We Need A New Grammy Award

Updating the Grammy for the 21st Century.

While watching the Grammys this past weekend, I couldn’t help but notice how hopelessly behind-the-times the Grammys are. No, I’m not talking about their usually unadventurous choices in artists they recognize (this year’s nods to Arcade Fire and Esperanza Spalding notwithstanding). I’m talking about the actual award itself:

Does this come in MP3 or Ogg Vorbis?

Of course, it’s been behind the times for many years. This style of gramophone with the protruding horn went out of style around 1920, and more generally speaking, vinyl records lost their status as the main means of reproduction of recorded sound around 1988. I’m not referring to that. Instead, I’m referring to two things…

1. The award uses a representation of a physical medium that contains a sound recording. Physical media, especially when it comes to music, is essentially dead. Music is either streamed from the internet or downloaded into files that can be perfectly copied ad infinitum and know no physical boundaries.

2. There’s a big ‘ol speaker attached to the thing. Music is increasingly consumed through earphones attached to portable devices like smartphones and iPods. What was once a social, stationary activity is now intensely personal and constantly on the move.

Like I said, hopelessly behind the times. So what’s to be done about this? We could wait for the music industry to catch up to current trends

….OK stop laughing….

or we could take the initiative and suggest a new design for the Grammy award. Let’s give it a shot, shall we?

First, we need to understand what exactly the Grammy is awarding. Although it’s predominately a music award, keep in mind that its governing body is the “National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences”–no mention of “music” in the name–and that there are two “spoken word” award categories. So although it’s tempting to create an award that’s a physical representation of music, like an instrument or musical notes, that would actually be a little too specific. Interestingly, the award in its current form acknowledges this and reminds us that this is really all about the capture and reproduction of sound. It just so happens that a lot of that sound involves music. Even a microphone wouldn’t be appropriate, as it’s fairly common these days to produce music that involves no recording of actual instruments or voices.

So if we’re trying to create an award for the capture and reproduction of sound that may or may not involve music and increasingly doesn’t involve physical media or public broadcast of that sound, what does that leave us with?

There is actually one specific physical object that lies at the heart of all of this activity. It’s the “digital to analog converter,” a small device, usually a small computer chip, that converts the digital representation of sound into an analog signal whose vibrations travel through speakers/headphones and eventually into your ear. I can’t cite this, but I can say with a high degree of confidence that no music/recording operation of any significant scale can escape this component. There is no such thing as an all-analog production process; even the most lo-fi artists’ tracks get uploaded to iTunes eventually.

So ladies and gentlemen, meet the Grammy of the 21st century:

It would look great on Justin Bieber's mantel.

Readers: What do you think? Do you agree that the old gramophone award is hopelessly out of date? Do you have a better suggestion for a new award? Sound off in the comments!

13 Comments on “We Need A New Grammy Award”

  1. Tulse #

    This is supposed to be “updated”? Ten years from now both vinyl records and DIP switches will just be “old”, technologies that fall into that vague area of “the past”.

    If one wanted to approach this seriously, I’d suggest some sort of visual representation of sound itself (such as sound waves frozen in glass or metal).

    Of course, if we do create a new award, wouldn’t the name have to be changed? Would we call them the “D-A-C-ies”?


  2. EZ #

    To the first point I like to point out, whenever I have this conversation with friends, that while CDs are no doubt in serious decline and downloading/streaming are on the meteoric rise CDs still accounted for something like 75% of music sales last year. Dying, sure, but hardly dead.

    Though, in terms of the actual statue, CDs are still more of a digital media as they are burned with 1s and 0s unlike the beautifully analog vinyl record.


    • lee OTI Staff #

      Thanks for pointing those facts out, EZ. Granted, CDs are digital, but they are still a physical media; a discrete container of musical information. I suppose a hard drive or a flash memory chip could also be described as such, but the scalability of both put them in a completely separate class from the CD. And music streaming is an entirely different ballgame.


