clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Grammy win isn’t what it used to be

Beyoncé doesn't need a grammy to be popular
Beyoncé doesn't need a grammy to be popular
Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

The music industry has been subject to seismic change in the last 15 years. People are consuming, finding, and purchasing music in new ways. The days of walking into a Sam Goody to purchase a physical album feel as anachronistic as dial tones.

That puts the Grammys in a weird position. They've had to evolve to reflect the fact that whatever mass music culture there was is now splitting into smaller and smaller niches. In doing so, The Grammys are now better known for huge, hyped performances than they're known for their winners.

But the question still remains: in this music economy, what's a Grammy worth?

What a Grammy does for album sales

The Grammy "bump" is the idea that winning an award can influence people to purchase the winning music. Historically, that bump has been real for the Grammys.

But people don't really purchase music anymore. A platinum album (one that sells more than 1 million copies) has become an anomaly. Taylor Swift's 1989 was the only album by a solo performer to go platinum last year. Fifteen years ago, that would have been completely absurd. In 2000, 'NSYNC, Britney Spears, Eminem, the Backstreet Boys and even Limp Bizkit all released albums that sold one million or more albums in one week.

Since people don't buy albums as much as they used to, the goal posts have changed. A Grammy win for an album today isn't going to have the same impact it did a decade ago.

The biggest album bump seen after the 2014 Grammys was, according to Billboard, the 2014 Grammy Nominees compilation album. It sold 59,000 copies in the week following the awards. In 2005, Green Day’s American Idiot rose one spot to No. 2 and saw a 49 percent sales spike, with 202,000 albums sold. In 2003, Norah Jones's Grammy boost was 477,000 copies, when it sold 621,000 copies the week after the Grammys.

A Grammy will no longer make anyone a platinum powerhouse overnight, but it certainly used to.

The Grammy boost is seen in different ways, like a nightly gross — the money you make during concerts. Forbes reported in 2012 that artists like Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and Esperanza Spalding (the woman who beat Justin Bieber for Best New Artist in 2011) all saw their nightly gross exponentially grow after winning a Grammy.

"In the year after grabbing Grammy No. 1, crooner Bruno Mars’ average nightly gross swelled from $130,000 to $202,000 (+55%); multi-instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding swung from $20,000 to $32,000 (+60%); and pop-country superstar Taylor Swift surged from $125,000 to $600,000 (+380%)," Forbes reported.

That bump is also present in digital downloads. In the week following the 2014 Grammys, Katy Perry enjoyed a huge surge.

"The top-selling song performed on the Grammy Awards is Katy Perry's 'Dark Horse,' featuring Juicy J, which retains the No. 1 slot on the Digital songs chart. It sold 294,000 downloads for the week — up 12% over the previous frame," Billboard reported.

The Grammy boost, at this point in time, does not calculate the rise in streaming rates per artist, though that certainly has to be on the horizon. But it's safe to say that without dramatic changes to the way artists are paid for plays on streaming sites, a Grammy bump will mean less and less financially for winners going forward.

The Grammys do help the people behind the winning songs.

There will be 83 Grammys handed out this year. That can, as Kelsey McKinney pointed out, diminish the rarity of being called a "Grammy Award-winning" anything.

Artists like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are bigger than the Grammys themselves. When Swift announced she would not be performing at the Grammys this year, it was met with general disappointment. This perhaps points to the growing consensus that the Grammys are more concerned with putting on a good show than the actual awards.

But there are a world of people who aren't granted the same kind of exposure that Katy Perry gets: songwriters and producers. And for them, winning a Grammy can solidify a growing reputation raise their fees.

David Banner, a producer for Lil' Wayne saw this happen in 2009.

"Banner says his typical producer fee soared from $50,000 before winning the award to $100,000 or more afterwards; fellow producer Jim Jonsin’s jumped 90 percent in the wake of his win for producing Lil Wayne’s smash single Lollipop," Forbes reported.

The Grammys are good for The Grammys

If everyone has a Grammy and Grammys don't boost album sales that much, then you could, with confidence, say that the biggest beneficiary of the Grammys are the Grammys.

The Grammys have become the second most-watched awards show — right behind the Oscars. And the Grammys have been gaining on the Oscars in recent years.

This is because of the performances. The Grammys are, essentially, a televised Top 40 concert with a few breaks to hand out awards. This year, Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney are performing their song "FourFiveSeconds" together. It's probably going to be the performance (barring some earth-shattering something from Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith) everyone will be talking about. That performance will almost certainly overshadow whoever slinks off with "Best Pop Album."

Yet, none of those three artists are nominated this year. Their performance is happening to publicize a new album, sure, but mostly, they will stand in the spotlight to bring viewers to CBS and the Grammys themselves. It's another way the Grammys have already won.