LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a major Grammys overhaul designed to reduce the bloated structure of the music industry's top awards, organizers said on Wednesday they would slash the number of categories to 78 from 109 for next year's ceremony.
Many existing categories will be merged, while some will be dropped outright with contenders from different musical genres required to compete in new, all-purpose categories.
The top awards -- album, record and song of the year, and best new artist -- will remain untouched.
Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said the changes followed discussions that involved "some pretty passionate discomfort" and would be "a little unsettling" to some musicians.
But he said a restructuring was necessary to maintain the "prestige of the highest and only peer-recognized award in music".
Television viewers will not notice the changes, since only about 10 awards are announced during the three-and-a-half hour telecast. The rest are handed out earlier in the day during a fast-paced ceremony that is broadcast on the Internet.
The R&B field suffered one of the biggest cuts, with the number of awards halved to four. The three R&B vocal performance awards for males, females and groups have been merged into a single R&B performance award.
The Recording Academy's Vice President of Awards, Bill Freimuth, said some of the R&B categories had not received many submissions in years past.
Among other changes, the separate awards for male and female vocal performance will now be combined into a new pop solo performance category.
Similarly a new award, rock performance, replaces the separate awards for rock solo vocal performance and rock performance by a duo or group with vocals.
The two metal and hard rock categories have also been merged. In the pop, rock and country fields, the prizes for instrumental performance have been dropped.
Rap escaped relatively unscathed, with the number of awards dropping to four from five with the merging of the solo and group performance races into a simple rap performance category.
The number of Latin awards was cut to four from seven. Artists in this genre have their own separate awards show, the Latin Grammys, which is aimed at international markets while the Grammy categories are U.S.-centric.
The jazz awards have also been cut to four, from six. Nine awards will be handed out in the classical categories, down from 13.
In a move likely to draw howls of protest, the relatively new awards for Hawaiian and Native American albums have been dropped. The nominees often turn up to the Grammys in full regalia, grateful for the opportunity to receive mainstream attention for their cult recordings. They will now vie for a new category, regional roots music album, alongside contenders from the similarly discontinued Zydeco and Cajun category.
"Whenever you're categorizing music, you're going to end up with some odd bedfellows," said Freimuth. "We have to draw lines around the music somewhere."
In another change, a category will be cut for the awards year if it receives fewer than 25 submissions during the eligibility process, up from the current minimum of 10. If this continues for three consecutive years, the category will be dropped permanently.
If a category receives between 25 and 39 entries, only three recordings would receive nominations that year. Usually each category has five nominees.
The Grammy Awards usually take place in February. A date for the 54th edition will be announced in a few weeks, officials said.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)