HOLLYWOOD — As an intern at Island/ Def Jam in the summer of 2003, Matthew Annerino witnessed dozens of coworkers losing their jobs to cutbacks.
While he watched them pack up their offices, he thought about one of his responsibilities in the new media department, monitoring the file-trading Web sites as millions downloaded Island/ Def Jam music for free.
"I just thought that something had to be done," recalled Annerino, a 22-year-old student from Chicago. "People that work at record labels, unless they're at the top, don't make a lot of money anyway. They're doing it because they love music and now they're losing their jobs."
After writing a paper about the experience, Annerino was told the Recording Academy was creating a digital music advisory board of 18- to 24-year-olds. A rigorous national selection process later, he was welcomed onto the board and will participate in its first roundtable discussion Saturday at the Staples Center, where the Grammys will be held the following night.
Sitting next to Annerino will be 11 other committee members as well as honorary members Kanye West, Mark McGrath, Earth, Wind & Fire and newcomer JD Natasha.
Called the What's the Download Interactive Advisory Board, the collective is named after the research-based public-education campaign the Recording Academy launched a year ago to open up dialogue about downloading, specifically at WhatsTheDownload.com (see "NARAS To Kick Off Pay-For-Play Campaign At Grammy Awards").
"The online discussions are great, but we decided real life would be better," Ron Roecker, the Recording Academy's vice president of communications, said Wednesday. "And it's not a publicity stunt. It's a real board, and on Saturday we plan to lay out our agenda."
The What's the Download Interactive Advisory Board's goals will be to gather feedback from young people about their digital music needs and educate them about the consequences of illegal downloading (such as record label layoffs) and other options.
"And we definitely need to get the labels up to speed on what they should be doing," Annerino said.
Board members will be active contributors to WhatsTheDownload.com as well as "The Download" quarterly e-newsletter and music-related events throughout the year. "We also hope they will be ambassadors of information to music fans in their states," Roecker said.
Some of the board members confessed to having downloaded thousands of songs before changing their opinions on file-trading, according to Roecker.
One member who went years without thinking about the issue was Kanye West. "He didn't think much of it until his record leaked online and thousands were downloading it for free," Roecker said. "It affects SoundScan, it affects their royalties. And now Kanye has said, 'Sign me up. I'll do whatever it takes.' "
"I'm really interested to get his thoughts and ideas," Annerino added. "And he's from Chicago, so that's a bonus."
As this year's Grammys approach, you can get all the latest news on the show, the scene and the nominees in our Grammy news archive. On the big night, February 8, be sure to tune in to MTV at 7 p.m. for our "All up in the Grammys" preshow. Plus check out videos of the nominees and more right here on mtv.com.