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Jon Batiste
Jon Batiste

The John Batiste Victory

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The producer can only do so much.

At least the Grammys are smart enough to get an outsider, as opposed to the Oscars, which constantly use someone from their industry with ties to the past and no skill putting on a TV show. But Ben Winston can’t control the voting.

Everyone agrees that last night’s Grammy telecast was a vast improvement over those of the previous decade plus. First and foremost, it was decided to wipe the detritus of the past and focus on the new. But that just made it more confusing for the aged Grammy viewers unfamiliar with the acts and their music, as for the youngsters, who in hell could sit through all those commercials? I guess they’re going to run this paradigm into the ground. In a world where you can do your best to never see a TV commercial to watch the Grammys in real time is torture.

Not that I watched much.

I wasn’t going to watch any at all. But my friends had it on and I watched forty minutes, a good chunk of which was commercials, and the final ten minutes, wanting to say good night to said friends.

And I won’t give a whole review of the show, the little I saw or that which I read about, because I really don’t care. There’s a whole publicity industry built around these award shows and I’d like to know who eats up this information. Hype does not pay the dividends it used to. And as far as reviews, if you saw it you don’t need to read about it, and those who didn’t see it don’t care.

As for a memorable moment, I haven’t heard about one yet.

But what gets me to put fingers to keyboard is the Jon Batiste victory for Album of the Year. It undercuts all credibility for the Grammys. The dude gave a great speech, talking about how competition in the arts is not a factor, but reaching those who need the music is, however…HOW IN THE HELL DID THIS GUY WIN?

It’s not like the Oscars, lauding a good picture that no one has seen. It’s out of touch members voting for their personal preferences, screw the rest of the world. And I wouldn’t care, except the Grammys keep telling us how hip and on point they are, in bed with the labels to put on a happening TV show and then…

Yes, are the big Grammy awards for popular music, or are they an inside baseball affair for the voters?

Have you heard Batiste’s album? I doubt it, it barely made a dent on the charts, and two songs have nine million streams on Spotify, but six of them don’t even break seven figures (which is a million, for the math challenged). And don’t think a million streams is much, a Top 50 song can easily do a million streams A DAY!

But it’s hard for oldsters to comprehend the new metrics. A million used to be a lot. A million albums, wow, you’re platinum! But the metric has changed from sales to plays and those who’ve lost in the process, because their music is not listened to that much, can’t stop complaining. It is commerce, not art. It is a business, it’s not a charity. And if you don’t put up the numbers you make less. However, in today’s internet world there are many possible streams of revenue, but chances are if you have low streams you have little business elsewhere. Why does everybody continue to believe they deserve to be monetarily successful in the arts? Study the bands from the heyday of the classic rock era, in many cases they didn’t give up their day jobs until after their first tour after their album was a hit. But today, if you decide you’re an artist, you believe you deserve to be able to make a living by only playing your music. Insane. Then again, in today’s world no one can handle the truth. In a world where truth is fungible anyway. Conventional wisdom is Spotify is the devil stealing from artists and Ticketmaster keeps all the fees and the artists have been screwed. Today it’s all about emotions, feel, and that does not mean truth, no way, and it’s not only in music.

So, by awarding Jon Batiste the big trophy, the Grammys have undercut their credibility.

Credibility. That used to be key before it all became about money. Yes, Reagan legitimized greed, the boomers sold out and ever since it’s been about the gross. And the oldsters in control of the levers of power keep telling us young people don’t care about sponsorships or endorsements when the truth is they just want their percentage thereof. Credibility as a concept never dies, it’s just that few people embrace it. We are looking for credibility, especially in the arts, where honesty prevails, a cousin of credibility. Sans credibility you’ve got disposability, like so much of today’s music, just like the Grammy telecast itself. One great credible thing can survive the ages, trump a ton of hype and endorsement, but it’s hard to deliver honesty from the heart and stand up to the man, the system.

