What's The Difference Between The Grammy's Song, Album, & Record Of The Year Categories?

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
In movie theaters and cars throughout the fall of 2018, the same two elongated syllables reverberated: "Sha-a-aa-a-a-low." And now, that utterly iconic song from A Star Is Born, "Shallow," is up for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 2019 Grammy Awards, as well as Best Song Written for Visual Media. How could one song be in so many places?
In the Grammys' Record, Album, and Song of the Year categories, artists from all genres go up against each other. But compared to the simplicity of Academy Award Categories (Best Actor! Best Actress!), the differences between these Grammy categories aren't always straightforward, especially if you're not in the music business. For the record, this year, "This is America" by Childish Gambino won Song of the Year.
Fear not, inquiring minds. We are here to rescue you from confusion, so that when you tune into the Grammy Awards on February 10, 2019, you're prepared to root for "Shallow" in all the categories for which it's nominated.
Song of the Year
Let's start at the beginning. The Song of the Year Grammy is a songwriting award. It is not awarded based on the quality of the singer's performance, but on the quality of the track's music and lyrics. The person who goes to accept the award for Song of the Year is the song writer – not necessarily the singer.
Record of the Year
Like Song of the Year, the Grammy for Record of the Year also honors a single track released in the past eligible year. But there's a major difference: Record of the Year honors the performance of the song, and the individuals who helped contribute to the song's sound: The singer, the sound mixers, the producers, and anyone else present in the recording studio. When you hear "record," think "recording studio."
The reason Song of the Year and Record of the Year are separated into two distinct categories is a matter of copyright. Each song has at least two copyrights: One for the songwriter, and one for the performer. Copyright determines how much a contributor is paid, and also which Grammy the contributor is eligible for. People who own the Sound Recording copyright are eligible for Record of the year; people who own the mechanical (songwriting) copyright get Song of the Year.
Album of the Year
In February, Cardi B, Brandi Carlile, Drake, H.E.R., Post Malone, Janelle Monae, Kacey Musgraves, and Kendrick Lamar will compete for the most prestigious Grammy Award of them all: Album of the Year. To be considered eligible, an album must have at least five songs and contain 51% previously unreleased material.
Album of the Year is similar to Record of the Year in that anyone who helped create the sound of the album gets to collect the award. The songwriters, however, do not.
Confusion between Album and Record of the Year often arises because of overlapping terminology. Since albums were once recorded on records, the words "album" and "record" are frequently used interchangeably. But there's a big difference between the two words, especially when it comes to the Grammy Awards.
So, there you have it. A relatively painless explanation of the distinctions between Album, Record, and Song of the Year. Get ready to tune in for the Grammy Awards on Sunday, February 10 at 7:30 EST to see who takes home the golden gramophone for each.

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