For the past three years, I've had an application to join the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the organization responsible for the annual Grammy Awards. I keep saying I'm going to get around to filling out the form and becoming a member, yet it sits there untouched, like my backyard shed that I've promised to paint for five years. Now I've discovered that I'm contributing to a Louisiana NARAS statistic that is so pitiful it's shocking.
NARAS has 20,000 members that vote on the Grammy Awards. Guess how many of those members are from Louisiana? One hundred and fifty. Yes, only 150.
There's no excuse for such poor local representation. A common misperception is that NARAS is an exclusive club limited to music business heavyweights, but that's not the case. There are eligibility requirements (and annual dues of $100), but a huge portion of the New Orleans and Louisiana music community has these prerequisites. All it takes to become a voting member of the Academy is credits on six commercially released tracks. This applies to creative and technical professionals, including vocalists, instrumentalists, arrangers, producers, engineers, conductors, art directors, album notes writers, narrators, and music video artists and technicians. Associate and affiliate memberships are also available for music students, educators, retailers, attorneys and more.
Recognizing the advantages of NARAS membership requires looking past the glitz of the annual Grammy telecast, which inevitably looks like a shill for pop and rock stars. "The Grammy Awards are only one night, and we do events and programs all year round," says Jon Hornyak, the executive director of the Memphis NARAS chapter, which functions as a regional Southern field office. "We have our Grammy in the Schools programs, and the Music Cares program, which helps musicians in need. (Music Cares recently gave a grant to the New Orleans Musician's Clinic.) And while we don't lobby per se, we do have a Washington, D.C., office, and make sure our members' voices are heard on issues like work-for-hire legislation and downloadable music -- making sure people get paid."
If that's not enough, NARAS also offers substantial discounts on CDs and DVDs to members -- new CDs only cost $7.
Those benefits don't diminish the power of having a say in the Grammy Awards, which remain the most prestigious award in the music industry. Only NARAS members can submit recordings for consideration, which provides some insight into why perennial Louisiana favorites like the Neville Brothers, BeauSoleil, Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton seem to be the only local names to crack the Grammy books in recent years. It's virtually impossible for our artists to compete without better representation from their home state -- and from the artists themselves.
Some local critics have complained that NARAS has neglected Louisiana by not opening a chapter and office here. Hornyak says it's a simple matter of numbers and economics. "At this point, with the number of members we have in Louisiana, it doesn't make sense to set up an office, which would probably cost $100,000 annually in staff, expenses and rent. We're better able to serve our members with more programming and events."
To that end, NARAS brought its Grammy in the Schools program to the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts in 2000, recently presented continuing education workshops at Loyola University, and Hornyak recently returned from trips to Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Terrance Simien has been instrumental in starting a NARAS membership drive throughout south Louisiana, in part to try and have Cajun and zydeco categories added to the Grammy Awards. Those are all encouraging signs for New Orleans' quest to land the proposed Grammy Hall of Fame museum. While Hornyak can't comment on that ongoing process, an effort spearheaded by the Louisiana Music Commission recently landed a $500,000 line of credit from the Louisiana Bond Commission for design submissions -- a first step in a projected $10 million commitment for the project.
While that process is subject to politics, there's nothing holding back Louisiana's potential NARAS membership, and the influence it can bring. Our neighbors to the West have already set an example to match. "In April 1994, Louisiana had 50 members, and Texas had 50 members," says Hornyak. "Seven years later, there's 1,000 members in Texas, and only 150 in Louisiana."
For information on joining NARAS, call the Memphis chapter at (901) 525-1340, or email email@example.com.
As for me, I still don't know when I'll get around to painting that shed. But I am going to get off my ass this weekend and write NARAS a membership check.
- BeauSoleil is one Louisiana act that has captured a prestigious Grammy award.