to join the academy, as new members did in June. The makeup of this year’s guest class: 48% female, 32% African-American, 13% Hispanic, and 4% Asian or Pacific Islander.
Progress is being made, but some want more from academy programs like Women in the Mix – an initiative launched in 2019 that shines a spotlight on women producers and engineers. The program aims to facilitate mentorship among women in the industry.
According to a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study, only 2% of music producers and 3% of engineers / mixers in popular music are women.
“We hope to see the numbers improve,” said Stacy L. Smith, founder of the Inclusion Initiative. She wants to ensure that programs like Women in the Mix “significantly increase participation across the industry.”
âFor women, that includes improving nominations and wins in critical categories, including producer of the year,â she said. âFor women of color, that means seeing numbers increase in all major categories. For people of color in general, this includes recognizing their accomplishments, artistry, and vision across major categories and awards. “
Smith said the biggest challenge for Mason is to ensure that inclusion consistently goes beyond “making statements and is a central part of the academy’s work.”
Mason thinks he and the academy are doing just that. He said he will be the “baddest and toughest” when he holds people accountable for the inclusion rider, which will ensure fairness and inclusion in hiring at all levels of the company. production for next year’s Grammys. The 64th Grammy Awards telecast is scheduled for Jan.31.
The academy released the rider requirement on October 19.
âWe have operated with the idea of ââmaking sure that we are inclusive and truly diverse and equitable,â he said. âWe hold each other accountable to make sure everything is done right. You are not going to find an organization that cares more about diversity and change and goes in that direction than we do.
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