Grammys: For Musicians Or For Naught?

Peter Cooper of the Tennessean is an excellent music journalist and a pretty good singer and songwriter who I have a great deal of respect for. Today he posted an opinion piece about the Grammys and how the show has pared down the number of categories it offers, cutting ethnic, classical, and instrumental categories, and his opinion seems to be that that’s a bad thing. Click here to read Cooper’s post, “Exclusivity May Suit the Grammys But Not the Rest of Us.”

Cooper says that pruning instrumental categories and other niche genres does a disservice to the musicians because:

“Grammy awards also help touring musicians to emphasize validity to concert promoters and to audiences. Want to go out and see another singer-songwriter? Maybe not. Want to go out and see a three-time Grammy winner? Maybe so.”

Here’s where he and I differ–I don’t think the Grammys were established to pad the resumes of musicians. Good music will find an audience no matter how many awards you can or cannot associate with the person playing it. Most of my favorite bands, and probably many of yours, never won a Grammy or any other award. If an artist needs a Grammy to validate what they’re doing, I’d suggest they are doing it for the wrong reasons.

I spent many years in music retail and from my admittedly limited perspective never saw much of a sales bump from the Grammys for anyone other than the major artists who performed on the telecast. To use one of Cooper’s examples, Alison Krauss, I sold plenty of her albums over the years, but mostly due to bluegrass fans who already knew about her or those who came to her music from hearing it on the radio…not because she has won boatloads of Grammys.

Cooper also says, “One of the Grammy Awards’ most appealing aspects has been the celebration of the gifted-but-marginalized, and this year that celebration was somewhat muted.”

Perhaps it was, since there were a lot less of them honored at the non-televised portion of the show, but for the vast majority of those who did tune in to the TV show, those awards would have fallen on deaf ears anyway. Let’s face it, the music-buying public is mostly tuning in for the lowest-common-denominator trainwrecks such as Niki Minaj. The fact that they occasionally get a Civil Wars or Avett Brothers probably results in more head-scratching and bathroom trip tune-outs than it does real exposure for those acts.

Music is fragmented now more than ever, and musicians ought to take a lead from politicians–shore up your base, play to them first, and if and when you get some momentum they’ll support you even if you make that unlikely ascent into the mainstream. Until then, play because you want to play, enjoy playing, and couldn’t do anything else even if you tried to stop.