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Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X seated in an auditorium in this photo from Shutterstock.
Stars Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X take home awards at the 2019 CMAs. (Image: Shutterstock)

Let’s face it: There are a lot of music awards shows. We all know about the Grammys, and we’ve already watched the VMAs this year, but most music genres also have their own awards to celebrate their best artists. For country music fans, it’s not difficult to get confused, because there are two major awards shows that sound awfully similar in name — the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards and the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards.

While both events celebrate achievements in country music, they were created by different awarding bodies, have different takes on the genre, their own voting processes and categories, take place at opposite times of the year, and occupy distinct places in country music history.

If you’re a country fan, it’s likely you’ll want to catch both awards shows when they broadcast in the spring and fall. We’re here to give you the rundown on both events, their differences, and when and where to watch them on major streaming services.

Differences Between the CMAs and ACMs

Since the two ceremonies are the most prestigious awards in the genre, it’s easy to get them mixed up, and it’s difficult to know the difference between them. Below is a chart for a quick breakdown.

Governing body Country Music Association Academy of Country Music
Voting system Trade members Trade members
Time of year Fall Spring
Top award Entertainer of the Year Entertainer of the Year
Network ABC Amazon Prime Video

Country Music Association Awards (CMAs)

The 57th CMA Awards logo from ABC.
The 2023 CMAs take place on Nov. 8. (Image: ABC)

In Nashville, Tennessee, the epicenter of country music, resides the Country Music Association, a trade organization made up of artists, musicians, songwriters, and other stakeholders in the country music industry. Every fall since 1967, the association has put on one of the most fun music events of the year, the CMA Awards, featuring performances and award presentations by the best country artists, with occasional appearances from pop and rock artists too.

As a Nashville-based organization, the Country Music Association prides itself on celebrating traditional and mainstream aspects of the country genre, with a Nashville and Southern focus. The award winners are selected by industry professionals — members of the trade organization. Notably, the CMA Awards feature more categories than the ACMs, with a focus on traditional country styles and artists. Categories usually include Male and Female Vocalist of the Year, Group of the Year, New Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Video of the Year, and even international categories not covered by the ACMs.

How to Watch the CMAs

Country fans are in luck because this year’s CMAs ceremony is coming up! On Nov. 8, the 57th CMAs will be hosted by returning emcees Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The event will be broadcast on local ABC stations and on Hulu starting at 8 p.m. EST. You can also access the broadcast through streaming services that include ABC as a channel option, or for free over-the-air with an HD TV antenna.

Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMs)

The 58th ACM Awards logo from Amazon Prime Video.
The ACMs are usually held in the spring. (Image: Amazon Prime Video)

First televised a few years after the CMAs hit the airwaves (even though the ACM honors started in 1966), the Academy of Country Music Awards saw the Academy of Country Music join forces with Dick Clark Productions to produce the show in the ‘70s. It remained a popular annual broadcast TV event until its eventual move to Amazon Prime Video in 2022.

Although the Academy of Country Music is also a trade organization made up of industry professionals, the main difference between this award show and the CMAs used to be the voting. The ACMs formerly employed a combination voting system, with a fan-based system used for some categories and others only voted on by members of the ACM, but rifts among artists and claims of unfairness forced the organizers to drop fan voting. Now, the awards are chosen by the ACM’s members, with most categories decided by ballot and a few chosen by selected panels.

The ACM is headquartered in California, giving the event a West Coast influence. A good comparison is the difference in feeling between the Grammy Awards and the VMAs. The ACM Awards usually have a broader and more contemporary approach to country music, reflecting the genre’s diversity and the influence of country artists from different regions. The show includes some categories not covered in the CMA Awards, such as Artist-Songwriter of the Year and Music Event of the Year.

How to Watch the ACM Awards

Typically held in the spring, the 58th ACM Awards were presented at the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, on May 11, 2023. The show was hosted by country legends Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks. Chris Stapleton took home the Entertainer of the Year Award, Lainey Wilson snagged both Female Artist and Album of the Year, and Morgan Wallen was named Male Artist of the Year. The ceremony was streamed and is currently available to rewatch on Amazon Prime Video.

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