Music industry ready to celebrate

February 8, 2008 6:28:04 PM PST
As Sunday night's Grammy Awards draw near, there's a sense of relief in the struggling music industry as it prepares for a much-needed celebration. During the uncertainty over whether the ongoing Hollywood writers strike would derail the show, "there were subtle kinds of holdbacks from certain artists" about whether to attend, said Ken Ehrlich, producer of the telecast. Some industry execs even hesitated for fear it that "music's biggest night" could be altered or even canceled.

"There was definitely an uncertainty of whether there was going to be a Grammys," said record marketing executive Chris Atlas, who is flying in from New York to attend.

Now that the threat has been averted, an industry pummeled by a broken business model, shrinking profits and thousands of layoffs is ready to cut loose - at least for one night.

"A lot of good people are losing their jobs. It's a strange time for the record companies," said Grammy-winning songwriter Diane Warren. "(But) it's about celebrating the music, and that's always a good thing. You kind of have to leave that at the door."

This year's Grammys will not only celebrate today's stars - the leading contenders are Kanye West with seven and Amy Winehouse with six - but also the past as it marks its 50th year. Among this year's performers are Beyonce, nominated for record of the year for "Irreplaceable," with her precursor, the rock goddess Tina Turner. Another record of the year nominee, Rihanna for "Umbrella," will perform with The Time, and the Foo Fighters, up for album of the year among their five nods, will perform with three unknown instrumentalists who are contenders to win this year's "My Grammy Moment" contest.

Presenters include four-time Grammy nominee Akon, Prince, Cher and Stevie Wonder.

The Grammys are not only music's highest honor, but one of the promotional tools to boost album sales. Many nominated or performing artists see a pre- and post-show sales bump.

"They call it music's biggest night, and there's a reason for that," said Geoff Mayfield, director of charts and senior analyst at Billboard magazine.

"It's like the Super Bowl for artists," said will.i.am, the Grammy-winning frontman for the Black Eyed Peas.

The idea that the show could be affected by the writers' strike was deeply troubling to an industry in dire need of any kind of boost. The Writers Guild of America threatened to boycott the Grammys, who use writers despite their performance-laden broadcast. That left the possibility that some stars might stay away in solidarity with the writers. But the Grammys worked aggressively to keep the show together - soliciting support from superstar acts like Beyonce and the Foo Fighters, who announced intentions to perform - and eventually an interim agreement was put in place to avoid any drama.

"People are actually overjoyed that things are going on as planned," said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy. "The industry is having and undoubtedly will continue to have a tough time in terms of the reinventing of the business models and addressing the business issues that face the industry, so it really is a time and a week to celebrate not the business, but the (music) itself."

"It kind of slowed down our momentum," said Ehrlich. "But in an interesting twist, our momentum is starting to peak, and it's at the right time."


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