The system. I saw Harvey Mason Jr.’s speech. At least they pre-taped it, so there would be no faux pas. And the roundup of musicians saying they were the Academy was well done. But then you give the big award to Jon Batiste? It makes me think the Academy is made up of the people testifying who’ve never made it, and probably never will. The Motion Picture Academy is exclusive, not anybody can join, they still haven’t let Rob Schneider in. But the majority of the Recording Academy is people who’ve never had a hit, who’ve never had commercial success, and that’s fine, but should they be voting for consumer-facing awards?

Of course not.

The public is led to believe these are the best records out there. They know there are vagaries in the system, but when something totally left field wins a big award, they scratch their heads and move on.

Which is exactly what is happening to the baby boomers. Once again, give Ben Winston credit for breaking with the classic rock past. But the business is still run by boomers, and they’ve got to go. Gen-X’ers too. Everybody who remembers music before the internet is tied to a paradigm that no longer exists. Metrics that no longer make sense.

Which comes down to the Grammy telecast itself. A variety show? Network TV will air anything that garners eyeballs, and they gave up on variety shows decades ago. Yes, we used to huddle around “Ed Sullivan” on Sunday nights, but that was just to see the Beatles, it was an interminable wait to get to the musical acts, and although we can remember Topo Gigio, we would have rather just seen the five minutes we were interested in. Which is what we have today, hallelujah!

But those on the selling side hate this. Listen to my album! Yeah, back when music was scarce and albums expensive, you’d get free product and take a chance. But in today’s overwhelming world you’ve got to deserve the time, you’ve got to weasel your way into the brain of the consumer and that’s the hardest thing to do. But somehow in music we should lay down our defenses, give time to those who call themselves “artists.”

And now I realize I’m going off the rails. But I keep getting e-mail saying I should support artists, that I should be positive. There’s a whole industry for that, which will beef up your false hopes. End result? NOTHING! It’s like giving a kid a trophy for competing. You don’t expect to see that kid in the big leagues, he finds another line of work, only a very few can make it to the show. Ever been involved in athletics? You’re always fearful of the cut. Your name is not on the list. Even in the NFL. But in music everybody should play?

I guess they do, because these are the people voting for the Grammy awards. The public is smarter than that. The public can see through the ruse. The public knows to ignore the Grammy anointments, because one false move can undercut the credibility of the entire operation.

I’ll close with a story told to me by Tony Wilson, a name well-known in Britain but not in America. Tony was an Oxbridge educated man who was a TV presenter and a record company ruler. He was the majordomo of Factory Records, in Manchester, the epicenter of dance music. They even made a movie about him, “24 Hour Party People,” watch it, it’s very good.

But forget the bio. Before he got involved in the music scene, not long after school, Tony was the weekend news presenter for ITV. Tony says that a researcher gave him inaccurate football scores, whatever the case, Tony went on TV and delivered inaccurate sports scores. The next morning his boss came in and was this close to firing him, and after giving Tony another opportunity he said, “If we can’t get it right on the sports scores, people won’t trust us on the big issues.”

Bingo. That’s what the Album of the Year award to Jon Batiste represents.

Case closed.

(However, the Grammys will self-congratulate and nothing will change. Old boy networks never die, they just fade into the sunset until no one can see them anymore.)

Grammy Ratings

Were terrible.

“Grammys Viewership Edges Out Last Year’s Record Low With Minor Gain”:

And that’s putting a positive spin on it.

The story of the last two plus decades in the record business has been disruption. But the Grammy organization keeps on doing the same damn thing and expecting different results. A woman was brought in to run the place and the criticism was she wanted change too fast…if that doesn’t sound like a bunch of old men afraid of their cheese being moved I don’t know what does.

The record labels tried to hold back the future with lawsuits, while they extolled the quality of CDs. Then they said track sales were the future, halting the slide in revenue as a result of Steve Jobs’s proactive measure. And then Daniel Ek came along and saved the industry. Apple was famously against streaming and bought Beats to try and solve their problem, even though Beats Music was not of competitive quality and the software had to be rewritten and the execs had to be furloughed.

And at this late date there are people who want to resist all of the above. They want streaming halted when it saved the business! Someone always loses and someone always wins when change happens. The key is to get on board, to get ahead of change and ride the wave. Yelling at people to bring back the past never works.

