Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow is planning to step down from his position by next summer, sources told Billboard. Portnow confirmed that he’s not seeking to renew his contract when it expires next July. From Billboard:
“The evolution of industries, institutions and organizations is ultimately the key to their relevance, longevity and success,” Portnow, the longest-serving president in Recording Academy history, said in a statement confirming that he will not seek an extension to his current deal. “Having been a member of the Recording Academy for four decades, serving as an elected leader and our President/CEO, I have not only witnessed our evolution, but proudly contributed significantly to the Academy’s growth and stature in the world. When I had the honor of being selected to lead this great organization in 2002, I vowed that on my watch, for the first time in our history, we would have a thoughtful, well-planned and collegial transition. With a little more than a year remaining on my current contract, I’ve decided that this is an appropriate time to deliver on that promise. Accordingly, I’ll be working with our Board to put the various elements in place that will ensure transparency, best practices, and the Academy’s ability to find the very best, brightest, and qualified leadership to take us into our seventh decade of operation. I truly look forward to continuing my role leading the Academy in the year ahead, and to continuing the pursuit of excellence and the fine missions we embrace and deliver.”
Portnow’s departure follows backlash to remarks he made about the dearth of female performers and winners at the 2018 Grammys in January. Portnow responded to critics accusing the Academy of sexism by suggesting that women need to “step up” the quality of their work in order to gain wider recognition in the industry. Portnow was quickly called out by the likes of Pink and Charli XCX after implying that female artists should make better music if they want to win awards. Several female music executives also called for his resignation. Portnow was quick to walk back his remarks.
“Regrettably, I used two words, ‘step up,’ that, when taken out of context, do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make,” Portnow said in a statement issued the day after the Grammys. “Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced. We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor and empower them. Our community will be richer for it. I regret that I wasn’t as articulate as I should have been in conveying this thought. I remain committed to doing everything I can to make our music community a better, safer, and more representative place for everyone.”
In March, Portnow appointed former Obama staffer and Time’s Up co-founder Tina Tsen to head a task force investigating gender bias within the Recording Academy and the music industry as a whole. From Billboard:
Internally the Academy’s trustees and staff stood by Portnow, who was well-liked within the organization and well-regarded for his demeanor and management style, as well as for his ability to boost the Academy’s profile and revenue through philanthropic and fundraising endeavors, including in his role as president/CEO of the MusiCares foundation. And, sources have told Billboard, many saw the establishment of the task force as a positive move overall, one that could open the door for long-overdue changes to the structure and processes surrounding Grammy voting and the Academy’s operations at large.
In May, Portnow endured more rough press when former MusiCares vp Dana Tomarken accused him of redirecting funds away from the charity in order to cover lost revenue when the 2018 Grammys telecast didn’t meet its revenue projections.