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Grammys Can’t Save Music’s Crumbling Facade

By David Goe

On the eve of the 56th annual Grammy Awards, I have to say that I’m changing my tune regarding Music’s Biggest Night.

In the past, I’ve referred to the Grammys as a promotional hack job to pump album sales, a staunch supporter of mediocrity, and a contrived train-wreck. Not exactly the highest of praise.

I still believe all those things, by the way, only now I better understand where they are coming from.

This year, I can’t fault the Recording Academy for hosting the glossy, star-studded commercial that is the televised broadcast event. After a dismal 2013 campaign that saw digital music sales drop 6 percent and overall album sales drop 8 percent, the music industry needs to drum up income by any means necessary.

My mistake in the past was to consider the Grammys as meaningful awards honoring true artistic achievement, much like the United Kingdom’s Mercury Prize. That’s not the case.

The Grammys, and this year’s in particular, are propaganda to show that the industry isn’t broken. It’s as strong as ever.

In a year when Adele isn’t around to save your butt from historically low record sales, I totally understand nominating Taylor Swift’s “Red” for Album of the Year. Who cares that “Red” came out in 2012? The album is certified platinum four times over, and her tour grossed $110 million!

Swift is a young attractive female, and one of the few bright spots for the industry. I’d hitch my wagon to that cash cow too, if I could.

I can’t blame the Recording Academy for hocking watches. Seriously, they partnered with high-end Italian fashion house Gucci to create a Grammy special edition, $7,900 watch. It’s clear nobody wants to buy albums anymore, so why not get into the jewelry game?

Selling over 600 of these diamond studded, Grammy-logo stamped, rubber-strapped, digital timepieces is essentially the equivalent of a gold album (500,000 copies sold).

I get it. At this point, anything that fills the coffers will do.

Since 1999, it’s been nothing but hardship for the music industry. After totaling $38 billion in 1999, revenues have trended down to the point where the music industry is now collecting less than $16 billion annually. In just 15 years, the industry has lost more than half of its revenue.

Coincidentally, 1999 was also the year Napster, the peer-to-peer file-sharing site, launched and created the digital age of music we currently live in — an age to which the music industry has yet to adjust.

According to the CBS promos, it’s business as usual for the Grammys. Every picture on Grammy.com is of a smiling, happy musician. Don’t be fooled by the glitz and fool’s gold of the Grammy-hype machine. The music industry as we know it is in hospice. Even the positives from 2013 are not welcome tidings.

Music streaming is up 32 percent, the approximate revenue value of 59 million albums sold. That sounds impressive, but when you break down the numbers it’s anything but. Fifty-nine million albums worth of revenue is the equivalent of over 118 billion streams. That’s billion with a “B.” In other words the streaming value per song is worth fractions of a cent.

Music streaming also is cannibalizing digital music sales, which are down for the first year ever.

Vinyl sales are up 33 percent, however that represents only 6 million albums sold, a small fraction of overall music sales. Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” another nominee for Album of the Year, was the highest selling LP title, but only moved 49,000 copies.

The industry can spin those numbers however they like and put smiling happy people on television, but they can’t duck reality forever.

The music industry is on its deathbed, and the grim reaper is inching closer and closer.

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