Grammy Awards Rules for Nominating and Choosing Winners

Details on the Grammy Selection Process

Submitting Eligible Recordings

Members of the Recording Academy and record companies submit recordings and music videos that have been released during the eligibility year. The Recording Academy receives over 20,000 entries annually. For the 59th Annual GRAMMY Awards, considered recordings were required to be released between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016. The nominations were announced December 6, 2016.

Screening Process

Over 150 experts in a variety of music fields review entered recordings to make sure they meet the eligibility requirements and that they are placed in the proper categories for award consideration. This is the point at which it is determined whether a recording is rock or jazz, pop or Latin, country or dance, etc. The placement of a recording in a category is not intended to make any judgment about the recording other than proper eligibility and category placement.

What Is An Album?

In recent years, shorter collections of songs often referred to as EPs (for "extended play") have become more common. They chart along with full-length albums on Billboard's album chart. Currently, the Grammy Awards define an album as a recording that contains at least five different tracks and runs for at least a total of 15 minutes playing time. 

General Nominations

First-round ballots are sent to voting members of the association with lists of all of the eligible recordings in various fields. Members are instructed to vote only in their fields of expertise and they may vote in up to 15 genre categories. Currently there are 83 categories stretched across 30 fields. The fields include Pop, Rock, Latin, Country, Jazz, etc. All voting members may select nominees in each of the 4 general categories - Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. Some categories are reserved for special nominating committees. The ballots are then tabulated by the accounting firm Deloitte.

Previously members voted in up to 20 categories, but the number was reduced to 15 to encourage members to vote only in those categories where they were most "knowledgable, passionate, and qualified."

Proposals for changes to the categories are reviewed every year by the Awards and Nominations Committe of the Recording Academy. Final approval of any changes is given by the academy trustees.

To become a voting member of the association an individual may apply who is a music industry professional with creative or technical credits on six commercially released tracks (or their equivalent) in physically available music (e.g. vinyl and CDs) or twelve tracks of music sold online. At least one of the qualifying tracks must have been released within five years of applying to be a voting member. The music must be currently available for purchase through recognized music retailers. The credits may include vocalists, conductors, songwriters, composers, engineers, producers, instrumentalists, arrangers, art directors, album notes writers, narrators and music video artists and technicians. Anyone nominated for a Grammy Award within the previous five years is automatically eligible to be a voting member.

If an individual does not meet the above criteria, they still may apply to be a voting member with endorsement from current Recording Academy voting members. They must be endorsed by at least two current voting members. The application is then reviewed by member services and may be sent to a local chapter committee for additional consideration.

Specific membership details are here.

Special Nominating Committees

Some craft and specialized categories are reserved from the general nominations voting. These nominees are selected by national nominating committees selected from among active members of the association in all of the Recording Academy's chapter cities.

Final Voting

Final-round ballots are sent to voting members of the association with the final nominees in all categories. This includes the nominees that are determined by special nominating committees. Members are allowed to vote for the selections to win awards in up to 15 genre categories plus the 4 general categories.

Award Announcements

Winners of the awards are not known until envelopes containing the names of winners are opened at the presentation ceremonies. The sealed envelopes are delivered by Deloitte. Approximately 70 Grammy Awards are presented in the afternoon before the main Grammy Awards show.  The remaining awards are presented in the live telecast. 

2012 Category Restructuring

The 2012 Grammy Awards which honored music released mostly in 2011 gave out honors in 109 different categories. For the next year, the number of categories was drastically pared back from 109 to 78. A key element of the reduction was the removal of a difference between male and female solo performers and a difference between duo/groups and collaborations in the main genres of pop, rock, R&B, country and rap. In addition many roots music forms like Hawaiian music and Native American music were combined into the Best Regional Roots Music Album category. With adjustments in recent years, the number of categories grew to 83 by 2015.

Best New Artist Controversy and Rules Changes

In 2010, Lady Gaga was excluded from eligibility for the Best New Artist award. It caused controversy because many in the industry believed she was the obvious choice due to her impact on pop music in the previous year. She was deemed ineligible because her song "Just Dance" had been nominated for an award the year before. The rule was changed to allow for eligibility as long as the artist had not released an album in a previous year or won a Grammy Award.

In 2016, the Best New Artist eligibility rules were changed again. The release of an album is no longer required for a Best New Artist nominee. Currently, they must have released a minimum of five singles/tracks or one album and they may not have released more than 30 singles/tracks or three albums. Prospective nominees may not be considered in the category more than three times including as a member of an established group. The primary consideration is that the nominee must have achieved a breakthrough in the "public consciousness" during the previous year.

Grammy Awards Criticism

The primary criticism aimed at the Grammy Awards is that they too often honor "safe" commercial music over cutting edge and forward thinking recordings. In some senses, this often manifests itself in the interests of music consumers vs. those of music critics and analysts. However, Kanye West's failure to win Album of the Year after three nominations and winning 21 other awards has been cited as an indication that the Grammy Awards are out of touch with the reality of the best in music. Ultimately, changing the nature of nominees and winners would most likely require a change in who is allowed to vote possibly shifting away from the restriction to those who make recordings as the only voters.