‘And the Songwriter of the Year GRAMMY Goes To…’: The Recording Academy Unveils Historic Award

Nominees Nija Charles, Tobias Jesso Jr. and Laura Veltz weigh in, along with Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing of the Academy, Evan Bogart

Posted in The Weekly on January 30, 2023
Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing of the Recording Academy, Evan Bogart and 2023 Songwriter of the Year GRAMMY nominees Nija Charles, Tobias Jesso Jr. and Laura Veltz
Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing of the Recording Academy, Evan Bogart and 2023 Songwriter of the Year GRAMMY nominees Nija Charles, Tobias Jesso Jr. and Laura Veltz

On February 5, the Recording Academy will host its 65th annual GRAMMY Awards in Los Angeles, celebrating music’s biggest night. This year, a special new category will be unveiled: the Songwriter of the Year, Non-Classical award. Honoring the impact of the songwriter in the musical landscape, this accolade is largely the result of the tireless efforts of the Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing of the Academy, Evan Bogart. To find out more about how this trophy was brought to fruition and what it means to those nominated, BMI reached out to Bogart, the project’s biggest champion, as well as the BMI songwriters who comprise three out of five members of the award’s inaugural class, Nija Charles, Tobias Jesso Jr. and Laura Veltz. Here’s what they had to say.

BMI: Speaking as a National Trustee for the Recording Academy and Chair for their Songwriters and Composers Wing, how long in the making was the introduction of this category into the GRAMMY Awards? Why do you believe it took so long?

Evan Bogart: As somebody who is, and always will be a songwriter first, I joined the Recording Academy’s LA Chapter Board in 2011 and immediately noticed that there weren’t many songwriters like me. There wasn’t a ton of representation for songwriters across the industry in the way that there is now. It was apparent to me from the start of my board service that we needed to find a way for songwriters to have a unified voice within, and on behalf of, the Recording Academy, that has been my mission. As I continued to serve as President of the LA Chapter, and now as a Trustee, I have made sure to carry that platform with me. In addition to that voice, we wanted to determine if we were properly recognizing songwriters, and their songwriting, for their contributions to music — and not only their contributions to creating a song, but their impact on the entire musical landscape.

Over the course of the last decade-plus, the role of the songwriter has increased so much in the creative process of A&R, production, recording, mentorship, and artist development, that I think it became apparent to many others that we needed to rise to support that. First, under the leadership of Harvey Mason Jr, we set out to form the Songwriters & Composers Wing, to represent the more than 3,500 songwriters within the Recording Academy membership, and their interests specific to songwriting, education, mentorship, advocacy, awards, and recognition. Secondly, once we had a platform for songwriters within the Recording Academy with the formation of the S&C Wing, we sought to create an award that recognizes, and honors, the compendium of a songwriter’s year, their total contribution, and the impact that that collection of songs has had on the musical landscape.

The intent of the category is similar to the way the GRAMMYs have been honoring producers since 1975. I think the category needed to find, and align, with the right timing in music, and music culture, and it did.

BMI: What has the reaction been for you, thus far?

Bogart: It’s no surprise that songwriters have been over the moon about the new award. First, the feedback that the GRAMMYs even created the category in the first place was, as you can imagine, a mix of jubilation and “Lizzo” - “it’s about damn time!” Second, a massive cross-section of songwriters representing a variety of genres, crafts, and regions submitted themselves for contention, which excited everybody about the impact this award could have and went to show just how incredibly diverse the songwriting community is. Everyone from songwriters, themselves, to popular media outlets applauded the list of potential nominees. Then, you get down to the five nominees. They really could not be more different from each other, not to mention so ridiculously talented in so many different ways from each other. It’s been nothing but good vibes across the board, and I’m not surprised at all. I can’t wait to see who wins!

BMI: As a songwriter in your own right, was getting this category established especially significant to you? What are your hopes for this award?

Bogart: As a songwriter myself, and someone who absolutely cherishes my global songwriting community, it’s incredibly significant to me. The creation of this category is the kind of recognition and respect my creative community deserves for how impactful our craft is. I feel honored to have played a role in bringing it to life. It signifies to me that the industry cherishes my community in the way that I do. My hope for the category is that it will continue to grow along genre, craft, and regional lines, and continue to be diverse and different every year, because so is songwriting. I hope that the typically unsung heroes of songwriting continue to get the global exposure they deserve for how much they contribute to music.

