Grammy prestige outweighs sales
Country artists rarely get commercial boost
By RYAN UNDERWOOD
The gold-plated, spun-brass statues that will be handed out to the latest crop of top musical talent at Sunday night's 49th Annual Grammy Awards stand just 9 inches tall and weigh a respectable 4 pounds.
But for recipients of those iconic "gramophone" trophies, their value can range from the incalculable to just barely enough to cover the cost of a tuxedo rental, depending on who wins and in what categories.
Ricky Martin's smash Grammy performance in 1999 instantly catapulted the Latin singer to superstar status.
And in 2002, the four Grammys given to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack spurred sales of an additional 159,000 copies the week after the show, helping blaze a new trail of commercial viability for the sounds of traditional bluegrass and country.
Then there are cases like that of Nashville songwriter and musician Robert Lee Castleman, who notched a 2001 Grammy win for Best Country Song and received another nod this year for the Alan Jackson song "Like Red On A Rose,"which he co-wrote with his wife, Melanie.
His Grammy accolades haven't always translated into career-changing success in the radio-centric country format.
"I can go see anybody I want to on Music Row. I can play songs for important people and they'll listen," Castleman said. "And then they'll say, 'No.' "
Even when Castleman won his 2001 Grammy for the Alison Krauss tune "The Lucky One," he said, he was asked why it beat out other songs in the category when it climbed only to No. 48 on country radio charts.
"The mentality is to get something that will be good for radio and can cross over to the pop side, like what Carrie Underwood's doing," Castleman said. "That's cool. You've got to do whatever you can to get ahead in this business. But that's not the kind of stuff I do."
After all, that recognition of creativity over commerce is supposed to be what the Grammy Awards are all about, said Nancy Shapiro, the Nashville-based vice president for member services at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which puts on the Grammys.
Exposure can spike sales
Yet, a Grammy award in the much-sought-after all-genre categories often does spell big bucks for an artist in the short term.
Country is one of the genre-specific categories that are not televised as part of the prime-time awards show.
Ben Kline, executive vice president of sales, marketing and new media for Universal Music Group Nashville, said it's impossible to attach a general dollar figure to a Grammy nomination, win or on-air performance. Nevertheless, labels do expect sales bumps ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent or more for certain kinds of Grammy recognition, consistent with the exposure from a telecast to 17 million viewers in the U.S.
"In the case of Sugarland, we got a huge boost from that even though they didn't win," he said, referring to the Universal Nashville-signed group that was nominated last year for Best New Artist. "That put them on a huge stage next to great artists from all genres."
Sony BMG's Carrie Underwood and the Dixie Chicks are the only country acts nominated for overall awards this year.
Mike Kraski, president of Equity Music Group, the independent Music Row label to which the Grammy-nominated group Little Big Town is signed, said even a nod for a genre-specific category could provide a tremendous boost.
"For a new or developing act like Little Big Town, a Grammy nomination puts you in a whole new light. It speaks volumes about a group's credibility because it's decided by one's creative peers in the industry," Kraski said. As a former Sony Music Nashville executive, he saw the impact the Grammys had on the Dixie Chicks' career, though he said he had yet to see a direct Grammy-related sales spike for Little Big Town.
Wade Jessen, who manages country charts for Billboard, said it would be rare to see a significant sales increase after a Grammy win in a country category. That's especially true when compared with the format's other televised awards shows put on by the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
One notable exception came in 2003 after the Dixie Chicks won three Grammys in country categories. "That was a huge spike," Jessen said. Sales had just begun to plateau when Natalie Maines made her infamous remark about President Bush, sending the album crashing back to earth.
Then there's Carrie Underwood, he said, whose rise to fame has been so meteoric that it's hard to imagine that a Grammy win would be anything more than a validation.
Lobbying does take place
Still, with the potential for added sales and exposure from the Grammys, vote lobbying goes on behind the scenes on Music Row, though many people said it was much less than for the CMAs and ACMs.
"To me it's more subtle with the Grammys," said Fletcher Foster, senior vice president and general manager of Universal South, explaining that other shows, unlike the Grammys, release databases of voting members.
And because Grammys — even in the country categories — are voted upon by members spanning all genres of music, Billboard's Jessen said it was hard for a lobbying campaign on behalf of a specific artist to have any real effect.
"There are a lot of people voting in the country category that may have a limited view of the genre," Jessen said, suggesting that is part of the reason why Grammy success and country radio airplay don't always go hand in hand.
But the Grammy brand is an enviable one, on par with an Oscar given for film. As Jamie Johnson, lead vocalist for the Grammy-nominated bluegrass band The Grascals, put it: "Whichever way we can get recognition like that, we'll take it." http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs....0103/702080384