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Exclusive: Scandal at the Grammies – one classical nominee has sold just 11 copies

Some labels carefully select the candidates they submit for a Grammy. Others apparently send in everything they have released.

The result can be a chaotic warp in the judges’ final shortlist.

Nielsen Soundscan, which represents the most accurate and up-to-the-minute sales stats, reveals that one record nominated for a Grammy in contemporary music has sold just 11 copies. Another, a classical masterpiece, sold a mere 17.

Top seller on the Grammy lists is the Met’s Ring excerpts, followed by hot favourite Renee Fleming’s Poèmes. Neither, however, has yet broken 5,000 US sales.

So what, exactly, does a Grammy classical award represent?

 

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Comments

  1. And how well do Grammy classical award winners sell post-award compared to pre-award?

  2. Gosh, I wonder? Excellence in singing and performance?

    Would you rather they gave the nominations to those who topped the sales list? That would be an interesting bunch of nominees, wouldn’t it? Classical Brits II, perhaps?

    I would assume Ms. Fleming sold many more copies worldwide, since, to my knowledge, the CD did not receive any type of full release in the US. Not a surprise, given it is French-focused. It won the ECHO prize, did it not?

  3. A GRAMMY for classical music most probably has no more value than any other national award presented in any European country. Who is in the jury, any information ????? Are the jury-members experts in classical music ??? The USA hast not been an opinion leader in classical music production for at least 25 years, therefore the classical music awards do not reflect any expertise in this field.
    In all other music categories the GRAMMY reflects without doubt a valid opinion, for classical music this is not the case. Even the Gramophone awards in the UK do not necessarily reflect the quality of the industry, also giving priority to national-scale productions, just like the GRAMMY Iin the US.

    • My understanding of the voting process as following:

      They are voted on by members of the Academy who work in classical music. All past nominees and winners may vote. Other non-classical musicians theoretically may vote, but only if they have not used their quota of votes elsewhere in other categories. Therefore, it is unlikely that a non-classical musician would vote in the category.

      I would place the Grammy Awards up against the Classical Brits any day – eeer.. excuse me, the CLASSIC Brits. The latter are a joke. You will never find the Grammy Awards presenting Il Divo with “Classical Artist of the Decade.” I guarantee you that.

      Often, the bigger artists and orchestras have an edge, but this is as it ever was. Often the smaller, independent recordings are overlooked, which is, again, as it ever was.

      Please Lord, let us allow some artistic integrity to exist in an award program without complaining about sales. .

      • Only members of the Academy vote. Once you qualify for NARAS membership and pay your annual dues, you can vote. I am a Grammy winner (Classical Producer of the Year) with several nominations as well. When I stopped paying my dues, I lost my voting privilege. The classical grammies have a special pre-screening committee to make sure that large organisations – symphony orchestras for example – where every musician might be a member – pack the vote. After the finalists are selected, the decision comes by a free vote. Members have a limited number of categories in which they can vote.

        The Grammy Award has had great meaning for me and my career as it is an internationally recognised brand and credential.

        Sorry for the hasty post but am awaiting boarding for a flight!

        • Thank you, Mr. Fine. That was indeed very instructive. I wasn’t aware of the pre-screening committee. Did you mean to say that the committee makes sure that large organizations do NOT pack the vote?

          Thank you again, and congratulations, quite belatedly.

  4. Did the Soundscan numbers reveal which album actually 11 copies? Or 17? I’m curious if it was some massive box set that few people could afford? Or an esoteric new-music release?

    • Both figures stated. Both are single releases.

      • Terry Carlson says:

        Joyce DiDonato talked about one of the nominations during intermission on the “Live from Carnegie Hall” radio broadcast last evening (Monday). She seemed very surprised and pleased (!) that her hometown Kansas City Symphony received a nomination. Something about it only being available on iTunes, if I heard correctly.

        • I believe it was a digital release of a wonderful concert filmed for PBS, with some additional music that didn’t make the broadcast. Yes, it was only available on itunes and the only information I saw about it was Joyce tweeting during the broadcast. My memory is that it was to support the Symphony or some sort of arts education program.

        • Scott Colebank says:

          The DVD is available on Amazon and is being sold at KCS concerts, was shown over the summer on PBS

  5. Walter Brewster says:

    This is not credible. Several commentators on The Guardian speak of buying it and their are 6 informed reviews on Amazon just for starters.

