Mason pointed out that it was a desire to bring transformative change to the academy that motivated him to run for chair of the board of trustees in the first place. It was clear he was talking about making the academy staff and membership more diverse.
“In these last 12 months we have brought an enormous amount of change forward,” he said. “In April, we brought on Valeisha Butterfield Jones as chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. In July, we formed a partnership with Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. In December, the partnership released the Change Music Road-map, a guide to moving the music industry beyond conversation and intention toward actionable racial justice.”
In one of his most pointed comments, he called the Change Music Road-map “a guide to correcting the undervaluation of the contributions of Black music people to the world.”
Mason also pointed with pride to the 2020 new membership class, which he called the “the most diverse ever,” noting it is “over 48% female, 37% Black/indigenous/people of color, 51% under age 40.”
He said a key to that diversity has been aggressive outreach. “The academy has suffered in the past in specific genres because [people in those genres] don’t feel like they were equally represented or they were reflected properly, whether that’s in the awards, or on the television show, so we’re going into those areas saying ‘We need your help. Otherwise, we’re not going to get the representation and recognition that your genre is looking for.’
“We’re going into those communities, making sure that we’re listening, paying attention to what they’re asking for, paying attention to what their grievances have been in the past, trying to correct those things and trying to invite new people to the table to join and be part of the process. That’s the first step.”
Mason also shed some light on what he calls the second step of making the academy membership more reflective of the broad music community — a long-rumored but heretofore little-explained process of “requalification” for existing members. Membership in the Recording Academy until now has been essentially for life — assuming a member was willing to continue paying the annual dues of $100. But Mason explained that will be changing.
“We are starting a requalification process. If you made a lot of music 25 years ago, you may not be the most aware or most reflective voter for us at this point. So you’re going to be requalifying. [We’re going to] make sure you have updated credits, make sure you’re still creating music so you can continue to vote.
“So it will be a combination of bringing in new members and more representative members and slowly requalifying people [who] have been voting for quite some time. [These two steps] will start to change the make-up of our membership. It will affect the way we do everything.”
Mason also pointed to the formation of the Black Music Collective, which now has multiple members in each of the academy’s 12 chapters. He said its mission is to “raise awareness, acknowledgment and acceptance and make sure Black music is reflected in everything the Academy is doing and across the industry.”
When an academy member asked Mason if there were plans to extend this to Latin music, with some kind of Latin Music Collective, Mason’s response was not as sure-footed as the rest of his presentation.
“To be determined,” he said. “I think at this point, we are just literally getting the Black Music Collective up and running. I can see us doing other collectives as well, if need be. It starts from the outreach and really listening and seeing what the different communities need…. All the different genres, groups, constituencies are important.”
In a lighthearted vein, Mason also made a prediction related to the 63rd annual Grammy Awards on March 14. “Two weeks from today, the morning after our show, I’m pretty sure someone is going to be unhappy. I can bet that some fans are going to be emailing me or tweeting me or asking why I didn’t give the darn Grammy to their artist. Unfortunately, I can guarantee this is going to happen.
“When you’re trying to judge an award or anything that’s subjective like art, it’s always difficult. There’s always going to be one person who’s happy and a lot of people are going to be upset. It’s always been that way for 63 consecutive Grammy shows.”
Mason summed up the 45-minute town hall with his hopes for the academy’s future.
“I want to make sure our membership is even more diverse and inclusive than it is now. I want to make sure that the [award] outcomes are more equitable than they ever have been and I want to make sure that the academy is trusted and respected more than it [has] ever been. There have been times that we’ve been accused of things, or we’ve had people bring things up as far as nominations or they’re upset about one thing or another, so it’s real important to me and I think to everyone at the academy that we continue to communicate, have outreach to different people…We can continue to evolve and transform the academy.”