Bruce Brubaker, piano chair at the New England Conservatory, is one of the thousands of the Recording Academy’s voting members who decide each year's Grammy winners. Between nominees like SZA, Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish all vying for Song of the Year, Brubaker has a say in which artists will win a coveted award on Feb. 4.
Brubaker spoke with GBH News to share insight into the voting process ahead of the 66th Grammy Awards. Though he couldn't share any details about his specific votes, he was happy to share his general experience of voting over the decade or so that he’s been a member of the Academy. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.
Haley Lerner: What are you excited about when it comes to the soon-approaching Grammy Awards?
Bruce Brubaker: I think it's been a real time of transition. It's been really interesting to see how the organization and the awards are shifting and really coming to a better understanding of the broad diversity of music that's being made now.
Lerner: What is the process like, throughout the year, being a Grammy voter?
Brubaker: So, during the year, it comes to a time when anybody who is a member — and also companies that are involved with making recordings — are allowed to submit possible nominations, and there are hundreds or even thousands of albums and songs that get submitted in that way, and they're put into categories.
And then the first-round voting happens where anybody who's a member is now allowed to vote for several entries in each category. There are a couple hundred categories. You choose the areas that you feel most interested in voting on.
From that vote comes the nominations. And then there's another round of voting where the members now vote only between those entries that were nominated. And then it's really just a majority vote.
Everybody is allowed to vote on the most general categories that are up there at the top: best song, best album, best new artist. But in terms of the more specialized categories, since I am in some sense a classical pianist, I might choose to vote on the classical music categories. There's a separate voting process for producers and engineers, and that has to do with equipment and other categories that are more particular to the actual production of recordings.
It is a little more complicated than that because there are committees, which also look at whether a particular piece of music or a particular album belongs in a certain category. And in the last few years, there have been a lot of adjustments of those categories. New categories keep getting added and, honestly, I think it's a really interesting reflection of what's happened in music — that this kind of categorizing of music is actually very difficult and maybe even a little problematic, because art doesn't really fit into such obvious categories.
Lerner: What are the politics like in terms of artists campaigning for their music?
Brubaker: I believe there are certainly some people who are very involved with the organization, either as part of a committee that has to do with the oversight, and sometimes those are the same people who are producing material themselves or artists who are making music. And so it does get to be a little complicated.
You will see even on Instagram or other platforms, people putting up some kind of representations of their albums and saying, "for your consideration." That's the term that's usually applied and it's a way of trying to get support for their projects.
Some categories are much more contentious than other ones because there are many more people entering those categories. So, I think in terms of music that doesn't quite fit, it often is complicated and some categories are very crowded.
“New categories keep getting added and, honestly, I think it's a really interesting reflection of what's happened in music. ... Art doesn't really fit into such obvious categories.”Bruce Brubaker, pianist and Grammy voter
Lerner: What’s one thing people might not know about the voting process?
Brubaker: In every category, none of us knows how many people are voting. So, I have the feeling that in some of the more specialized categories, there might be very few people who are voting. It could just be a few dozen people, maybe less.
Lerner: How do you think Grammy voting has changed in recent years?
Brubaker: The last few years have been a little bit fraught. But, at the same time, I think they've been extremely useful and important for the organization because there is greater diversity now, there is a little bit more inclusion of underrepresented groups. I think there's been a real push to try to include more women on the production side, especially.
It's always been a complexity to try to adjust something, which is essentially a commercial enterprise, to adjust it to the real world of music, because music is a very complicated and very multilayered and essentially unbounded art. And yet here we are trying to put everything into categories. So I think that's always been a complex aspect of the process, but it's getting a little better.
The Grammy Awards will be broadcast Sunday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m. Eastern.