In an effort to make its Grammy U program more inclusive and accessible, the Recording Academy is no longer requiring that applicants be full-time college students — or college students at all. It has now added a second path to membership for individuals aged 18-29 who are actively taking an alternate path toward a career in music.
As before, full-time students of any age qualify. They must be currently enrolled in an accredited college, university or trade school full-time (nine credits) and pursuing associate, bachelors, masters or PhD degrees.
But now there is a second option: professional/creative, which is open only to people aged 18-29. This option is for professionals or creatives pursuing a career in music as well as students studying at college part-time or taking any certificate course or program.
“For many years, Grammy U has invested in the development of emerging young music creators and professionals by providing resources and a supportive ecosystem committed to helping them thrive in the music industry,” Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said in a statement. “With this expansion, Grammy U is ensuring that membership will be more inclusive and accessible for the next generation of music creators and professionals, no matter their career path.”
Jessie Allen, who was in the first Grammy U class of 1,000 students in 2006 and has headed the program for the past two-and-a-half years as Grammy U senior director, notes, “Not everyone has the same path to success. … Everyone has their own story. Maybe they are having financial hardships and they can’t go to college full-time. Maybe they are just taking a different route and they want to be on tour all year. Maybe they started their own business right after high school – if they went to high school, even. This is what we’re looking at from an inclusivity standpoint and also just making sure that we are representative of what the actual industry looks like. That is why we are making the change.”
Does Allen think this change will make Grammy U membership more representative in terms of having more women or more people of color? “All of the above,” she replies. “By taking away the college requirement, that just opens the door to the whole, entire emerging music industry of creators and professionals.”
Allen says the old rule was too restrictive and sometimes confounding even to people at the Academy. “We often saw people who were in technical school. Is that full-time? Is that accredited? We thought, ‘You are really taking that step for yourself. You are pursing music. You are taking a certificate program or you’re a part-time student.’ That was when we [decided], ‘Let’s not make this such a grey zone.’ [Before, we sometimes thought], ‘We can’t really let them in, but we should be letting them in.’”
Allen says the rule change was “a natural evolution.”
“This is one of the most organic things that has happened in my time at the Academy,” says Allen, who joined the full-time Academy staff 10 years ago as project manager for the Florida chapter. Allen credits Tammy Hurt, chair of the Recording Academy’s board of trustees; J. Ivy, a fellow trustee; and Ruby Marchand, chief awards & industry officer, for spearheading the change, which required a vote of the trustees.
“It was the easiest yes from the Academy,” she says. “It was almost like, ‘Yes, we all know this needs to be happening.’”
While the Academy is broadening access, it is not simply throwing the doors open to all who want to join Grammy U. Applicants must document what active steps they’re taking to build a career and must provide a letter of recommendation from someone in the industry.
“I would say ‘active’ is the most important word here,” Allen says. “We’re looking to see that you’re taking your career seriously and that this is something that you’re really invested in. [You can do that by documenting that] you’re playing regularly in your area or maybe you’re releasing music.”
In recent years, the Academy has been keenly sensitive to being inclusive, but it added a strict age requirement on this new, second option of Grammy U membership. That being: Anyone who has turned 30 is ineligible. Isn’t that inconsistent with the Academy’s overall philosophy of inclusivity?
“The room that you’re in when you’re in a Grammy U program event is a room of your peers,” Allen says, by way of explaining the age restriction. “We want to make sure that the programming and the opportunities we’re offering match. …As they grow later into their careers, there are still places for them at the Academy. But our programs are really tailored to this place in somebody’s journey and creating that peer community. While we want to be as inclusive as possible, we also want to make sure that everyone feels like they are having relatable opportunities in that room.”
Later, Allen doubles back to this point. “Just because you can‘t be a full-time member of Grammy U doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways that we can support you; have you volunteer and have you part of our community until you are hopefully ready for voting or professional membership.”
Earlier this year, a Grammy U alumnus, Michael Repper, won a Grammy for best orchestral performance for conducting the New York Youth Symphony. Other Grammy U alumni include musician, singer and songwriter Jake Wesley Rogers; singer/songwriter Megan Winsor; Naledi Nyahuma Seck, VP of DEI at The Orchard; Erin Hanson, director of content partnerships at Audible; and Christine Busanelli, Esq., MBA–entertainment lawyer.
Allen, 35, is one of “at least a dozen” Grammy U alums who have joined the Recording Academy staff, by her count. The Miami-based executive is one of two full-time Grammy U staffers, along with Cat Sornmayura, project manager.
Grammy U dues are a one-time payment of $50 for four years of membership. The program just added a renewal feature where members can renew for $50 for each additional year.
“The idea is that you are pretty close at this point – we hope—to moving into voting and professional membership,” Allen says. “We wanted to create that bridge where you are still with us; still getting the benefits as you go into the next phase of your career.”
Grammy U has had more than 32,000 members since its inception. Grammy U finished this past year with more than 6,000 current members. Approximately 1,500 students were accepted during the 2022-23 program year which is primarily from August – May.
Grammy U members cannot vote for the Grammys or vote in chapter elections, but they can submit awards proposals and participate in select chapter events and Academy-wide initiatives like District Advocate, in addition to dedicated Grammy U programs.
There are 14 Grammy U representatives across the Recording Academy’s 12 chapters. The representatives co-produce all events and oversee membership within their chapters, with the help of more than 100 Grammy U “ambassadors.” In the 2022-23 program year, the membership program hosted more than 80 events and programs locally and nationally.
Events this past year include separate master classes with Jacob Collier, Armani White and Andrew McMahon; SoundChecks featuring such artists as Steve Lacy, Lizzy McAlpine, Stephen Sanchez, Gracie Abrams, Carly Rae Jepsen, MUNA, Sabrina Carpenter and Death Cab for Cutie; an all-day conference in Miami focused on Latin music creators and professionals; and mentorship programs with executives from such companies as Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, SiriusXM and ASCAP.
For more information about Grammy U and how to apply, visit grammyu.com.