Where Indie Musicians Fit In At The GRAMMYs

When I was younger I watched the Grammys every year with awe, rooting for my favorites and even imagining myself as a nominee some day, walking up to the stage to accept my golden award.  A singer/songwriter can dream, can’t she?  Year after year I surrendered to the glitz and glam, the eccentric performances, and the fantasies of one day holding my very own Grammy, seemingly the most prestigious award in the music community, proving to the world: I have made it!

Time ticked by and I threw myself completely and happily into my career in music and throughout the years, reality carried me on miles of touring, hours in studios, and the day-to-day duties of running my own business.  As I lived my dreams, I gradually watched the almighty Grammy show less and less, even outright boycotting it one year, resigning to the fact that a Grammy was meant only for the superstars of the world, which I would never be, nor was striving to be—an unrealistic goal and intangible dream.  It was best to stick to my middleclass place of blood, sweat, and tears, I thought—working hard to make ends meet: the real music business.  Real life was traveling, singing my songs, connecting with people—not the life we saw projected so disingenuously dazzling on TV.  

Then one day, short of a year ago, a fellow musician invited me to a networking mixer at a local bar, hosted by the San Francisco Recording Academy chapter.  Having been hibernating in the studio finishing up my new album, I thought it was a good idea to get out and meet people in the local music scene.  I ended up seeing a lot of people I knew, as well as making new friends.  I learned that the mixer was actually an after-party for the San Francisco chapter’s Music Business Night School, a weekly series of panels that they host every year with professionals presenting topics pertinent to the music business.  I hadn’t known this program existed and the more conversations I had, the more I realized that I hardly knew anything about the Recording Academy and in fact, the Grammys was just one thing out of many that the Academy is responsible for—it’s the highest profiled event, so it’s what most people are familiar with.  I learned that the Academy is made up of 12 chapters around the country, and I even knew some of the board members.  They were musicians and local professionals I had met over the last few years—my peers.  Suddenly, the elusive and impervious Recording Academy had faces—familiar faces—and I was instantly less intimidated by the connotations of its title.  One of the board members, who I had incidentally met years ago when we both played with the same drummer, encouraged me to go online and read about the San Francisco chapter and apply to become a member.  I read that their mission is “to advance artistic and technical excellence, work to ensure a vital and free creative environment, and act as an advocate on behalf of music and its makers.” [www.grammypro.com].  I applied and became a voting member of the Recording Academy, which was actually empowering and fulfilling, knowing that I had a voice in the biggest honor in the music industry: the Grammy!

I met a lot of new people, members of the Academy, independents just like me, in all genres: singers, songwriters, musicians, producers, engineers, both in my local chapter and, thanks to the Internet and touring, other chapters too.  And then came the forever-mind-changing nugget of knowledge that slapped me in the face: some of these indie artists have been nominated for a Grammy, and some are even Grammy winners!  After a moment of stunned wonder, I connected the two dots: If they can do it, I can do it.  In other words, you don’t have to be a megastar to win a Grammy after all.  It’s possible for an indie musician too.

This all occurred during submission season and since my new album, Follow Your Heart, had just been released, my fellow members recommended that I submit my new music for the Grammys.  With help and support, I did just that and as it turned out, the two songs I submitted were accepted onto the initial voting ballot.  I was so excited and proud, and this was another stepping stone to unburying a once improbable dream hidden away—a mirage that turned out to be real after all.

During voting season, I saw the amount of hard work that eligible indies who had their music on the ballot for consideration did to get their music heard, in order to gain more exposure with the hope of achieving enough votes for recognition with a nomination.  I learned and networked a lot, and made some amazing friendships in the process.  And when the official nominations were announced, I barely gave a moment’s grief to not being on that list as I was so profoundly excited to see some of the names of people and albums I had grown to know and love, and some I had voted for in black ink myself.  

It was a sensational whirlwind attending my first Grammy awards show this year.  After a week of pre-parties, concerts, and networking events, I got all dressed up in support of music’s biggest night and saw some of my new nominated friends accept their first Grammy at the pre-televised awards show (where the majority of Grammys are presented before the televised edition).  When their names were called, it felt like a win for all of us indies in a way.  Their Grammy-seeking journey, all the way up to the big win, is nothing short of a massive inspiration to the indie nation and most definitely sends a clear message: It is possible.

I’m still trying to navigate my way as a new member of the Recording Academy, but so far it has been a motivating and educational experience.  In recent news, the Academy has announced the Grammy Creators Alliance, with initiatives to advocate for music creators’ rights, an effort in fact for the working musician.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be nominated for a Grammy, but I can say that I’m grateful for discovering a whole community of like-minded music professionals that I now have access to, and this experience has given me a sweet reminder, as it should for all artists, signed or unsigned: don’t be afraid to dream big.

Katie Garibaldi is a San Francisco based singer/songwriter, who released her seventh album, Follow Your Heart, in the summer of 2014. It is her first full-length release of all new compositions since her award winning Next Ride Out in 2009.  The album, produced by Garibaldi, was recorded at John Vanderslice’s world-famous Tiny Telephone Recording Studios in San Francisco, CA, and was engineered by Ian Pellicci. It features some of Garibaldi’s most personal songs, and includes performances by notable musicians, including the Magik*Magik Orchestra. Brent Black of criticaljazz.com calls Follow Your Heart, “Americana music that transcends genre and geographic location,” in his five-star review of the album.  

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.