So CBS thought it was inviolate. As did all the established Hollywood companies. Even the public resisted Netflix streaming. But Reed Hastings saw the future and executed and not only did the public play into his hand, but so did Hollywood. The studios didn’t wake up for years! They loved the license fees Netflix paid. And now they’ve all started streaming services, but Netflix has first mover advantage and is now the undisputed champion. Sure, the studios have their libraries, and that’s important, but Netflix has poured billions of dollars into new production, which drives the television industry as well as the music industry. Just like the rearguard labels wield their catalogs to make profitable deals with anybody in the tech space. If anything, these old companies want to hold back the future, but it comes anyway.

But there are legacy deals, like the one CBS has with the Grammys. And so inured to the CBS cash the Grammys are not preparing for the future whatsoever. Who is going to rescue the Grammys? Certainly not Harvey Mason Jr., who’s part of the club. Only outsiders can clean house and jet the organization into the future, but outsiders are not allowed to play in the entertainment industry, the established players do their best to keep them out. It’s a club and you’re not in it. And who would want to work with these wankers anyway, especially after the Deborah Dugan debacle.

Awards shows are dead. Come up with something different. I could give and have given multiple ideas, but the Grammy organization doesn’t listen.

As for the under 10 million people who saw this show…

We live in a country of 340 million. Less than 5% tuned into this show. Think about it, if you were a concert promoter and the act was booked in a stadium and they sold the number of tickets they would have in a theatre, would you book them again? As for the act, no one likes to play to empty seats. They lie and pull down the show and try to reinvent themselves, come up with something better. What does the Grammys come up with? More nominees! In some of these categories you can win the trophy with far less than half the vote, a quarter of the vote, are these the real winners anyway?

Which brings us to the bullseye. Most people don’t want the acts the Grammys, the recording industry, are purveying. Hell, Spotify told you, the rate of catalog streams is going up and up, which means the old music is more palatable than the new. Music used to drive the culture, now it’s a sideshow most people shrug their shoulders at and don’t bother to participate in. The business is moribund, being driven right off the cliff. Radio was disrupted by on demand online. And now even streaming services are being disrupted by TikTok. Notice nobody in the music industry came up with TikTok. Someone could have bought, but it took the Chinese to purchase it and blow it up. The music industry has historically been anti use by the public. But the world has changed, remix culture is here.

And then there’s the dreaded variety show format with commercials. This is kind of like when they blast heavy metal as punishment in prisons. To watch the show is torture. Turns out almost nobody wants to.

So the recording industry pats its back and evidences that it’s completely out of touch. Last night’s Grammys were a disaster. The ship is heading right for the iceberg and they keep on partying. Believe me, if someone owned the Grammys heads would roll, but everybody’s sucking at the tit of the nonprofit organization and they want no change.

Historically it’s been a new musical sound that’s disrupted the old one. But that hasn’t happened in two decades. Maybe the labels have to be more proactive, more creative. Turns out most people don’t want what they’re selling. There’s a much bigger business trapped inside but no one sitting at the controls has any idea how to tap it. Music is a street business. And it’s all about the money. Which means the only smart people involved are hustlers, and outsiders are denigrated. That’s the criticism of Daniel Ek, he doesn’t play an instrument, he’s never made a record, he doesn’t understand…but that’s why he does understand! He started with a fresh slate, wiped off the detritus and built Spotify from the ground up. I’d tell you how hard it was but you won’t believe it, the same way you won’t believe vaccines work for Covid.

So, what is gonna happen here?


Clayton Christensen said the innovation starts cheap and imperfect but then gets better and trumps the established players. So his advice is to disrupt yourself. That that’s your only hope, otherwise someone will disrupt you. The VMAs disrupted the Grammys because MTV knew it was irrelevant who won, they were creating a show to be watched, and there was a spirit of irreverence as opposed to gravitas. Someone needs to throw the proverbial bomb into the Grammy building, metaphorical, of course. But in truth outsiders will create their own game with its own mores and triumph. It’ll look like it happened overnight, but one thing is for sure is it will happen, it’s just a matter of when. The Grammys need to disrupt themselves, they need new blood, and by that I don’t mean musicians with credits, but people familiar with how to change organizations. Nothing is forever, you either change or die.

The Grammys are on their way to death.

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