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What’s a Grammy Moment Worth? Brandi Carlile, John Legend, Label Execs Weigh In

Grammy Moments Brandi Carlile John Legend
Rex/Shutterstock

In simpler times, an artist could see album sales spike to over 500,000 in the days after a Grammy Awards broadcast appearance. That was Santana’s experience in 2000. Following a performance on the show and eight Grammy wins, “Supernatural” flew off the shelves — a gold certification from one key look.

Today, that seems downright otherworldly, but that’s not to say there aren’t immediate revenue gains — albeit more modest — from Grammy exposure.

“It’s still one of the bigger promotional moments — or gets — that you can have as a marketer or an artist,  but the stakes are different and the goals have shifted pretty drastically,” says Josh Berman, SVP of streaming and digital marketing at Concord, home to the Grammy-nominated Tanya Tucker and Elvis Costello & the Imposters. “You can’t just have that moment happen and expect a windfall of sales or even consumption in the streaming world, especially for artists not in the pop Top 40 game.”

In other words: the economics have changed. “It’s going to come down to the cost to bring an artist to the Grammys,” says a senior executive at a major label. “Back in the day, if there was hypothetically a $200,000 spend to bring the artist in and rehearse, whatever the full-in costs are, then you might look at it and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to generate $1 million in revenue by this one TV hit or $2 million.’”

ButWhat’s a Grammy moment worth when the metrics of a streaming-based industry stand in contrast to when the business was built on sales?

“Even in the iTunes era, it was instant gratification, and from a Grammy performance you could see 500% spikes,” says Ben Kline, EVP/GM of Warner Music Nashville, home to Blake Shelton and Dan + Shay. “I think we were all caught a little by surprise when streaming came into vogue that we didn’t see those types of spikes. It’s a very different model. That said, what our data shows us is that over the last two years, we’re seeing more immediate spikes for what we call events.”

Indeed, with a viewership of 19.9 million in 2019 in live +3, up slightly from 19.8 million in 2018, according to Nielsen, the Grammys drew 8 million more viewers than the next-highest rated music show of 2019, November’s CMA Awards at 11.3 million. In fact, among all awards shows over the past 12 months, only the 2019 Oscars, with 29.6 million viewers, reached that large an audience. As far as music is concerned, the Grammys remain broadcast’s main event.

Consider Brandi Carlile, the roots-rock artist whose performance was one of the cut-through-the-clutter moments of the 2019 Grammys. Warner Music saw sales for her “By the Way, I Forgive You” album rise from fewer than 1,500 a week to 15,000, while the on-demand streams for the song “The Joke” rocketed from 164,000 to 964,000.

Perhaps more important, after those spikes dissipated, she averaged higher weekly tallies for both sales and streams than she saw prior to the broadcast.

Carlile says the benefits extended beyond the numbers. “I started getting access to really fun collaborations and cool opportunities,” she says. “My shows got bigger; the venues got bigger; I started selling out dates. I really felt the impact of that exposure. For my whole 20-year career I had wanted a platform to get to people who I couldn’t reach on tour and that was it.”

Carlile’s experience echoes the 1990 Grammys, when Bonnie Raitt, whose discography began 19 years earlier, had a big Grammy night with a performance and four awards.

Ken Ehrlich, who is producing his 40th and final Grammy broadcast, says that was one of the earliest instances when he noticed the show’s potential to upstream an artist’s career and get it closer to the mainstream.

“It was huge,” says Ehrlich of Raitt. “Obviously [because] of the fact that she won four Grammys, but it was also the performance. When those things combine, it’s monstrous.”

A month later, Raitt earned the first platinum certification of her career for “Nick of Time.” It went on to sell more than 5 million copies only to be surpassed by its follow-up, “Luck of the Draw,” at 7 million sold.

“I talked to Bonnie Raitt a lot about that and there were big similarities,” says Carlile, who took home three Grammys last year in addition to flooring anyone within earshot of her performance. “It’s really a similar sensation, even though the music industry has changed so much, the exposure that the Grammys provides artists really hasn’t.”

John Legend credits the Grammys not only with fueling the start of his career, but also for helping break his biggest hit. Legend’s first flirtation with the Recording Academy came in 2005 when his debut, “Get Lifted,” made him “one of the most nominated artists that year,” Legend recalls.

“Me, Kanye West and Mariah Carey all had eight nominations each. I was still a very new artist. We performed ‘Ordinary People’ on the 2006 show, got that Grammy bump, and it laid the foundation for everything that was going to come.”

Fast-forward to 2014, when “All of Me,” a song he thought had the potential to be his signature hit, felt stuck.

“It was doing pretty well on [the] urban adult contemporary [format], which is very important for artists like me, but it’s not a huge percentage of the overall radio picture,” says Legend. “Ken didn’t really have to put me on the show because [‘All of Me’] wasn’t nominated, but he thought it was a great song and that it was going to be a special moment. I sang it and it really broke through. The song shot up the iTunes chart and whatever streaming charts there were at the time; a bunch of stations beyond our urban AC (adult contemporary) core started adding it, so it was playing at pop, rhythm, hot AC and AC; and it became a No. 1 not too long after. I honestly think that without the Grammys, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Warner’s Kline is eager to see what happens Jan. 26 when Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani perform a duet on the show. And he’s also confident, boasting: “Blake Shelton singing on the Grammys [to] a genre-agnostic audience? We’re going to see a massive spike on that. We’re going to see big track sales, all of the pieces. But if it’s a really special moment — the one that people talk about — we’re going to feel that lift even more.

“But you really can’t judge it until you pull through the data and look at things six months, a year later,” adds the label insider. He notes that discovery is another benefit to the exposure, bearing in mind that the Grammys and other music award shows are, to many consumers — maybe even most — the means by which they learn just who plays that song they like.

“You’re competing against people’s time and attention more than anything else. But ultimately, nobody remembers who wins or loses; they remember an incredible performance.”