BMI: How do you think the introduction of this award into the GRAMMY program is going to affect the industry?

Bogart: Songwriters have historically been the last to get paid the least. They have typically been the creator, in the ever-evolving landscape, that seems like an afterthought with respect to recognition and revenue. But these times, they are a changing. And with those changing times have come better economics for songwriters, more respect, and meaningful roles from which to contribute and the formation of a position of power within the music industry’s power dynamics. This Award, and the GRAMMY-crowning of a Songwriter of the Year, I think is a big, bold exclamation mark coming on the heels of several loud important songwriter-driven landmark-wins these past few years.

For a better sense of the impact Bogart hopes this award will achieve, BMI reached out to three of the celebrated songwriters who are nominated to receive it: Nija Charles, a versatile R&B/Hip-Hop/pop singer/songwriter and producer from New Jersey who has written with artists like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande Megan Thee Stallion and many others, Tobias Jesso Jr., an indie/pop songwriter from Canada who has written with names like Harry Styles, Adele, Orville Peck, FKA Twigs, Diplo and many others, and Laura Veltz, a songwriter and musician from New York City who has written with artists such as Maren Morris, Demi Lovato, Ingrid Andress, and many more. For each of these songwriters, these are their first GRAMMY nominations, and we were very interested to hear their thoughts on this prestigious honor.

BMI: As songwriters, it must be gratifying not only to be nominated for this historic award, but for the Academy to now specifically be recognizing the role of the songwriter. Tell us your thoughts about this and what this nomination means to you.

Charles: Finally having a nomination dedicated to songwriters means everything to me and most importantly, it means that we are seen. A lot of times, songwriters walk away empty handed when it comes to getting awards, credited, or paid for songs that they’ve helped make. Without a songwriter, there literally would be no song, so to now have a category that recognizes us for what we do makes me feel like we’re on the right path to equality and respect in music.

Jesso Jr.: Firstly, I’m grateful to anyone and everyone who made it possible, and of course I feel very lucky to be part of a large community that’s being recognized for their efforts. I’m thankful for the fact that the new category opens the door for the public to consider the large group of songwriters who might have been overlooked in the past but play such an important role in the making of any album. The nomination itself means more than I have yet to feel I deserve.

Veltz: This moment, flattering and life changing as it may be for me personally, is a flicker of hope for the futures of so many storytellers like me. Our survival is currently at risk, and visibility is a step in the right direction. I don’t know how storytelling, the genesis of music-making, got so pushed into the background but it has somehow. I thank The Recording Academy for giving us our own category, one that celebrates a body of work, along with the opportunity to hear our own names as nominees.

BMI: How do you think the special distinction of this award will change the industry dynamic for songwriters?

Charles: I think having this award will change the industry dynamic for songwriters in numerous ways. For one, there has always been a sort of prestigious and respectable feel when being recognized by The Recording Academy, so now that songwriters are being shown that we are seen by our peers, I think it’ll reflect in the way we are treated, and by who, I mean the people we do business with, execs, artists, producers. I think this is a sign of progress. This could possibly lead to shift in other areas where songwriters are the last to eat.

Jesso Jr.: I hope it makes things easier for songwriters to become a bigger part of the picture, regarding the album process as a whole. Producers seem to have had a lot of advantages when it comes to payment, points, and publishing, so perhaps it will begin to balance that out. Producers can keep the homework though, I don’t like homework, or computers.

Veltz: Songwriters distill feelings. We write history, sometimes a more accurate version than history books, in fact. Music will change in a way I don’t think we want it to if we don’t celebrate and reward this integral part of the art form, both in accolades and compensation. The current generation should be able to look into their futures and see a sustainable way to do what they were born to do. That’s the change I’m hoping to see.

BMI: How did you react when you first heard the news?

