For years, Recording Academy members who were fortunate enough to land Grammy nominations were given a pair of free tickets to the show. Now, the Academy is making members who are nominated buy their companion ticket.
The policy change, announced quietly in November, has drawn criticism. Rhiannon Giddens, a two-time Grammy winner in the folk field, wrote a thoughtful post on Facebook in which she expressed her disappointment with the new policy, and put it in the context of life getting harder for working-class musicians.
Early in her post, she talked about the experience of going to the Grammys for the first time in February 2011, when her band Carolina Chocolate Drops was nominated for best traditional folk album for Genuine Negro Jig. Spoiler alert: They won.
“People might not know this, but it’s expensive to go to the GRAMMYs – if you are nominated, you pay for your flight, hotel, hair, makeup, dress, food, what have you, yourself. All nominees receive a plus one to the ceremony and after party, and for a lot of non-mainstream folks, win or lose, it’s a moment of a lifetime.”
Then she dealt with the Academy’s recent announcement about charging nominated members for their +1 tickets.
“The onslaught on the working class musician was taken up a notch this year. I am not going to the GRAMMYs for various reasons in February but I have just heard that the companion ticket is no longer free but costs 1200 dollars.
“For all the big names that’s easy, and for middle class musicians like me, its doable, if super annoying. For the folks who are just making ends meet, harder than ever in a world that is systematically erasing every avenue the musician used to have to actually make money from their music, from Spotify to closed venues to digitized orchestras, it’s a slap in the face.
“There are folks within the GRAMMY ranks who really love music and are trying to change things for the better. I get that. The afternoon ceremony has slowly been upgraded and is now even livestreamed! But honestly, this is a really bad look – and it makes it ever more obvious who is valued, and more specifically what (that would be lots of money, for the folks in the back).
Giddens attached a photo of her at the Grammys in 2011 and noted, “This picture wouldn’t exist if the policy then was what it is now, and that makes me sad.
“Music is art. Family. Empathy. Love. We’ve made it about money, and that’s a tragedy bigger than we know.”
Asked to comment, the Academy provided this statement to Billboard: “The recent adjustment affects only nominated members of the Recording Academy, which now brings them in line with all other nominees who already pay this cost for a companion seat. We acknowledge tickets to our show can be expensive, but the additional revenue raised from this small subset of our membership allows the Recording Academy, a not-for-profit organization, to serve many thousands of music people by helping to fund our educational initiatives, advocacy efforts, curated programming, and direct assistance extended to music people facing challenges. As with everything we do, the Recording Academy will continue to work to improve and evolve how we serve our music community.”
Giddens’ statement that Grammy tickets cost $1,200 was a little off. Tickets were made available this year at both higher and lower price points. (Tickets at all pricing tiers are now sold out.) Platinum tickets went for $2,000 each, Gold tickets for $1,000 each, Silver tickets for $562.50 each, and Bronze tickets for $375 each. Members may purchase two tickets within any of these pricing tiers and may also purchase two additional Bronze tickets, though additional Bronze tickets are $500, not $375. All of these pricing tiers include the Premiere Ceremony (a.k.a the pre-telecast awards). None of the tiers include the after-party.
An Academy spokesman said that this policy change of charging nominated members for their +1 tickets is true for all nominees, in marquee categories as well as the lower-profile categories that are presented at the Premiere Ceremony.
(Each year, all but about 11 awards are presented at the Premiere Ceremony, which is livestreamed on Grammy.com. These include some high-profile categories, though the biggest awards – including the vaunted Big Four — album, record and song of the year plus best new artist – are presented on the live telecast.)
This isn’t the only money-tightening change the Academy has instituted recently. On July 10, it announced that it was raising annual membership dues from $100 to $150, its first dues increase since 2000. The increase took effect on Aug. 1.
The Academy sought to justify the dues increase in an email to voting members. “It is important to highlight the significant accomplishments we have achieved together since the last dues increase in 2000. We have organized over 650 events across 12 Chapters, celebrated and recognized countless GRAMMY Award nominees and winners, provided $110 million in aid through MusiCares, and actively supported the passage of numerous bills at both the state and federal level to protect creators’ rights.”
A third example of upping fees is that the Academy used to allow members to enter an unlimited number of entries in the Grammy process. Since 2022, all professional and voting members of the Recording Academy receive five “courtesy entries” per year. If they choose to enter more than five entries, they must pay. Last year, the fee was $40 for entries made between July 17-31, $75 for entries made between Aug. 1-23 and $125 for entries made between Aug. 24-31.
The Academy justifies charging a fee for any member making more than five entries by saying, “The per-entry fee structure encourages entrants to consider the value of each entry and make mindful decisions to put forward work that they truly believe is Grammy-worthy.”
Gidden is nominated for two Grammys at this year’s ceremony, which is set for Feb. 4 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles – best Americana album for You’re the One and best American roots performance for a track from that album, “You Louisiana Man.”
It’s her first nod for best Americana album; her third for best American roots performance.
Gidden received her second of two Grammy Awards two years ago – best folk album for They’re Calling Me Home, with Francesco Turrisi.
Gidden won a Pulitzer Prize for Music last year for Omar, a collaboration with Michael Abels. That’s the same award that Kendrick Lamar won five years ago for Damn. Gidden has also been honored at the International Folk Music Awards and Americana Music Honors & Awards, among others.