      • EZ #

        Yeah, portability is definitely a key distinguishing feature. 4-1/2 years in New York and I don’t believe I’ve seen a single portable CD player in a place where it seams like 1 out of 3 people (if not more) are headphone-clad. Not to mention that new cars these days are just as likely (or more likely) to have HDs or USB connectors as they are to have CD players.

        I do think that, as far as portability is concerned, a lot of people in that 75% are buying CDs only to rip them and put them on their portable players. I do often wonder what the average home listening set-up in America looks like. What percentage are listening to CDs in a stereo still? Vinyl? How many people primarily listen to music via computer speakers? Who’s plugging an MP3 player into a component audio system?


        • Valatan #

          fearless prediction: by 2020, there will be more people with vinyl setups than CD setups.

          Now if the record people could buy decent new turntables, rather than hoping that their JVC’s from 1978 doesn’t someday give up the ghost.


  3. Oscar Barda #

    Hey, thinking about what technology is ‘s probably the best way to recreate the same logic of an outdated award in a few years time… Maybe then, they’ll think supports are done for and ‘ll be listening to the music library of the world through their 5g spotify headphones with no ipod or mp3 player attached to them…

    No, think ahead !
    What are machines made for ? They are made to assist us. As technologies will advance, they will learn speech (though probably not cogniscient speech but intelligent speech as in “recognizing who’s talking to them and what their tastes are, react accordingly”).

    Not to creep us out too much, and since we make everything in our image, they’ll probably be control the medias we want to listen to according to our mood (well, some machines can already read your brainwaves, how much more time will it take before those become TV remotes ?)…

    So yeah, our robots will choose our music, our films and our entertainment…
    Here’s your design :


  4. JamesV #

    I think it is nice to keep things the way they are as a monument to the past and a connecting link from one generation to the next.


  5. Valatan #

    it should be a microphone.

    The key part of the process is capturing the sound waves from the air and converting it into a signal. it doesn’t matter whether the recorder is digital or analog–there still has to be someone inputting it. (unless it’s a techno person playing her/his MacBook, I guess).


  6. LaLaD #

    If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to heard it, does it make a sound?

    How about the statue being the auditory ossicles? Maybe even rig them up similar to a bobble head so they can bounce around a little…


    • Mark #

      I was thinking along the same lines, like maybe a golden cochlea. You could make a very nice statue with the spiral shape.

      I like the bobble head (bobblehead? superbowl?) idea. Our awards are far too static in general.


  7. cat #

    Purely aesthetically, the Grammy is more visually pleasing than other awards. The SAG award is also relatively nice. The Academy Award is essentially a tiny mannequin but it’s nice and simple. The Tony and the Golden Globe look cluttered. The Glamour Women of the Year award and those similar to it are why I don’t think an abstract concept will work very well…so no on the sound waves.

    1)Grammy 2)SAG 3)Oscar 4)Tony 5)Golden Globe 6)Abstract


  8. Ezra #

    I think the microchip is a good idea, except you should lose the pedestal, and make it life-size, i.e., maybe a quarter of an inch long. Now *that* would make an impressive trophy, a tiny gold square the size of your fingernail. Winners could keep them inside their wallets, or make them into earrings.

    Also, since “Grammy” presumably comes from “gramophone,” they’ll need a new name.


  9. Breda #

    But this statue’s so elegant! Bulky, sure, but I love the lines of it.

    More importantly, I think that this image represents something essential to music: the time when music became something that was easily accessible in one’s home. Rather than infrequent outings to the concert hall, or more informal gatherings which required a band and were relatively rare, music became a part of everyday life and accessible to everyone. Thus, I don’t think the technology represented here is not nearly as important as the philosophy.

    PS: Hey folks, because it’s Latin,”media” is the plural of “medium”. This means there is no such thing as “mediums” (except in shirts), “medias”, or “a media”. STOP IT.


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