Winning Awards: Is it a worthy Career Goal?

Music Awards Shows like the Grammys: Discussing what Recognition for Artists can Look like in the Digital Age of New Media and Music Streaming

Drew Sybil, Ejiro Ojirevwe

Here we are discussing the Grammys once again after participating in #GrammysSoWhite in 2017. It’s difficult to comprehend why we seek recognition from a small group of people who don’t root for us. Or why we let their antics validate our insecurities as artists. In this post let’s discuss if artists should have dreams of winning a Grammy. Furthermore, should creatives have goals aimed at critical recognition such as winning awards at ceremonies like the Grammys/Emmys?

For context, I wrote an entire research paper on how the categorization of music and artists into genres and rigid categories hinders the progression of the art. An obvious justification of this is the fact that many new artists make fusion music (music that merges genres or cultures), especially if they are of diaspora or mixed identities. It’s difficult to paint your character into one type of representation simply to fit into a larger critical agenda. Many artists already struggle with the business aspect of their industry. And yet public recognition through award ceremonies can easily become another struggle if not handled carefully.

Obviously Beyonce is one of the most famous artists in the world charging record breaking prices for concerts. But if you were to follow in Beyoncé’s footsteps: Is it feasible? How would you get to where she is now? Is it logical to aim for the same accolades she’s acquired when you don’t know if her journey will work as your journey? Frankly, most child and teen stars don’t sustain their fame at the same heightened success level all throughout their careers.

There’s a pattern of artists who become miserable despite the fame, clout, and pay they receive from the industry. Arguably this is because they’re chasing something that either they don’t relate to, nor do they feel they’re recognized for the type of work they put into their craft. So is that true recognition?

With social media profiles like ChartData, coupled with streaming services publishing listening metrics, along with ticket and tour data readily available; selection for gratification from award ceremonies seems unclear in its predictability. For example, if I study a famous artist for one year, tracking all their streams, music sales, concerts and ticket prices, shouldn’t I be able to predict whether that artist wins an award or not?

That’s where the Grammys is manipulative to many artists. Popular artists like Eminem and Nicki Minaj have commented that the selection process makes no logical sense to them. Once being nominated, or the thrill of winning Album of the Year was enough to hold out their anxiety over the entire process; but now they don’t find it as worthwhile. With each popular artist amassing a huge following of fans, if we consider the viewership required by broadcast events to be seen as popular, who benefits more from popular artists’ attendance?

Recall The Weeknd’s stance on the Grammys in 2021. The Weeknd felt as if his team had done everything they needed to do to win a Grammy, and yet an alleged rule change cost them a snub.

Subsequently, over time musicians have learned their highest priority should be themselves and their fans, because that connection is the most important connection. If the fans already give you fame and notoriety, figuratively you’ve already won an award. You have people looking up to you, listening to you, taking your advice and crediting you. Many of these people buy your music merchandise, spend their rent money on concert tickets, and spend hours defending you against your critics. Your true critics are your fans because you make music for them and for yourselves.

Music is the only art industry I know where the producers and creative directors can be as famous if not even more famous than the artists or stars themselves.

Even photographers and music video directors can build their own fame and success, demand a certain pay, and ultimately live their dream life providing services for artists. Music production has so many separate parts that it’s easy to have an abundance of work projects, especially if your brand is well-known.

Music is an expression tool but also a technology that allows for connectivity between individuals, a stream of understanding, and for relationship building. So it begs the question as to why we stress a critic-run award show, when there are culture-specific and fan-specific awards needed. The greatest impact music has historically is on the audience members as peoples with social identities who are represented through group cultures.

The last time the Grammys tried to recognize someone for crossing genre boundaries was Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ song Old Town Road. That decision caused a polarized outrage. In hindsight it sparked a long-overdue conversation: is categorization by rigid genres helpful for artists and their fans when providing recognition for music success? Do we need more recognition for artists in a way that benefits them and further inspires their craft?

Back to the question of artists’ goals: is aiming for an award disguised as meritocracy but not being rewarded for measurable success worth it? Is that a measurable, attainable goal for you? How can you predict when you will be recognized in that way for your craft? Should you just focus on acquiring as many fans as possible for your music and creative expression?

Another example to consider is Ella Mai, who did her Time, Change, Ready Tour twice with ticket prices doubling and tripling within a year. In December 2017 she booked out the Toronto venue: Adelaide hall. I paid under $50 to attend that show. The following year in August (2018) she booked Adelaide Hall again at double to triple that price. The set list was practically the same. In December she had performed her unreleased song “Naked” which was released October 2018 in her self-titled album Ella Mai. Boo’d Up, her single credited for her superstar fame was released in April 2018, with the remix featuring Nicki Minaj and Quavo was released in July 2018. The subsequent year (2019) was when she received 2 Grammy Nominations for Boo’d Up; arguably due to her features, and two years of touring her EPs: Time, Change, and Ready.

Given these examples, and mention of some of the most inspirational artists to the craft, especially to their fans, let’s ask ourselves some logical questions before setting a career goal based on an award show: Does winning a Grammy increase your price? Does winning an Emmy provide you with more work - as a star versus working in (behind-the-scenes) production? Do these industry accolades actually increase your perceived worth? Do you need it to book bigger projects, venues, concerts and tours? Or are these award shows just another platform that you can somehow leverage for more attention? And how useful is that for you?

As audience members, we can ask ourselves honestly: are we keeping this discussion alive every year by expressing dissent about our favourite artists being snubbed at the Grammys? (#GrammysSoWhite). Ultimately, what are new ways we can show our appreciation and love to our favourite artists, to keep them motivated to make the music that inspires and helps us every day?