Opinion: Yolanda Johnson on joining the Recording Academy

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    Yolanda JohnsonGreetings SoulTrackers,

    Yolanda JohnsonGreetings SoulTrackers,

    Like many artists and musicians, I pretend to thoroughly enjoy the fantasy of making good music for the love of my craft. I live for those moments when a total stranger, perhaps someone living in a foreign country, discovers the wonder of my creations. It's only when the reality of being an invested member of the music business that the fluffy white clouds turn dark and all the fairy dust turns into a storm of uncertainty. The balancing act of being an artist and a business woman naturally requires that my vision be grand. While writing, performing, and producing, I must keep my ears to the ground, my nose to the grind, and my eyes on the prize. This self-awareness prompted me to ask the question: What is the prize? Of course, this one question leads to even more questions. Sure, my family, friends, and fans love what I do, but could my work be considered for a GRAMMY? Is it a prize to be recognized by my peers? Am I truly a part of the music business if I am not a member of the Recording Academy? Now focused on this idea of a "prize" I decided to explore more about the perks of Recording Academy membership. What follows is a personal account of my becoming a member of the Academy and submitting two songs for GRAMMY nomination entry process consideration.

    As many of you reading this are aware, SoulTracks is the only source dedicated to acknowledging the achievements of independent artists with their annual SoulTracks Readers Choice Awards program.  The BET Awards, MTV Music Awards, and The American Music Awards are determined by Sound Scan levels that independent artists simply cannot compete with given our limited marketing budgets. However, the purpose of the GRAMMYs was always intended for artists to be recognized by their peers regardless of record sales or radio spins. It continues to be about the music and a shared understanding for recognition for true talent. Since the early eighties and the undeniable infusion of Hip-Hop, tenacious efforts have been made to add award categories that better reflect music tastes across the globe.  Most recently, the 2003 addition of the Urban Alternative Award category garnered the attention of many independent artists and has included nominations by successful unsigned talent such as Eric Roberson, Wayna, and Maiysha. The sheer excitement that I felt as a fan for these and other under the radar talent to have their names featured as nominees alongside signed artists such as Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and India.Aire, still thrill my soul today.  It made me consciously want to obtain more information about the Recording Academy, and specifically, the Urban Alternative Award category.

    Becoming informed generally comes with difficult discoveries.  Like most organizations, politics play a major role in the outcome of their events. I have to chalk certain occurrences up to politics, because using the term "hateration" may not exactly be fair. The reality is there are certain artists who have never won a GRAMMY. Did you know Diana Ross has never won a GRAMMY? When I learned this, I didn't know what to think. How can someone who has inspired so many, and has accomplished so much musically not be recognized by her peers? Another shocker came when I learned that there are artists who have won the prestigious award, but who are not members of the Recording Academy. These two discoveries definitely made me question what I was getting into.

    As I wavered back and forth, finally, I was reminded of the uncertainty I face every day as an independent artist. We constantly live on the edge awaiting that one phone call or email that could change our life. We are continually on the receiving end of some judging fan, family member, friend, or critic. Music and faith are all that keep us going. Perhaps these elements of music and faith are what keep the Recording Academy paving a progressive path for the underdogs. Instead of turning my nose up, I decided it was time for me to participate in the process.

    So in the spring of 2009 I attended a Los Angeles Chapter of the Recording Academy's networking mixer in Santa Monica, California.  After paying $100.00 and getting my name badge, I ran right into one of my favorite artists, Sy Smith. This could not be more perfect, because not only is Sy Smith a successful independent artist, she is also a fairly new member of the Academy. She immediately congratulated me for becoming a member and began to rattle off helpful tips on how to enhance my career.  Now Sy and I have run into each other on several occasions here in Los Angeles, but this was definitely different. In a nutshell, she heightened my belief in music being a universal language minus the menu of crabs in a barrel with a cake served via the knife in the back. She willingly shared her story, the good, the bad, and the ugly, all with the hope that I would learn how to be a better artist and business woman. This encounter would only be the beginning of what I would discover.

    Since joining, I've been able to meet people in various genres, ranging from folk, classical, and reggae, with the added bonus of connecting with other songwriters and producers, even an artist who focuses on music relating to child education. The Recording Academy realizes the need to keep up with the ever changing technological advances of the music industry and how these developments impact how people receive their music and uncover new music. They constantly try new things to help the underdog. Yes, I was surprised to discover this also. The most recent development has been the creation of GRAMMY360, a members-only social networking site that allows artists to interactively connect to their peers. For starters you can network with other members from around the globe. Your artist profile page is designed to offer actual opportunities for other members to become better acquainted with your music and you as an artist. The site will also be used to allow voting members an opportunity to listen to full songs being nominated for awards. So voters no longer just go by the name they know, but can actually make a conscious decision about the artist's work. 

    Exploring this new world, I began to ask some of my fellow artist friends and associates if they were members only to find out, they were not members. I was indeed surprised. I thought that I was the only one who had no idea...but then again I think it's because of the high regard we all hold for the Recording Academy and how we tell ourselves that it's not possible to be a part of something so grand until you've signed with a major label. It taught me to not assume or count myself out, but instead, to throw my hat into the ring and vie for a position to be recognized.

    Before I hit the submit button to complete the GRAMMY entry process for the Urban Alternative Award category, a rush of emotions came over me.  I realized how much history, sweat, and energy went into my even being able to apply for a spot.  For years, this seemed unobtainable. The exhilaration of submitting my Tony Ozier produced song, appropriately titled, "Music and Faith" prompted me to take this journey a step further.  So what did I do?  I decided to submit my Symbolic-One produced song, "Intervention," featuring T3 from Slum Village for the Best Rap Sung Collaboration Award category.  I will certainly face tough competition from Katie Perry and Snoop Dogg's "California Girl" and Rhianna and Eminem's "Not Afraid" but by submitting my independent project I believe I am fulfilling the purpose of the Recording Academy.  I am creating a legacy for the next generation of soul musicians to not be discouraged, but instead to force the hand for recognition and let everyone know to get used to seeing my name affiliated with the Recording Academy.  May my words encourage you to participate in the process.  I am sure you've spent $100 on less productive things, but I'll save that rant for another time.    

    Yolanda Johnson is currently working on a house remix of her entire Breathing Album scheduled for a late 2010 release. She plans to submit the project for the Best Remix Award category in 2011.  http://www.yolandadiary.com/