What Do NARAS and The RIAA Have In Common?  One More Thing.

By Moses Avalon

The folks at the Grammy Foundation (and indeed NARAS in general) really need to learn the lesson the RIAA has taught us—don’t threaten your customers.

To protect the “integrity” of the voting process they are “cracking down” on people soliciting votes through email. Their angle; claiming that that the re-stating of category numbers and names is “proprietary information.”  Like for example, to put “Tropical Latin Album – Category 61 – Entry # 049,” in an email is breaking the law.

Ann Meckelborg, Director, Contract Administration for NARAS wrote me a carefully worded email last week saying that I was in violation of NARAS policy when I alerted my mailing list about a nominee.  She thinly suggested that there would be legal consequences for using my personal data base to bring awareness to a client of mine, a hard working Latin artist named Vayo, who is not on a major label, yet supports his family with his music.

Ann says she’s just trying to “keep the playing field level” and solicitations tip the scales unfairly.  For whom, is what I was wondering.  I (and probably you) have received dozens of Grammy solicitations in our email boxes over the past week from NARAS members pimping their high profile picks. Major labels spend tens of thousands on “for your consideration ads” for their artists.  What does a guy like Vayo do to “level the playing field?” So, I asked Ann in my phone conversation with her, why she was picking on me.  She said, “We’re going after all of them.”

“Going after? Are you threatening to sue people who solicit votes?!?”  She backed off a bit, saying “going after” was a poor choice of words.  But I got the message. They will take away your NARAS secret decoder ring and you won’t be invited to the company picnic. More seriously, they could remove an artist from the ballot for solicitation.  This would probably be illegal, but NARAS has an angle.

According to Ann the category number and the name are “proprietary information.”  For those without law degrees, that means that this information is a “trade secret” and the public disclosure of it would do financial harm to NARAS.

Right.  How would they argue in a court of law–where the judge was not totally high–that this trade secret was trusted to be delivered to 1000s of members via the US mail?  Or that they can’t even have a trade secret when they have no competitors and thus no trade, or that they don’t have any financial damages from the disclosing of a category number?  I’d laugh if this were a movie.


When normally rational people start acting nuts I look for hidden financial motives.  This one is not so hard to ferret out.

In recent years NARAS changed the requirements for Grammy eligibility. In an attempt to seem less elitist they lowered the bar for “qualified artist.”  In the past you pretty much needed to be on a major label, now all you need is a website and a deal for “national distribution.”  This could include digital distribution.  Which means, anyone with a deal on CD Baby or TuneCore (or anyone else who gets your music into iTunes) can qualify.

So, what’s wrong with that?  I’ll tell you.

The Grammys makes money (indirectly) from advertising sales.  But the only reason advertisers think it’s worth buying time on the show is for the millions of eyeballs tuning in to see Christina, Britany, Puffy, etc.

But what if suddenly, due to an unexpected trend (called popular opinion) the winners were people like Noctaluca or Preeta and the Peace Makers, Who..?  Exactly.   What if the winners were people the general public was not hip to but nonetheless are great artists with a following just under the radar?  In other words, everyone who’s still too good for a major label deal.  What would happen then?

I’ll tell you what. The show’s ratings would resemble the audience in an LA club on showcase night.  Ten people in the room, five of whom are the girlfriends.  It would be like ‘97 Oscars when mostly Indie films, like Fargo received attention.  Film buffs loved it but the public went “Huh? I ain’t watching a bunch of Jews boys with trust funds get richer. What happened to Kevin Costner?”

People would tune out and the Grammys would suffer greatly. With Grammy ratings over the past two years already dropping, and key benefactors—major labels—reexamining their financial priorities, it’s not hard to figure that NARAS is deeply concerned about their future.


Winning a Grammy has never been easy.  The process worked by a controlled democracy. Private committees decided who gets nominated and then members of NARAS (about 7500 members in total) voted.  Whoever gets the most votes wins (this in NOT like the Oscars which is a Star Chamber process.)

Problem.  In the past, “solicitations” were done via media buys; large ads in Billboard that read, “Sony congratulates our artists, So & So for their Grammy nomination.”  This was code for “pick us.” NARAS loved this. It generated lots of revenue for the biz, which is what they’re all about.  People bought tons of ads in Billboard, Hollywood Reporter and Variety. PR firms prospered. It was a money tree.  It also created a bottle neck since smaller, indie artists couldn’t afford these media buys.

