Tonight CBS and NARAS will present the 56th annual Grammy awards hosted by LL Cool J. It’s billed as “Music’s Business Night” but I’m not so sure it’s anything more than a party thrown by insiders for other insiders. Don’t get me wrong; I would have been thrilled to have any of my products recognized by the Recording Academy. I have submitted releases over the course of last 10 years or so and have never gotten a nomination. Do I think my high-resolution projects are as good as some of the others that have received nominations? Well, frankly…yes I do.
But there’s a problem. The NARAS organization is way behind the times when it comes to high-resolution audio and surround music. There is a category for “Best Surround Album”, thanks to the efforts of Phil Ramone and others that supported 5.1 music recordings.
But I recall getting a phone call a few years ago from a staff member at NARAS asking me about one of my submissions. This young gentleman wanted to know which 5.1 surround mix on my Paul Williams and Willie Nelson DVD-Audio/Video release I wanted the panel to evaluate. He must have heard from the panel (the surround Grammy nominations are judged by a panel and not by the NARAS membership) that my releases contained TWO 5.1 surround presentations…the “stage” and the “audience”. I considered this a bonus feature on my discs but apparently it was confusing to the panel (or perhaps they didn’t want to waste their time). I replied that I thought the award category was for “Best Surround Album” and NOT “Best Surround Mix”, which means that the panel should taken into consideration that AIX Records included multiple surround mixes and listened to both of them. I’ve never had one of my surround albums nominated.
When I first started recording and releasing 5.1 surround products back in 2000, I learned from one of my artists that was actually on one of the panels that they didn’t have the ability to playback a DVD-Audio disc and therefore ALL of my submissions were bypassed. She raised a ruckus and was never again asked to participate on a panel. Can you imagine including a category for DVD-Audio/SACD discs and not having the ability to playback the submissions? I’m not exactly sure when or even if they’ve rectified that situation. I do know that many of the payback rooms used to evaluate some of the categories are done in rooms that are ill equipped to handle the task. They have bad acoustics, the speakers in the wrong places and marginal playback gear.
Perhaps my biggest frustration occurred when I reached out to the Grammy folks because the list of formats available for “Best Engineered Album” included: cassette, vinyl LP, compact disc and DVD-Audio/SACD. They couldn’t accept Blu-ray because the pull down menu didn’t include this new and highest resolution audio format. Cassettes were still on the list but Blu-rays weren’t. It almost seems like the people putting together the Grammy selection process have no clue about the cutting edge stuff that going on with regards to High-Resolution Audio. And when you point it out to them (as a member of the Producers and Engineers Wing!), they nod politely and just ignore you.
The mainstream record business is a homogenized business and marketplace that caters to lowest common denominator. I feel a little like the farmer that I saw early this morning in the movie “Food, Inc.” documentary that decided to let his cows eat real grass rather than adopt the strategy of the larger (and more profitable) corporate ranches that feed their livestock corn (something cows don’t normally eat) because corn is a subsidized commodity, very cheap and decreases the time to market. This guy was happy to remain small but deliver quality meat.
The Grammy Awards don’t have anything to do with quality…they’re a popularity contest and vehicle for the big stars to make a splash once a year. I’ll be watching a Netflix movie tonight.