Pursuit of Performance

Technical Grammy: The Award You’ve Never Heard Of

Kristin Houser Writer & Editor, LA Music Blog

It may not be Album of the Year or Best New Artist, but the Technical Grammy Award honors contributions that outlast the latest radio hits.

For all the anticipated award-show glitz, glamour and selfie tweets, there’s one exclusive pre-Grammy ceremony fans won’t be able to catch from their couches.

The Special Merit Awards is an invitation-only Grammy ceremony that honors individuals and companies whose impact on the music industry extends beyond the past twelve months.

In addition to awards for Lifetime Achievement and Trustees (an award for musical achievement beyond performance), the event also includes the Technical Grammy Award. This relatively unknown award honors individuals and companies that have made significant technical contributions to the recording field.

“From the start, The Recording Academy recognized that it takes more than sheer artistry to make a great recording,” said Bill Freimuth, Senior VP, Awards at The Recording Academy. “Technical Grammy recipients bring forth technology that expands the possibilities and enriches the experience for both artist and listener.”

This year’s honorees — Berlin audio company EMT (Elektro-Mess-Technik) and Dr. Harvey Fletcher, the “father of stereophonic sound” — join a prestigious list of past Technical Grammy Award winners.

Here are three Technical Grammy winners who continue to have a major impact on the world of music tech.

Ray Dolby

Ray Dolby

In 1995, The Recording Academy honored Ray Dolby with a Technical Grammy. The engineer and inventor earned more than 50 patents over the course of his career, and his noise-reduction system Dolby NR permanently revolutionized how music and film sound.

Although Dolby passed away in 2013, his sound engineering legacy lives on through Dolby Laboratories, the company he founded in 1965.

Dolby Laboratories introduced its innovative Dolby Atmos tech in 2012. This technology allows sound engineers to convert as many as 128 individual sounds into “objects.” Those objects can then be placed anywhere in 3D space, including above the listener. This brings a 360-degree sound experience to cinemas, nightclubs and even virtual reality headsets.

While Dolby Atmos has been licensed by home speaker system manufactures previously, Samsung Electronics took the tech one step further at CES 2016, introducing the first wireless soundbar package to use Dolby Atmos technology.

The HW-K950 Soundbar Package includes a slim soundbar with three forward-facing and two upwards-facing speakers, two Dolby Atmos-enabled wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer.

HW-K950 With Dolby Atmos

“Consumers can experience sound that comes alive from all directions, including overhead, to fill their home theaters with astonishing clarity, power, detail and depth,” said Doug Darrow, Senior Vice President, Dolby Laboratories.

Ultimately, the package extends Ray Dolby’s impact on sound into homes everywhere.

Robert Moog

2016’s Best Dance/Electronic Album Grammy nominees The Chemical Brothers, Skrillex and Caribou all owe a debt of gratitude to 2002’s Technical Grammy honoree, Robert “Bob” Moog — his Moog synthesizer is widely considered the origin of electronic music.

Since its introduction in 1965, the Moog synth has been used in many of music’s most popular songs, no doubt part of the reason The Recording Academy recognized Moog with a Technical Grammy in 2002.

bob moog

Moog died a few years after receiving that honor; however, the company he founded, Moog Music Inc., continues to lead the pack in the world of music tech.

“We design every instrument in our catalog with an eye to the future,” said Jim DeBardi of Moog Music. “Not just, ‘How can we innovate today?’ but ‘How can we create a tool that will be relevant and inspiring a year from now? What about 10 years? 50?’ In that way, we are always looking to the future.”

Last year, the company’s commitment to innovation earned it Music Tech Magazine’s Best Hardware Instrument of 2015 distinction for its Moog Sub 37.

Moog Sub 37

The analog/digital hybrid synth was considered the surprise announcement of Winter NAMM 2014, the trade show of the National Associate of Music Merchants. The synth was lauded for combining the technology of three previous Moog instruments — The Voyager, The Minitaur and The Sub Phatty — into one instrument.

“The Sub 37 builds on the traditional monosynth format by infusing its DNA with the unparalleled flexibility of the modular synthesizers of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” explained DeBardi. “It also integrates a full MIDI implementation that allows the instrument’s analog circuitry to interface with modern digital studios.”

One year after debuting the Sub 37, Moog upped the ante by announcing a major update for the device at NAMM 2015. Included in the update are new capabilities that allow users to edit and tweak their sequences while performing, granting today’s musicians even more ways to be creative.

Roger Linn

Roger Linn

In 2011, The Recording Academy honored Roger Linn with a Technical Grammy for his contributions to music technology, most notably the creation of the LM-1 Drum Computer, the first drum machine to use digital samples.

The instrument allowed musicians to include the sounds of real snares, hi-hats, kick drums and more in their digital music. It took the drum machine from the status of “toy” to “must-have instrument,” with early adopters including Prince, Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder.

Linn is still designing and releasing electronic music products through his Berkeley-based company, Roger Linn Design. His latest creation, the aptly named LinnStrument, is a truly unique take on the traditional MIDI controller.


Like any MIDI controller, LinnStrument exports MIDI information, but there are two major differences between this device and other MIDI controllers.

First, Linn’s instrument features patent-pending multi-touch technology. This means it responds to three-dimensions of the user’s finger movement (pressure, pitch and tambour), providing much more expressiveness and nuance than the typical MIDI keyboard, which operates in an on/off manner.

The other major difference is in layout. Instead of being arranged like a traditional piano keyboard, LinnStrument is laid out like a stringed instrument, with rows of chromatic notes.

“A piano keyboard doesn’t permit note-to-note pitch slides, which are an important musical gesture on many acoustic instruments,” explained Linn. “On stringed instruments, note-to-note pitch slides are easy and intuitive.”

Perhaps most notable about LinnStrument is Linn’s decision to release the entire software as open source, showing that he is not only an innovator, but he also supports innovation in others.

“You can modify an acoustic instrument in a variety of ways to your taste after purchase, but electronic instruments don’t permit this,” said Geert Bevin, the principal software creator for LinnStrument.

“By releasing the software as open-source, the owner is permitted to modify the electronic instrument in a variety of ways, including completely rewriting the code to turn the instrument into his or her ideal instrument.”

Between Ray Dolby, Robert Moog, and Roger Linn, The Recording Academy has more than proven itself capable of recognizing far-reaching talent in the world of music technology. If the past is any indicator, The Special Merit Awards won’t be the last we hear of new honorees EMT and Dr. Harvey Fletcher.


Editor’s note: In January at CES 2016, Intel and The Recording Academy announced a multi-year partnership as part of the official “Next Generation of GRAMMY Moments” program. Lady Gaga’s 2016 GRAMMY Awards performance, a tribute to the late David Bowie, will kick off this program on CBS at 8ET/7CT/5PT on February 15th 2016. For more information, visit intel.com/music.


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