A look behind the scenes with a first-time voter
I’ve been a children’s musician for over 3 years now, and have released 2 albums. In that time I’ve learned that the Best Children’s Album category in The GRAMMY Awards is proof that small mom-and-pop operations making their own records the way the want can in fact earn well-deserved recognition at the top of their field. Ever since I entered the world of kids’ music, I’ve watched The Okee Dokee Brothers, Jennifer Gasoi and Tim Kubart take the coveted GRAMMY award, each owners of their own independent record label. Each took every financial risk on their own shoulders (or got some help from a crowdfunding campaign). Just before I became aware of the Children’s Album category (or much of anything about children’s music), the album “All About Bullies … Big and Small,” a compilation by Producers Steve Pullara, Jim Cravero, Pat Robinson, Kevin Mackie and Gloria Domina, put character education front and center on the GRAMMY stage by winning the award.
One year, the award ended up going not to a children’s music album, but to an audiobook, “I Am Malala,” the account of the 15-year-old girl in Pakistan who survived a gunshot to the head, a wound she sustained for the act of seeking her education as a girl in a land where the classroom is too often considered not a girl’s place. The other four nominees were “kindie” albums that year. Nobody would doubt that Malala’s harrowing tale was worthy of a high honor; I just wish that children’s spoken word album would be a separate category from children’s music album. But this was a blip in a good run of independently-made children’s albums getting their fair shot at the top. Much of this progress is thanks to an active community of National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) members, who vote on the GRAMMYs and communicate vocally with the organization’s leadership.
I’ve been an associate member of NARAS before, but this was my first year joining as a voting member. And it was an experience that has enriched me as a musician and as a music industry professional.
Today I cast my ballot for the 59th GRAMMY Award nominating process (also known as a first round ballot). This experience caused me to seek out and listen to the music on the ballot in a new way. The instructions that came with the ballot were very specific to mention that I should avoid simply voting for friends, entering into vote trading deals (if my album would have been on the ballot) or even voting blocs (like when a whole record company agrees to throw its votes behind the company’s top selling artist). I was impressed with this admonition being right out in the open. It gave me some real confidence in how GRAMMY nominees are selected.
So, how would I go about selecting the music that I believe should be nominated? In the Children’s Album category, I approached it as the music that was most likely to make a difference in the lives of kids and families. Excellent musicianship and competent songwriting was a minimal basic requirement. I tried to get a big picture of unique creative vision, of impact on listeners. Is this an album that will get kids up and moving? Get families to explore their neighborhood with greater mindfulness? Really appreciate their time together? Appreciate their intelligence rather than hide it in order to blend in? These questions guided me to select my votes for the five the Best Children’s Album nominees.
Voting in the general categories like “Record of the Year” (best individual track), “Song of the Year” and “Album of the Year” really forced me to listen to recordings and songs in a new way. Guided by the approach I took to children’s songs, I thought about things like “Which of these songs/recordings could be the soundtrack to my summer? Give me hope on a hard day? Energize my morning drive or my workout? Tell a story that draws me in?” As I listened to as many of my choices as I could, certain features stuck out, like this one ballad where the chorus positively EXPLODED out of my speakers after a very subdued verse section.
The GRAMMY voting experience has certainly deepened my appreciation for what music can do, and it has reframed my desire to make a difference in people’s lives with the songs and recordings I put out there in the world. It has given me a more profound connection to newly released music in more genres perhaps than I’ve felt since my teenage years.
I was impressed with how the ballot contained up-and-coming independent artists right alongside major label artists and even legends in the industry. I was honored to be trusted with the privilege and responsibility of voting for artists who advance the art form of recorded music.
What makes the best music great in your opinion? What do you listen for when choosing favorite artists and songs to make up the soundtrack of your own life? How has this piece changed your perception of the GRAMMY Awards?