Grammys Up In The Air: How Would A Downsized (Or Canceled) Show Affect The Music Industry?

'If the Grammys don't happen in their traditional form, these artists are going to miss their minute,' one insider says; some artists promise show will go on.

When you work in the music industry, you quickly learn that there is no such thing as a sure bet. Sometimes, highly anticipated records don't generate the kind of eye-popping sales labels expect. The week after the Grammys provide a much-needed sales bump in the traditionally slow early months of the year.

The recording industry has come to rely on the Grammy Awards each year to provide a much-needed boon following what is almost always a slow January. Once the holidays have come and gone, album sales nationwide tend to plummet. One minute the industry is up, and the next, it's back on life support.

But with less than a month to go before the February 10 awards show is supposed to take place, it is struggling to stay on track in the wake of the ongoing writers' strike. According to the Los Angeles Times, the American Federation of Musicians, the largest union for professional musicians, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents 70,000 entertainers, have issued a statement supporting the producers of the Grammys and their bid for a waiver from the Writers Guild of America.

"AFM and AFTRA strongly urge all of our members to support the important work of the Recording Academy by participating in the Grammy events," the statement read. While it might not sway the WGA, which has already said it is "unlikely" to grant a waiver to the Grammys, a decision on the matter is expected by next week.

On Thursday, in response to widespread speculation that the strike would quash the awards, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which organizes the Grammy telecast, issued a press release rife with declarations of support from industry professionals and artists alike.

"The work of the Recording Academy is vital to the music industry, and we have every intention of being with the entire music community to celebrate the Grammys' 50th birthday in February," said Mathew Knowles, who manages his daughter Beyoncé's career and said B will attend next month's awards. "We have an incredible Beyoncé performance that will be announced soon."

"We're looking forward to attending this year's Grammy Awards, as we do every year," said John Silva, a talent manager who counts the Foo Fighters and the Beastie Boys as clients. "We are hopeful that we will see a resolution to the current situation affecting our entire industry, as [the] Foo Fighters have always had nothing short of amazing experiences with the writers, producers, fellow artists and audiences at the Grammys and every television show the band has ever played. There's no question that the Grammys are a highlight of every year for the industry and audiences alike, and we're thrilled that the Foo Fighters will be performing on the show."

So what if the Grammys end up going the way of the Golden Globes and "music's biggest night" is reduced to what is essentially a glorified press conference? What will the show be like with no red carpet and no big-name performers or presenters, all of whom may bail on the awards out of sympathy for the writers?

Well, no one knows for sure, but most agree that it won't be good. The strike has already had an impact on the industry, hurting many artists' chances to promote their work on the late-night talk circuit. In fact, it will probably render yet another devastating blow to an already-ailing industry.

One person keeping his fingers crossed is Geoff Mayfield, director of charts and senior analyst at Billboard magazine. "For the music industry, which has seen album declines in six of the last seven years, it would be really good to have a catalyst like the Grammy Awards come off without hitch," he said. "Especially this year, when it's a few days before Valentine's Day and it could generate some interesting volume."

The effects will be far-reaching, impacting artists, their managers, the record labels and even record retailers nationwide, who have long suffered eroding sales while the industry has been fighting a losing battle against online piracy. The Grammys provide an annual showcase for an industry that's already on shaky ground, spotlighting the best music has to offer — at least in the eyes of Grammy organizers.

A Grammy win or nomination — heck, just performing at the awards, even if you're not a nominated artist — is free publicity and often brings with it a deluge in retail interest for an album. It also introduces artists to thousands of prospective new fans, some of whom may even be familiar with a musician's songs but anonymously so. Take one of this year's contenders for Best New Artist, Feist. Her song "1, 2, 3, 4" was featured in an iTunes commercial for much of the fall — but many weren't familiar with the infectious tune's composer. Feist's appearance at the awards could inform thousands of clueless "fans" of her album, The Reminder, and end up generating scores of scans.

The proof is in the pudding. At last year's Grammys, the Dixie Chicks were the night's biggest winners, taking home five statuettes, including one for Record of the Year. The week after the show's broadcast, sales of the Chicks' Taking the Long Way rose a whopping 714 percent, to 107,800, elevating its Billboard albums chart position from #72 to #8. During the previous week, the disc sold just 48,000 copies. It was the biggest post-Grammy jump in the history of the chart.

"In the long run, this will be a blip," said Paul Geary, a talent manager for artists including the Smashing Pumpkins. "But I certainly think it's a terrible misfortune for those artists who are having their shining moment in 2007. ... If the Grammys don't happen in their traditional form, these artists are going to miss their minute."

If the show doesn't go on, or is scaled back, the impact could be threefold for the nominees, according to manager Jim Guerinot (No Doubt/ Gwen Stefani, Nine Inch Nails). "Number one, you miss a television-performance opportunity," he said. "Number two, you miss the worldwide notoriety if you're a winner. And lastly, there's a real personal part of it for an artist. It's the music industry's highest honor, and if you're nominated, you'd be really sad if it wasn't acknowledged in the traditional fashion."

Even if the show goes on as a press conference, Guerinot said that "asterisk Grammy" would not carry as much weight as if the artist were able to pick it up onstage in the traditional manner. "No question: As a manager of an artist going through that, I would feel there was something diminished in that," said Guerinot, who added that Stefani is up for a nontelevised category at this year's awards. "As I'm sure my client would be. The fact is, any bad news for the music industry right now is not welcomed."

A manager of a number of major artists who requested anonymity said the loss of the Grammys would be sad but not devastating. "Frankly, the influence of the Grammys has diminished over the years and it's not as impactful as it once was," the manager said. "I don't care if it's the [VMAs] or the Grammys or even 'American Idol': The numbers are down and television-viewing habits as they relate to music are in as much flux as the entire music industry."

Just as those in the struggling music industry understand and appreciate the plight of the striking writers who need a break, Mayfield said musicians need a break too, given how much harder it is to make a living in 2008 than it was even just a few years ago.

He pointed to an artist like Amy Winehouse, who has had solid success in the United States but whose throwback-style music could reach a vastly wider audience if she were to perform and/or win even just a few of the six Grammys she's nominated for. Mayfield said a huge opportunity hangs in the balance for Winehouse and other newer artists, such as Paramore, Plain White T's and the Shins, whose names could be on the lips of millions with a win. "Were [Winehouse] to win five trophies, there would certainly be some uptick that happens, and it would be unfortunate if she weren't there to collect."

At press time, it was unknown if Winehouse would be able to attend the show because of some reported visa issues, though the Entertainment Weekly Web site reported on Thursday that her visa issues have been worked out, but it's still unclear if she's going to perform. A spokesperson for Winehouse did not return calls for comment at press time.

"Two things [for Winehouse] mean a lot: if she's able to perform, but even if not, if she gets a chance to make an engaging acceptance speech," he said. "The Grammys mean more now in terms of winning. It used to be if you won and the musician was not there to accept, there was not a big [sales] spike. ... But if you're there and you win in several key categories, it can be a catalyst for sales to happen."

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