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Recording Academy CEO: 'Borders are falling’ in the music industry

The Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. sits down with Yahoo Finance's Jennifer Schonberger to discuss diversity in the organization, cultural and gender representation in the music industry, challenges in artist compensation, and issues surrounding streaming and ticket booking services.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: A huge night ahead for the music industry. The 65th Annual Grammy Awards is happening on Sunday, February 5th. Yahoo Finance's Jen Schonberger joining us now with more on that. Hey, Jen.

JEN SCHONBERGER: Hey there, Seana. That's right. With the Grammys set to air this Sunday, I sat down with Harvey Mason, Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, which puts on music's biggest show, to talk about what to expect. Diversity has been a key cornerstone goal for both the Academy and Mason. This year, nominations were the most diverse ever. And Mason says audiences are able to look forward to a diversity in genres people and music this year. Take a listen.

HARVEY MASON JR.: I am a diversity person. I am from the diverse community that we hope to represent. I've generally been thought of as someone that falls into an underserved or underrepresented category my entire life since I was born. And I'd go more into my history and my experiences, but I bring with me to the role a desire to make sure that we're reflective of the entire industry. I bring with me my experience in the industry for the last 30 years, working as a songwriter and producer.

And I bring with me just the lens that I see things through, which is inclusion and equity makes sense. It's not performative. It's not because we think it sounds good or it's a cool buzzword. It's because greatness comes when different people from all different experiences and all different backgrounds come together, whether that's to make decisions, whether that's to make music, whether that's to make a TV show. It makes sense when you reach out to other groups, and you invite people in, and you listen and you learn and you collaborate. To me, that's the spirit of music. That's the spirit of artistry. And that's the spirit of the Academy.

JEN SCHONBERGER: Are we seeing enough representation when it comes to female songwriters specifically? There was some research done from the University of Southern California that sort of showed if you looked from 2020 going backwards a decade, that we hadn't seen as much contribution, perhaps, in strides made when it comes to women. Certainly, you see the nominations now for Song of the Year, Album of the Year. Many of them are solo female artists. Have we made enough strides there? What's your sense?

HARVEY MASON JR.: I think we're getting better. I don't think we've made enough stride. We've made huge strides. We set a goal at the Academy to invite 2,500 new members. We're 77% of the way to that goal. That's a big jump for us. And the percentage of women members and voters has grown for us immensely. I think you're seeing a difference in the nominations, and hopefully, the winners going forward.

But there's still much more to do, both for gender equity and also just people of color and representing music accurately. We know 34-- 34% of music created and consumed is Black music. So we need to make sure we're reflecting that. And we need to do the same with women voters in our organization.

JEN SCHONBERGER: Harvey, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the music industry right now?

HARVEY MASON JR.: Wow, that's a whole show, Jennifer, probably a whole other interview. But there are many challenges facing our industry. I think there are great opportunities for our industry right now as well. The ability for consumers to reach and access our music is exciting. I love the fact that we can make something on a Friday, and our fans or our consumers can listen to it on maybe Friday or maybe the next day. That's exciting.

I think what's a challenge and something the Academy is working really hard on is how do creators get compensated? How do we get remunerated for our efforts and our art? That is something that's going to have to be figured out. And it's going to have to be discussed and legislated. I know I've talked to you about that before, but our advocacy team works really, really hard on that year in and year out. But that's something that needs to be figured out.

I also think the future of genres and the future of all things music, things are changing. Lines are coming down, borders are falling. We're hearing music in the top 10 in different languages. You see we've got an album for the first time in the history of the Academy in all Spanish speaking language as an Album of the Year nominee with Bad Bunny. So I think that's going to be the future of music, is, how do you evaluate different genres? How do you program playlists or other forms of consumption based on genres? I don't think you do. I think that's going to probably change in the near future. And I think how musicians and creators and writers and artists are compensated fairly is something else that we're going to have to address coming up.

JEN SCHONBERGER: Yeah, on that compensation issue, I wonder what's it going to take to get streaming sites like Spotify to pay creators and artists more favorably.

HARVEY MASON JR.: I think it's going to take more conversation and just more dialogue. The streamers and the different DSPs, they're really our partners and we love what they've done for the industry. They've allowed us to access our fans, our consumers. They've allowed us to get our music out more readily. There is less gatekeeping happening right now. So we love that about the streamers. There's discovery. There's the opportunity to find great new music that you might never have heard. There's opportunity to get music quicker and more variety. So that's a positive.

I think the question is, how do we come to a fair solution around the economics of songwriters, performers, labels, publishers, independent artists, DIY artists? All these different buckets need to be addressed. And I think it's really going to come down to having meaningful and hopefully constructive, productive dialogue with the DSPs. And it probably will include the legislators.

JEN SCHONBERGER: And switching gears a bit, the Senate Judiciary Committee recently had a hearing on Ticketmaster and its handling of Taylor Swift's concert ticket sales, and really, the concert ticketing industry overall. During that hearing, we heard from witnesses in the music industry who described a, quote, monopoly-like control over venues, artists, and consumers. Do you think that Ticketmaster has too dominant a position? Should it be broken up? Is there a better model for concert ticketing? Perhaps could NFTs play a role there?

HARVEY MASON JR.: It's hard to predict what the future of ticketing and live music could be. I think Clyde Lawrence did an incredible job in his testimony in front of the committee the other day. I watched it, and I listened to it. It was compelling. I think there's a lot to that issue. There's a lot to be discussed. There's a lot to be figured out. And what does the future look like, I think is the question you asked me. And that can be asked about live music and ticketing.

I don't have all the answers. I just know that music is important. Music is powerful. Making sure musicians are able to distribute their art, share their craft, share their talent in whatever means possible is vital. And I think the idea of artists being able to go make a living, whether that be through streaming or performing live or publishing or their main recordings, I think it's important that we advocate on their behalf.

JEN SCHONBERGER: Now Mason also told me given the crash in crypto over the past year, he isn't sure what value NFTs still hold for the music industry. But if they did offer value, it's certainly something the Academy would embrace. The Grammys air 8:00 PM live on Sunday night on CBS. Back to you.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Jen Schonberger, great stuff. Thanks so much.