Jon Kopaloff, FilmMagic
That task falls on the shoulders of the nearly 6,000 music-industry professionals (in 40 countries) who are members of the Country Music Association. Individual CMA members may join the organization as either a "Regular" member (one who is directly and substantially involved in the country music industry) or a "Sterling" member (defined as one who works full-time and earns their income primarily from the country music industry). Organizations, such as record labels and music publishing companies, are also eligible for membership. All memberships carry with them a number of benefits and perks, not the least of which is the opportunity to recognize and honor one's peers in the music business.
The current membership of the CMA includes everything from record-label executives, music producers, disc jockeys and songwriters to a drummer in your favorite artist's band, your favorite artist, and, yes, even music journalists!
With the first round of voting, CMA members may nominate one act in each category, with the top 20 qualified vote recipients in each category becoming official nominees on the second ballot. One exception: the top 15 qualified nominees in the Entertainer of the Year category advance to the second ballot.
On the second ballot, members vote for up to five nominees in each category. The results are then tabulated, with the top five vote-getters in each category becoming the final nominees and appearing on the third -- and final -- ballot.
In round three, CMA members vote for one nominee in each category to determine the winners who'll take home the award on the big night. Then the nail biting begins!
This year's nominees are based on an eligibility period of July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011. (That means you won't see albums like Miranda Lambert's 'Four the Record' or Vince Gill's 'Guitar Slinger' nominated until next year, so please hold your hate mail.)
The CMA Awards, by the way, differ from the CMT Awards and and the American Country Awards, which are both fan-voted. The ACM (Academy of Country Music) awards are primarily industry-voted but have incorporated a few fan-voted categories within the last few years.