If you live in Los Angeles, you probably know that Camila Cabello is nominated for two Grammys. Even if you didn’t notice her name on the slate of nominated artists when it came out, the info looms large above the Los Angeles skyline; Cabello has taken out a 40-foot highway-side billboard with her image and the words “For Your Grammy Consideration” – a move some industry executives say is one of the boldest campaigns for votes they’ve ever seen.
A billboard in a metro area like L.A. can cost $15,000 a month – but Cabello is not the only artist going to extreme lengths to get in front of Grammy voters. In the lead-up to the show this year, label sources say they’ve seen more furious lobbying for nominations and votes than ever before, whether that’s artists staging publicity stunts, personally dogging major executives, releasing songs at strategic points in the year (Sam Smith and Brandi Carlile dropped a surprise single together in the last week of nomination voting) or hiring third parties to hunt down emails for the awards’ elusive body of voters. While some artists are going a direct route, others are opting for more subtle campaigns, such as hosting Grammy Museum charity events or performing at high-profile industry gigs.
“It’s politics,” says one manager who’s been involved in the solicitations firsthand (Among packages he received was a Taylor Swift “VIP box,” which he suspects her team sent to thousands of industry insiders around the nomination period.) “Who’s a voter and who’s not a voter? Because the Recording Academy leaves it so opaque, there are these behind-the-scenes machinations.”
While aggressive promotion is old hat for the music business, the amount of Grammy-specific marketing has recently climbed to new heights. “The advertising is ratcheting up,” says Daniel Glass, president of Glassnote Records, which has propped up artists such as Childish Gambino, the Temper Trap and Mumford & Sons for Grammys in the past. “The amount of money being spent on ads in trade magazines, the emails with the dirty words of ‘For your Consideration’ — it used to be subtle and discreet years ago, but it seems like the gloves are off and it’s much more acceptable now to reach out. People are coming up to me and saying ‘I know you’re voting! Please vote for this!’ It’s very blatant now.”
Last year, Steve Knopper chronicled the intense artist campaigns by Harry Styles, Portugal. the Man and others – and how some executives like Monique Grimme, co-owner of the New Jersey indie label Bongo Boy Records, collect names of probable Grammy voters from networks and online forums. Grimme offers a service for indie artists to get access to that list, which has over 8,000 e-mail addresses, and blast their promotional materials during Grammy voting season. “It’s a way to let the voting community know there is a lot of talent out there that warrants their consideration,” she says. For indie artists, such services are vital to their careers.
Many Grammy contenders are also vying for the accolades by tag-teaming the song production process itself. “The amount of collaboration between writing, producing, artistry on songs — it’s like there are not enough lines for credits,” Glass says. “People are adding to the odds of making it. Sometimes there are 11 or 15 people on a song. People are thinking more collaboratively to improve their chances.”
Indeed, according to the awards’ parent group the Recording Academy, more than 21,000 submissions came in for 84 categories this year. To avoid being buried, some smaller artists pool their money and take out an ad together for increased visibility. For in-person promotion, “you also have the Grammy mixers, the social events organized by members themselves in cities with major chapters, where artists can find the voting community,” Grimme advises. Dance music veteran Lawrence Lui, who runs Bampire, a marketing firm specializing in highlighting indie artists for Grammy consideration, says some trade publications become “literally all booked up” in ads placed by the deep-pocketed Big Three labels. As a result, indie artists turn more to targeted social advertising and friendly networking with well-respected hitmakers and fellow musicians. “Every little bit helps,” Lui says.
Why so much fuss in the first place? For one thing, it’s the sales lift: Some Grammy winners from last year saw their album sales swelling more than 100 percent the day after the show. In the frenetic data-obsessed age of digital music, such numbers are an opportunity simply too good to pass up.
However, as music becomes more accessible and abundant, the rigorously capped, peer-awarded Grammy also takes on a greater significance. “Radio isn’t what it used to be, and the Internet has become over-saturated, so getting a Grammy nomination or win is a more of a solid thing,” says independent artist Lili Hayden, a nominee in the new age category who says she had “no idea” of the amount of campaigning required to contend for Grammy nod before she took over her own promotion. “I know people who’ve spent $3,500 on certain influential promoters. People spend a fortune.”
So even though a big expensive marketing blitz could end up a dud, the risk is often still worth taking. “Musicians are really not sure what’s going to move the needle,” says Lui. “You’re told to maintain an online presence, get a publicist, play as many shows as possible. While most things you do to promote yourself are very incremental, getting a Grammy nomination or win is something that tangibly, majorly affects your career.”