For the first time in its six-decade history, the Grammys are adding an award to specifically honor the most prolific songwriters in the music industry.
Part of a set of wider updates and rule changes the Recording Academy announced Thursday morning, the new award — Songwriter of the Year, Non-Classical — will be the most direct Grammy honor songwriters have ever earned during the annual award ceremony. Intended to celebrate solely the songwriter and the songs they wrote rather than performed, nominations will include five songs the songwriter didn’t record themselves.
“My background is as a songwriter and a creator, so it really made a lot of sense to me that we would honor somebody like the Songwriter of the Year similar to the way we do a producer, best engineered album, things like that,” Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, tells Rolling Stone. While Mason doesn’t vote on the proposals, he says he heavily supported the decision to push the new award category through. “What’s important is the songwriting community felt like it wanted to be heard, and the Academy agreed wholeheartedly and is excited about this award.”
While non-performing songwriters themselves play a crucial role in the industry — there would be no hits if no one wrote them — they’re often overlooked both in and outside of the industry. Songwriters’ pay is often disproportionately low, and it’s common for big artists to take a songwriting credit on a track even if they didn’t write it, which cuts into a songwriter’s earnings. In recent years, groups like the Pact have tried to end that longstanding issue. A Grammy award just for songwriters doesn’t fix those problems, but it at least bestows the songwriter class with more much-needed respect, giving them higher-profile awards for their work that artists and producers have already received at the Grammys for decades.
“I think the industry is heading in that direction in starting to acknowledge the importance and highlight the value of what songwriters do,” Mason says when asked how the music business can better champion songwriters. “I think making sure we’re acknowledging them properly, making sure we’re looking out for them for credits or remunerating them properly; all those things are headed in the right direction. And my hope is that through the Academy, we can help push that forward.”
Beyond the new songwriter award, the Academy announced several other changes Thursday, including four other new award categories: Best Alternative Music Performance, Best Americana Music Performance, Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media, and Best Spoken Word Poetry Album. The Academy also launched a new special merit award called the Best Song for Social Change, which will honor a song that contains lyrics pertaining to social issues. As previously announced last year, starting with the upcoming 65th Grammy Awards, albums eligible for Grammy consideration must now include 75 percent new material rather than the 50 percent requirement that was previously in place.
The Academy also capped the amount of submissions Academy members can send in for consideration, presumably to discourage applicants from spamming their songs across too many Grammy categories.\