    • One issue for classical artists may be that CD sales from venues like Carnegie Hall, where artists regularly do CD signings, are not tracked by Soundscan. Neither are sales from many independent CD shops or some independent online venues. None of these CDs are best sellers, but I am in agreement that the figures do not represent full sales.

      • Venue sales and sales from independent shops can all be reported to SoundScan (and usually are) so the figures are largely accurate depictions of an album’s performance in the US Market..

        • Yes, I understand they can be, but that doesn’t mean they are. Do the Met Opera Shop or Carnegie or other similar independent shops pay Soundscan and report? Perhaps, although I think it is not necessarily likely. I think we all agree, however, that the titles are not going to win sales awards, and any missing additional sales would be in the hundreds not thousands, if they exist.

  6. “So what, exactly, does a Grammy classical award represent?”

    Serious question? Well, certainly not sales figures.

    This is how the Oxford dictionary defines the word “best”:

    “of the most excellent or desirable type or quality”

    So where is the scandal? A record that doesn’t sell might very well be the best in quality. Since when are sales linked to quality?

    Having said that, the Grammies, like any of the other major business awards, is a lottery, with most of the best recordings – particularly from the classical realm – not even being entered or considered. The Grammy says pretty much nothing about a certain recording, but all about the jury.

    • Well, if it’s not about sales quantity (i.e. a vote of confidence from the general public), then I say it’s a fine line between a popularity contest and actually being quality music.
      There may be an artist out there who has made great music for years, sold thousands of cds yearly and STILL not be recognized by the voting members. On the other hand, there are artists who don’t have to do much to get a nomination, only because they usually get one every year like tradition…or a career congressman.

      I do think sales SHOULD factor into a grammy nomination to a degree. Otherwise, we are living a lie set by a few.

  7. Our society is obsessed with competitions. The idea of competing on a “fun” level is fine and is probably part of the human DNA somewhere down the line. But as soon as competitions become passports to big money, fame and fortune, everything starts to degrade. It is hard to find an exception to this.

  8. The Grammy award is given by a jury decision. Labels enter their recordings and send copies for the jury members for evaluation. The jury is made up of members of the “Recording Academy”.

    http://www.grammy.org/recording-academy/awards/grammy-awards-voting-process

    How many classical experts are actually in that jury – voting especially on the classical awards – is a mystery and very well worth a journalistic investigation. Mr. Lebrecht, please investigate.

    • This link is instructive. Thank you.

      It is fairly clear. It is not a “jury” per se. It appears that “voting members” must have appeared on six previously nominated pieces. They then choose a “field” – classical, pop, jazz, other.

      http://www.grammy.org/recording-academy/awards/voting-process/faqs

      All voting members may vote on the four major “general field” categories, as well as cast up to 20 votes in the other fields.

      http://www.grammy.org/recording-academy/announcement/press-release

      • I have misread and made one error above. The “voting members” have not appeared on six nominated pieces; that would mean the pool would be very small. The link suggests that they must have appeared on six commercially released pieces.

        • But do the members voting on classical have to have been appeared on six commercially released *classical* pieces, or does *any* commercial release fulfill the requirement?

          • I do not know the answer, but I would doubt that professionals at that level would vote on a genre about which they know nothing, when they need to cast their votes in their own genres. I cannot envision rap artists voting on classical or classical artists voting on rap, given their expertise combined with the limitation of the available votes. Most rap artists, for example, would likely vote in rap, pop or rock and other technical categories. Nothing probably left over for classical, even if they were unprofessional enough to vote in an unfamiliar category.

  9. The Grammy Awards are meant to reflect recording excellence, not sales. Though, of course, an award can bring more sales. But the sales element is and has never been a factor for the nomination.

  10. Matthew B. Tepper says:

    For me, the most interesting thing about this year’s Grammy Award nominations is the fact that Sony Classical got a total of four nominations — none of them in classical categories. The Gelb legacy continues.

  11. Steve de Mena says:

    It’s “Nielsen Soundscan”, not soundcheck.

