Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. Talks to Us About Changes at the Organization

Harvey Mason Jr., chair of the board of trustees and interim president and CEO of the Recording Academy (the organization behind the Grammy Awards), chatted with Showbiz Cheat Sheet about the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief fund. He also spoke with us about diversity and inclusion initiatives taking place within the Recording Academy. Here’s what Mason had to say.

Showbiz Cheat Sheet: Could you tell us about the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief fund?

Harvey Mason Jr. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Harvey Mason Jr. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Harvey Mason Jr.: It was something we jumped into right away. Very early on we were seeing there was a huge need in the music community because of COVID-19. They were either out of work or losing income. All the tours were shut down, venues were shut down. Even bands that were playing in hotels or on cruise ships, or in lobbies, none of these people were able to make a living. Through our philanthropic arm of MusiCares, the Academy immediately started raising money.

The Academy donated money into a fund and we looked to partner with other people from the music industry. We were very thankful and appreciative that streaming companies came on board, record labels came on board, publishers. Even some of the larger, more successful artists gave contributions, and then other corporate sponsorship.

We ended up raising over $20 million and we gave that money dollar for dollar directly back into the music community to people who needed help, whether it was paying rent. A lot of people just needed food and had to pay bills. There were a lot of medical bills and things like that we were able to help with. We were getting between 500 and 600 requests per day for assistance, so that gives you a little bit of a sense of what the need was out there.

CS: What will happen with the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief fund after the pandemic has settled down?

HM: The relief fund for COVID is going to be given away until it’s empty. MusiCares will continue helping musicians and continue helping people who need assistance. And that fund will continue to grow and continue to fundraise specifically for COVID but also for our MusiCares general fund. And that goes to addiction recovery, instrument replacement for people who have been in a tragedy or lost their studio.

There are also funds that specifically to toward paying bills or rent. So those funds are both going to simultaneously continue to raise money. I also have to mention Steve Boom, who is the chairman of the board at MusiCares. He’s instrumental in helping to raise a lot of money that helps so many music people in need.

CS: What changes would you like to see in the Recording Academy and the music industry in general?

HM: We’ve seen a lot of changes already at the Academy. In the last five months we’ve been putting all of our efforts into really transforming the organization and trying to improve everything we do. There has been a lot of change already. We initiated a task force and we’ve so far implemented 17 of the 18 recommendations from the task force. We also just recently hired a chief diversity and inclusion officer.

We entered a new partnership with Color of Change to start talking about some equity things that I think not just the Academy but the entire music industry can take a good look at and make sure we’re working toward some of those goals. We’re working on an industry-wide rider and a toolkit that can be used around some of the diversity and inclusion things we think are due or overdue.

We’re changing so many things. The transparency and openness about the Academy are something that we’re really focused on. We’re committed to sharing everything behind the scenes of what our process entails. We’re also trying to encourage the right membership to join the Academy and continue to foster our membership to make sure it’s really reflective and representative of all genres of music and all groups of people.

Stay tuned for more from our chat with Harvey Mason Jr.

Follow Sheiresa Ngo on Twitter.