When Grammy-nominated producer Harvey Mason Jr. took over as president of the Recording Academy, he knew he was in for a challenge. He’s heard firsthand from members of the music industry that the academy wasn’t a good fit for them, that the award voting process was inefficient, and that the organization lacked diversity.
Mason’s mission as the academy’s CEO to right wrongs and listen to the voices of the unheard has been fueled by these critical responses. He has already replaced the nominations review committee with a new member-driven voting system, restructured the leadership with two co-presidents, increased membership, and committed to hiring more diverse candidates with an inclusion rider for next year’s Grammy Awards.
So far, Mason believes the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Grammy Awards each year, is on the right track to regaining the trust of the music industry.
“We’re learning and changing,” Mason said in an interview at his Burbank, California, studio. He’s a well-known producer who has worked with Beyoncé, Chris Brown, and Whitney Houston. He was elected president and CEO of the academy in May after serving as interim president and CEO the previous year, making him the first Black person to hold the position. He previously served as the academy’s board chair. Mason took over for Deborah Dugan, who was fired five months into the job, just days before the Grammys in 2020. She claimed that the awards are rigged and that the nomination process is riddled with conflicts of interest, and she then reported sexual harassment and pay disparities.
Mason soon faced Grammy backlash from The Weeknd, who angrily slammed the awards, calling them “corrupt” after receiving zero nominations despite having last year’s biggest single, “Blinding Lights.” The singer has stated that he will boycott future Grammy ceremonies and will not allow his label to submit his music.
Other artists who have criticized the Grammys include Drake, Frank Ocean, Nicki Minaj, and 50 Cent, who stated that the award show was “out of touch.” Others criticized the “secret” review committee, which chose the eight nominees for each of the Grammys’ top four awards.
Some claimed committee members favored projects based on personal relationships, promoted and worked on projects they favored.
The academy disbanded its anonymous nominations review committee in April, a group that chose the nominees for key awards at the prestigious music show.
Mason claims he’s gotten his “butt kicked” during conversations with artists who have expressed their dissatisfaction. However, he is continuing his outreach efforts across all genres in order to forge a strong partnership with the music community, promote the academy’s initiatives and programs, and emphasize the importance of becoming a member.
Royce da 5’9″ has been a supporter of Mason’s leadership despite the academy’s turbulent history.
Mason instituted the 10-3 initiative with the new peer-driven system, which allows the academy’s nearly 12,000 members to vote for up to ten categories in three genres. The top four awards are open to all voters. Mason believes it is critical to create a diverse membership at the academy in order to avoid mistakes in the past.
Mason stated that the academy recently made a breakthrough when 83 percent of the 2,710 music professionals who applied to join the academy as new members did so in June. This year’s class of invitees is made up of 48 percent women, 32 percent African Americans, 13 percent Hispanics, and 4 percent Asian or Pacific Islanders.
Strides are being made, but some would like to see more from the academy’s programs, such as Women in the Mix, a 2019 initiative that focuses on female producers and engineers. The program’s goal is to promote mentorship among women in the industry. According to a study conducted by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 2% of music producers and 3% of engineers/mixers in popular music are women.
Smith described Mason’s biggest challenge as ensuring that inclusion goes beyond “making statements and is a central part of the academy’s work.”
Mason believes he and the academy are on the right track. When it comes to holding people accountable for the inclusion rider, which will ensure equity and inclusion in hiring at all levels of production for next year’s Grammys, he said he’ll be the “meanest and toughest one.”
The rider requirement was announced by the academy on October 19.