  12. Geoff Miles says:

    As far as classical music is concerned – I’m not sure how much the Grammys (or any of the many other industry awards) reflect consumer taste. That isn’t really their function. As far as I see it they operate as a form of internal currency in an industry where the value structure is deliberately opaque. An industry award is designed to inspire confidence in artists and sponsors looking to invest in a recording project. In the face of so much media attention given to the state of the recording industry these awards signify professional recognition – which is certainly worth a great deal to a record label competing for credibility in a difficult market. Having said that – it’s rather important to keep the actual value of this award system in perspective – once award nominations become more important as a marketing tool than the selling of the product itself, we’re in a very strange place.

  13. JANET LESSON says:

    I listened to this album practically 10 times or more on Spotify, did not have to “buy” it, but I pay a monthly Spotify fee, doesn’t that count in some way?

  14. It's That Steve Again (ITSA) says:

    It’s all just marketing isn’t it? Doesn’t that explain pretty much everything about a huge range of contemporary phenomena?

  15. The Maltese Falcon says:

    As well as the Grammies they should have a category called the Rummies…an award for the least artistic recording of the year. I wonder who’d win it this year?

  16. Ghillie Forrest says:

    I think the most interesting thing about the classical Grammy nominations is Minnesota Orchestra’s nod for its Sibelius symphony recordings. If they win, will it tilt any balances?

    • Terry Carlson says:

      If these words, written by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, have failed to move Mr. Henson and the board to change course, then I fear a Grammy win for the Sibelius 2 & 5 recording would also be unlikely to shame them (and will we ever hear the Sibelius 1 & 4 recording mentioned in Osmo’s letter?):

      “I am desperately anxious about the risk posed to the quality and spirit of the orchestra for the future. I become deeply emotional when I listen to our latest Sibelius recording edit of the 1st and 4th Symphonies, first because the music is so moving and superbly played in the hands of our musicians, and second because I fear that to preserve our reputations I may need to consider letting go of the remaining recording projects we have planned. I will also be in the position to think seriously about the viability of bringing a diminished or compromised orchestra to Carnegie Hall for our four concerts in the 2013-14 season, plus international touring thereafter, including a re-invitation to the BBC Proms.

      “It is difficult to imagine that the current negotiation process will sustain the orchestra’s future. Rather, the process may rob us of the chance of having a world class ensemble for years to come. When the lockout is over, the Twin Cities may have a ‘professional’ orchestra, but inevitably not the same one, nor a highly respected one.”

      – Music Director Osmo Vänskä’s letter of November 12, 2012 to the board and musicians

    • Unlikely, I’m afraid.

      Likely best case scenario: The award attracts more news coverage and public awareness beyond Minnesota of the lockout, and wider public pressure induces the MinnOrch board to agree to an independent audit and/or binding arbitration.

      (As I’ve said before, if an open, independent audit were to back up the board’s claims, the musicians would face enormous pressure to accept the board’s offer or come up with an equally frugal alternative. Which is why the board’s refusal to allow an independent audit makes it look like they’re being dishonest.)

      Unfortunately, the MinnOrch board right now appears immune to such pressure – they seem pretty shameless.

  17. My bet is that it’s Harry Partch’s Bitter Music that sold so little. It’s a remarkable document that’s rather difficult to categorize.

  18. Overall the Grammies are about excellence within the field of music–excellence that ALSO enjoys a fair degree of popular support within their genre.

    That is, sales AND excellence both matter.

    So while I love, say, Steve Reich’s “The Desert Music” personally, winning classical CDs are likely to be a lot closer to a performance of Copleland’s Billy the Kid ballet suite than anything by Reich. Or a piece whose orchestration includes, say, sackbutts and krumhorns.

    Which is why classical crossover CDs can have a good chance of winning even if hardcore classics lovers don’t even count such CDs as “classical.”

    • “Overall the Grammies [sic] are about excellence within the field of music–excellence that ALSO enjoys a fair degree of popular support within their genre. … Which is why classical crossover CDs can have a good chance of winning even if hardcore classics lovers don’t even count such CDs as “classical.””

      Excellence that enjoys “a fair degree of respect” would be a more appropriate phrasing than “support.” Respect for musical contributions, to be exact. Which is why not one classical crossover CD is nominated, and consequently, has no chance to win.

      I would go so far as to say those nominating classical CDs probably care very little about sales or “popular support.” Everyone knows US classical audiences rarely buy CDs. They vote with their tickets while downloading, watching on youtube, listening to the radio, or watching what they recorded off PBS.

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