Grammys pay tribute to labels, not music

It is Grammy time again. On Sunday night some very well-known American and European pop stars – some talented, some not – will be feted for their musical achievements. The awards show will present major pop and rock record labels a rare opportunity to feel positive about their recording artists’ successes; during the last several years record companies’ revenues have declined precipitously. The reasons for the depression in the recording industry are several – Internet file sharing, high CD prices, the proliferation of CD burning equipment and a dearth of talented artists. And if this year’s Grammys ceremony is any indication of the future of the major-label music industry, there is relatively little hope that the troubles in the recording industry will end any time soon.

Grammys are awarded according to the votes of National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences members – some 18,000 musicians, producers and other recording professionals. While the Academy includes a diverse group of artists, major labels exert great influence over the voting process. The Grammys have become a showcase of the best that major record labels have to offer. The fact that fewer people are watching the Grammys and fewer are monetarily supporting the winners should serve as a warning to the major labels that they need to radically alter their musical choices and marketing strategies or risk further revenue declines.

Every once in a while the Grammys surprise – giving the relatively unknown Replacements a prime performance slot, recognizing the brilliance of the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” and this year’s nods to true artists like Norah Jones and Beck are a few examples of substance trumping image. However, as heralded by Chuck D.’s stirring declaration that he did not want “no goddamn Grammy,” it has become increasingly clear that the Grammys, as currently constituted, cannot consistently and regularly recognize true art. If the major record labels are not willing to offer music lovers what they truly want and deserve, then music aficionados can only hope the Grammys continue to lose their cultural relevance, and popular music finds inspiration in other, more organic sources.