This practically guaranteed that only big name artists would end up winners.

But when people send out bulk emails to opt in lists (which is NOT considered SPAM by law) who gets rich?  No one.  And viral marketing works. It really works well. Probably better than media buys for this type of thing and it’s far cheaper.  Especially, when like me, you have a list of over 14,000.

So, now that anyone can be a viral marketer, how can NARAS, who has an absolute vested interest in who gets the award (and don’t let them bullshit you otherwise) control— who gets an award.

They can’t. The internet has once again changed the game.


There is simply no way to ensure that the big major label names (who support NARAS with donations) can maintain dominance in the voting process if anyone with a lap top can undermine the voting process.   This latest veiled threat is classic old-school music business cheese; like RIAA P2P lawsuits.  It won’t stop anything.

Ann, Neil, (and all the rest of the NARAS execs) hear me now: don’t make the same mistake that the RIAA made and alienate your own customers.  I’m not an anarchist nut job, I sympathize with your position and I understand the big picture need to keep top selling artists on the show, BUT, you have to face reality and bone up to the fact that you have two choices:

1- Admit you’re not a democracy, become the Oscars and do it Star Chamber style.

2- Create new categories for internet related sales. Ones that don’t effect the Major Label dominated categories.  Call them “indie” categories, if you like.  Yeah you’ll take a few “elitist pig” pies in the face, but the greater good will be served and people will forget all about the separatist attitude once they begin focusing on the Cinderella aspects.  Think of how you could spin it.

Oh… and since NARAS is  interested only in fair play and “level playing fields,” I think they would like to know what the 200 or so contributing NARAS members on this list think of their new expansion of “proprietary” and how they plan to “go after” you.  Email them now.

Mo out

Related Links:

Me debating Bill O’Reilly about the Grammys

7 responses to “GRAMMY GONE MAD”

  1. Moses Avalon says:

    Moses, I think it’s time someone start a similar award called “The Indies”. Let’s find a tv/film producer and then we’ll see how good the ratings are for the Indies compared to the Grammys.

    You know, there are many organizations that operate to benefit their own agendas. Take the International Blues Society, for example. I hate to say this, but it seems like unless you’re black you can’t be considered legitimate enough to win, like there aren’t any poor white souls who have lived the blues. But what really bugs me is how this organization and its chapters don’t even follow their own rules: that a throw together band is not eligible to compete or win. Consistently, there are “hired guns” who hook up to form a band, in an attempt to win the contest. And they do win, because they are seasoned players. These are just 2 examples of how odds get stacked against those who must beat them.

    So there you have it. Fair play, fair pay? We’ve got a long list of inconsistencies that go way beyond the music industry. Perhaps if we take out the human error equation, corruption will one day be resolved. Must we wait for robots and Star Trek reality shows to get a more enlightened society?


  2. Moses Avalon says:

    Dear Moses,

    Thank you so much for speaking up and speaking out about the Grammy process. I recently read your article “What do NARAS and the RIAA have in common.” To the point and very honest. THANK YOU!!

    Also took a moment to check out your debate with Fox Opinion chanel’s Schill O’Reilly…. SIMPLY AWESOME!! I’d like 2 minutes in a back room with that A-hole alone!! He talks about “what is good for the country” like he actually gives a shit!! Thanks again for such a calm level-headed response to a completely enraging idiot’s position. He usually tries to bully people on his show, your calmness I’m sure infuriated him. Good job all the way around.


  3. N says:

    Hey Mo –

    Always enjoy the newsletters. Thanks for keeping ’em coming.

    FWIW, I’ve been getting a barrage of emails from the RMALA (I’m a local 47 member) and in every single one of ’em, they include the “proprietary” info.

    I wonder if they’ve received similar emails 😉

    Keep fighting the good fight.

  4. Mike Esterson says:


    You are such a fucking troublemaker! Right on!!!!

    Mike Esterson

    CFO money maker entertainment

  5. Frank says:

    Is this a joke?!?!
    I didn’t see anything in the Naras rule book that said I couldn’t tell people I was in the running or solicit listens…which is all I have done.

    Which is something you might fire back with. We are soliciting “listens” not votes.


    I am a Naras member. Please add me to your list and please solicit the hell out of me.

  6. Jasper says:

    I don’t believe that there’s nothing fishy going on in here. It’s politics isn’t it? Wouldn’t this world be a much better place if we could have all been fair and equal right?

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