Music industry singing the blues at Grammys

Thu Feb 5, 2009 10:25pm EST
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By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rockers, rappers and record executives gather in Los Angeles on Sunday for the annual Grammy Awards, but there is little to celebrate at the music industry's biggest night.

Album sales have tumbled for the past decade, last year's viewership was among the lowest ever, and now a recession is generating more layoffs at the major labels.

The top contenders are rapper Lil Wayne with eight nominations and British rock band Coldplay with seven. But the Grammys are starting to look a little dated in their 51st year. The top award is album of the year, but the industry these days is ruled by digital singles, ringtones and ringbacks.

"The Grammy celebration is a little bit ironic because the traditional business model it has always celebrated is on its way out. It would behoove them to adjust to modern times," said Steve Knopper, author of "Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age."

Knopper and others believe the awards telecast needs to find new ways to reach fans who have long eschewed the mainstream music industry and events like the Grammys.

Last year's Grammys telecast drew 17.5 million viewers, off 12 percent from the prior year, and down 42 percent from the all-time high of 30 million in 1993.

"If the Grammys continue to hitch their wagon to the 'we're going to sell shiny little round pieces of plastic,' model they're going to find their way out of a business model like the rest of the industry," Knopper said.

The recession is just the latest woe for the industry, which has laid off thousands of workers and slashed artists during a years-long slump brought on by a faster than predicted shift to digital distribution. Like the industry it celebrates, the Grammys are also struggling with a declining audience.   Continued...

<p>Rap artist Lil Wayne performs at the Second Annual BET Awards in Atlanta, Georgia, October 13, 2007. REUTERS/Tami Chappell</p>