CMA Awards: Who Votes, How Winners Are Chosen

Male singer

Tetra Images/Getty Images

The Country Music Association, familiarly known as the CMA, honors several industry performers each year. But how does the CMA arrive at these awards? Years may go by without your favorite artists being chosen. It can be frustrating and baffling. Here's the dirt on the intricate process that goes on behind the scenes. 

Who Votes?

The CMT Awards and the American Country Awards are fan-voted, but the members of the Country Music Association select its winners. The CMA has a membership of over 7,400 music industry professionals from more than 40 countries who choose the nominees and winners. Anyone who earns their income primarily from the country music industry as an artist, songwriter, journalist, or engineer can purchase an individual CMA membership. The right to vote is granted along with the membership. CMA employees do not participate in the voting process.

The Eligibility Period

The CMA award eligibility period typically runs from July 1 of one year through June 30 of the following year. Singles, albums, music videos, and other qualifying products must have been released during this time period.

The Election 

The election is conducted in three rounds: 

  • Round 1: CMA members can nominate one act in each category in the first ballot. Any eligible act that receives 10 or more votes becomes an official nominee and moves on to voting in the second ballot.
  • Round 2: CMA members must now vote for five nominees in each category. These results are tabulated and the five nominees in each category who receive the most votes become CMA finalists. They move on to the third ballot.
  • Round 3: The entire CMA membership votes for one nominee in each category to determine the winners. 

The entire balloting process is officiated by the international accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche LLP. The final results are broadcast live during the CMA Awards telecast every November.

Entertainer of the Year

This award is given to the entertainer who displays the greatest competence in all aspects of the field. Voters give consideration not only to recorded performances but also to in-person performances, staging, public acceptance, attitude, and leadership. The artist's overall contribution to the country music image is considered as well. 

Male Vocalist of the Year

This award is based on an individual's musical performance on records or in person.

Female Vocalist of the Year

"This one's for the girls," to quote Martina McBride. The criteria are the same as for Male Vocalist of the Year. 

Vocal Group of the Year

A group is defined as an act composed of three or more people. They normally perform together and none of them are known primarily as individual performing artists. This award is based on the musical performance of the group as a unit, either on records or in person. 

Vocal Duo of the Year

A duo is defined as an act composed of two people, both of whom normally perform together and neither of whom is known primarily as an individual performing artist. This award is based on the musical performance of the duo as a unit, either on records or in person. 

Album of the Year

This award is for an album as a whole unit. The album is judged on the artist's performance, musical background, engineering, packaging, design, art, layout, and liner notes. At least 60 percent of songs included in the album must have been first mastered or released domestically during the eligibility period. The award goes to both the artist or artists and the producer. 

Song of the Year

Any country music song with original words and music is eligible based on the song's country singles chart activity during the eligibility period. The award goes to the songwriter and the primary publisher.

Single of the Year

This award is for single records only. The single must have been released domestically for the first time during the eligibility period. Tracks from albums aren't eligible unless they're released as singles during the eligibility period. This award goes to both the artist and the producer. 

Vocal Event of the Year

An event is defined as a collaboration of two or more people. Anyone of them must be known primarily as an individual artist. They must have performed together as a unit on a musical recording released domestically within the eligibility period. Each artist must be prominently featured and duly authorized to receive billing on the event. 

Musician of the Year

This award is for a musician known primarily as an instrumental performer. He or she must have played on at least one album or single which appeared on the Top 10 of the country album or singles charts from Billboard, the Gavin Report or Radio & Records during the eligibility period.

Horizon Award

This goes to the artist who has demonstrated significant creative growth and development in overall chart and sales activity, live performance professionalism and critical media recognition in the field of country music for the first time. It can be an individual or a group of two or more artists. Artists who have previously won a CMA Award other than Song of The Year, Vocal Event of the Year, or Video of the Year are ineligible, as are those who have twice been final nominees for the Horizon Award. 

Music Video of the Year

This award is for an original music video that's not more than 10 minutes long. It must feature the performance of not more than one song or medley. The video must have been first released domestically for exhibition or broadcast during the eligibility period. The video is judged on all audio and video elements, including the artist's performance, video concept, and production. 

So, there you have it. You'll know exactly what's going on the next time the CMA Awards are broadcast.