HITS Daily Double
"Even though I’m eligible, I don’t vote for the Grammys, which means. I can talk to any manager, artist, promoter or publisher without worrying about agendas."


NARAS Boss Gets Strapped In for a Session with HITS' Roy Trakin
What have you learned in the four years (and five shows) since you’ve been doing this?
Not to book the show up right away, because things change. You want to be able to be fluid. And we don’t just ask the artist to come in and play their hit single. There are various combinations we put together and that takes time to work out. There’s a feeling of safety, a comfort level, doing unusual things with us because we have a lot of experience in that area. But people still need to think about it. The nominations give us the template, the palette to paint from, but that’s just the starting point.

This year, you’ll get the promotional value of the Super Bowl on CBS.
It’s a great additional resource and platform to work from. Our network partner is committed. The Super Bowl and the Grammys are two of their big-ticket showcases, the crown jewels. Even this year’s slogan, “Where the great come to play,” applies to sports as well as music. It’s hard to judge the overall effect of the Super Bowl because there are so many other factors in play, like the night of the week you’re on, what you’re up against, what’s going on in the news, etc.

How will this Grammy show be different than all other nights?
It begins with the nominees. Every year, we see this as a fresh canvas. Just try to take the year in music, what it means and represents. This year is different because the cast of characters is unique. Certain things remain consistent. You have the tried-and-true, the heritage artists continuing to make great music, and newer folks, which is the blend. We try to bring forward different genres we might not have done the year or two before. Just try to mix it up. I have to be aware of the different constituencies. We are now trying to amp up the pre-telecast ceremony in hopes it will become its own broadcast vehicle.

You’ve added an online interactive American Idol element by allowing the public to vote on a finalist to perform with Justin Timberlake on the show.
The challenge for us is our voting process, which is sacrosanct and distinguishes us from all the other popularity contests that masquerade as awards shows. Not only in the eyes of the public, but for the artist as well. Part of what is so valuable and meaningful about getting a Grammy is the fact it’s been voted on by their peers. Having a “public vote” component would potentially dilute that element. This is our challenge, our way of involving the fan and the public. It also adds to the Recording Academy’s existing mission—promoting music education, finding ways to get young people involved. Whether it’s Grammy in the Schools, Grammy Camp or our membership mentoring programs. We’ve been talking about doing this for several years, and now was just the right time for this kind of interactivity.

You’re going no-host again.
Unless you’re available, Roy. We want to put as much music as possible on the show. We don’t want to trade a monologue for a performance. What we’ve found is there aren’t that many people who can do it. And the ones that can don’t want to; there’s more downside than upside for them. And the people that want to do it are generally unproven at it. In our case, we need someone that also connects to music on some level. Ellen DeGeneres was fabulous for us because she’s a music person. She gets it, she’s involved in that world. Someone might be funny, but not get our culture.

The presence of the Dixie Chicks as nominees in several major categories raises the issue of whether this year’s show will have a political bent to it.
When you’re dealing with live television, you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen. That’s the fun part. There are the politics of the individual performers and those of the Academy, its messages and missions. What makes music great is that the people in it have opinions and influence, and I support their right to say and create any message they want, so long as it doesn’t break any FCC laws. I never have told the artists to stay away from politics in their speeches and never will. We have freedom of speech in this country. Beyond that, a lot of musical artists make their political statements in their music. And the Academy has been outspoken on the issues that affect us, whether it’s illegal downloading, Tsunami relief or, last year, the devastation wrought by Katrina in New Orleans.

How important is it for you to use the Grammys to promote record sales?
It’s paramount in my thoughts as a role we play in helping the industry in good times and tough times. Anything that promotes music and helps the fan and consumer have an awareness and move into action to purchase is a good thing. Of all the music programs on television, we have the greatest influence on spiking sales and we’re proud of it. We want that to happen. Everybody wins in that scenario. The labels are aware that it helps them from a commercial standpoint to support what we do.

The ratings have been lackluster in recent years.
It’s a single component of the many masters that we serve. Our main goal is to create a great television program. There has to be a compelling reason for your viewers to stay there for three-and-a-half hours. We need this to be fabulous television and also reward the best music, which doesn’t necessarily go together.

You’ve been criticized for trying to please everybody.
Where I play Switzerland is in wanting people to know that the person who runs this organization doesn’t play favorites with talent. Even though I’m eligible, I don’t vote for the Grammys, which means. I can talk to any manager, artist, promoter or publisher without worrying about agendas. Pleasing everybody is something you can’t do in a leadership position. But I think we’ve recaptured the respect of the industry. Four years later, I’d like to be able to step away from the day-to-day and get involved in the bigger picture, long-term planning, the vision thing. That’s our challenge moving into the future.