Charles: When I first heard the news, I was on the road on tour, watching the legendary Smokey Robinson on my phone with my heart pounding. When he finally said my name, I felt a wave of relief, disbelief, happiness, like the world paused for a second, just so many emotions. I was speechless, couldn’t utter any words, so I just screamed. After I screamed, I cried. Because it hit me, all my hard work didn’t get swept under the rug this time. All the years, long nights, push and pulls, battles with yourself, it didn’t go unnoticed and that is the best feeling.

Jesso Jr.: I was in disbelief for a while, but when it finally sank in that there wasn’t a chemical gas leak in my house and I wasn’t hallucinating, my main feeling was gratitude for the community of people who made it possible. The group of songwriters that helped me to feel like I was one of them.

Vetlz: I fell to the ground. I screamed. I laughed. I cried. I assumed it was a fluke, which I’m trying to shake. I’m still reacting to be honest.  So many feelings.

BMI: What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of songwriting – and what’s the most challenging?

Charles:  The most rewarding aspect of songwriting to me is when you’re at a concert or a party and you hear everyone screaming every single word to the song you wrote. It’s like a moment, every time, that something you created brought the world together. You impacted the culture. You made something that will be remembered for generations. The most challenging part of it, I would say, is compensation. A lot of songwriters aren’t able to live comfortably if they aren’t consistently having hit singles on the radio and we live for and love what we do but without having stability, it’s hard to be creative with so many worries on the brain.

Jesso Jr.: I think the most rewarding is the feeling of tapping in with other people onto a really great idea that everyone can truly feel is great. Feeling like we’re reverting to our inner child or something for a short time while the song gets made, it’s quite simply the best feeling in the world. I think the most challenging thing is probably mental health, being a songwriter tends to mean you’re inherently sensitive and perhaps prone to anxiety, at least in my case that’s true. It can get very overwhelming at times to have such a demanding job while also not feeling like you can handle the pressures that come with it, the balance of what’s best for you and what’s best for your career are often at odds.

Veltz: The most rewarding part of songwriting is knowing that on any given day, you could put a feeling into three minutes-worth of words and notes that has the potential of making its way across the whole world. The most challenging part of being a songwriter is finding daily peace knowing that hundreds to thousands of songs you write and pour everything you are into will inevitably end up only being heard by a few. It takes so long to comfortably live alongside that knowledge and still wanting to do it the next day.

BMI: Can you share a bit about your creative process and approach when you’re writing?

Charles: My creative process starts off with the feeling. I’m pretty malleable, so whether it’s a beat, chords, or a loop, I try to freestyle melodies while also throwing in some words based on what the music is making me feel. After I do a couple takes, I wait for a “wow” moment listening back—something that can strike emotions. And after I find even the smallest bit, I’ll build off of that using song structure & telling the story or recording line by line to build the story and melody. My approach in a general sense when it comes to writing is just simply put, making a song that I want to put in my playlist. Because if you don’t stan your own creations who will?

Jesso Jr.: It can be a number of things, I try to add whatever value is needed in a room of people, whatever that might be. To prepare myself to be of service to any given artist or room, it often means constantly reflecting on life, trying to become a better person, and being as open as possible. Often, you’ll find artists, songwriters, celebrities, whoever, we’re all on the same journey, and that’s what people want songs to be about anyway. So, I prepare to be able to talk about my journey, and to hopefully be able to help others on theirs.

Veltz: Where you set your expectations can be the difference between a life lived fully and a life half lived, no matter how successful you are. I’ve set my expectations to a twenty-four-hour rhythm. My goal within in it is only ever to have a nice day. I don’t achieve my goal every day, but that is what I’m focused on. If I have a nice day, then I’m successful. It’s amazing what accumulates behind thousands of nice days.

BMI: What is the best advice you would offer to aspiring songwriters?

Charles: The best advice I’d give to aspiring songwriters is to be consistent, true to yourself and perfect your craft. Music is always changing, and there’s always room to learn and grow. As long as you stay focused on bettering the creativity of your work, the results will follow.

Jesso Jr.: Realize both failures and successes are required for any dream, and that both get you closer.

Veltz: Love your songs. At least most of them. If you start writing s**t you hate, change something.

The 65th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will air at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT on February 5, from the Arena in Los Angeles. Be sure to tune in to see who takes home the Songwriter of the Year Award!


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