Why The Grammys’ Dumpster Fire Matters To The Live Biz
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The crisis at the Recording Academy in 2020 has been compared to a dumpster fire, after the organization placed its new CEO Deborah Dugan, its first female CEO, on administrative leave She subsequently filed an EEOC complaint with allegations of corruption, sexual misconduct and voting irregularities.
When the curtain rises on the 62nd annual Grammy Awards show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Jan. 26, it will be as the Recording Academy – the nonprofit organization that bestows the golden gramophones – faces possibly the most existential threat in its history, and a largely self-inflicted one at that if the accusations leveled against it by now-former CEO Deborah Dugan hold up.
In less than one week, the organization that was already roiled by remarks that women need to “step up” made two years ago by former CEO Neil Portnow, has been hit by accusations by Dugan of sexual misconduct, conflicts of interest, the operation of a “boys’ club” and the possible rigging of Grammy nominations and winners. Capping a crescendo of charges and countercharges, Dugan – who was also accused of misconduct and placed on “administrative leave” by the Recording Academy on Jan. 16 – filed a complaint Jan. 21 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that hit the music industry like a nuclear bomb.
While Pollstar’s editorial focus lies squarely on the live business rather than the recording side, it’s impossible to ignore the Recording Academy’s present imbroglio and its ramifications for the concert industry.
Pundits like Bob Lefsetz have even gone so far as to openly question the relevance of the Recording Academy and Grammy Awards going forward, considering the lightning-fast changes wrought by not only the #MeToo movement but technology and streaming. But it’s undeniable that Grammy Award nominations, and especially wins, remain highly valued by performing artists and their live teams and can provide a “Grammy bounce” in terms of concert ticket sales and prices.
Certainly, every press release announcing a new tour by a previously Grammy-nominated artist includes the number of nods, in what categories and wins over the years. Viral performances – think Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton – also have the potential to boost an artist’s live profile and move greater masses of tickets.
Forbes, reporting a 2012 survey of performers and producers, showed that a Grammy Award could be worth as much as a 55% increase in concert ticket sales and producers’ fees the following year. That number has probably risen since then given the increase in ticket prices.
Among the charges in Dugan’s discrimination complaint are allegations of conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency in the nominations process, and outright manipulation of nominations by individuals on the Recording Academy’s board or in a number of “secret committees” alleged by Dugan, all of which the Academy also denies.
In one case enumerated in the complaint, Dugan alleges one unnamed artist – who was ranked near the bottom of a top 20 list based on the submissions of the Academy’s 12,000 members – scored a nomination in the 2019 Song of the Year category in which neither Ed Sheeran nor Ariana Grande appeared (though Grande’s Sweetener did win for Best Pop Vocal Album).
While those exclusions can’t be proven to have harmed Sheeran or Grande in terms of concert ticket sales – both had blockbuster box office years in 2019 and other Grammy wins – the revelation of insider horse trading can’t inspire confidence among artists, their agents or managers that they are getting the fair consideration they expect or deserve.
The concert industry can look at the Recording Academy’s troubles with at least a sense that it more proactively responded to questions of diversity and gender inclusion in the two years since Portnow’s infamous “step up” remarks.
Women have been promoted to key positions at the largest agencies and promotion companies, including Ali Harnell at Live Nation – which created a Women Nation division to address the issue of support for female artists and professionals. AEG has a similar program with its AEG 1FORCE that engages suppliers as well as employees Major agencies have launched initiatives to promote women and other underrepresented people in their ranks, as well.
Festivals and tours are, for the most part, featuring more women in headlining positions than in the past. Barcelona, Spain’s Primavera Sound has achieved gender parity with 53% of the recently announced lineup featuring at least one permanent female member, according to BookMoreWomen.com. Governors Ball in New York, produced by Live Nation, is approaching it with 42% in 2020, up from 36% last year. Goldenvoice/AEG Presents’ Coachella Music & Art Festival is holding fairly steady, up one percent this year to 36%.
However, Coachella failed to book a female headliner in 2020, despite many worthy second-line women including Megan Thee Stallion, Summer Walker, Lana Del Rey, FKA Twigs, Marina, and Ari Lennox.
As for touring, Pollstar’s Top 100 Worldwide Tours in recent years show flat gains in diversity. That could well change by the end of 2020.
Five women or woman-fronted bands headlined in the top 25 for each of the past two years, with Pink topping the sales chart with $215.2 million in 2019 on a list that was just 17% women. In 2018, women occupied three of the top five spots with Taylor Swift, the Jay-Z/Beyonce outing and Pink. However, women made up just 16% of the Top 100 tours worldwide that year.
The Grammys feature many women among its nominees with Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, H.E.R., Lizzo, Yola, Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga, Tanya Tucker, Taylor Swift, Maggie Rogers, Rosalia and Tank And The Bangas collecting nods in the four major categories alone. Many will perform on the broadcast as well.
And most if not all of them will mount tours this year, which is nothing but good news for the concert business and gender parity.