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The Economics of the Grammys, Explained

Beyoncé, accepting the Best R&B Performance award during the 63rd annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles in March 2021.
Kevin Winter
Getty Images
Beyoncé, accepting the Best R&B Performance award during the 63rd annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles in March 2021.

The Grammy Awards — billed as "Music's Biggest Night" — gets underway Sunday afternoon, when dozens of excited winners will step up to the podium to collect their prizes. Later, lots of big names are scheduled to appear on a glitzy live telecast. But what do the Grammys actuall mean to nominees and winners, moneywise?

The frontrunner in the Grammy race this year is Beyoncé. She's up for nine awards, including three of the night's most vaunted honors: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. If she wins four Grammys this year, she would walk away with more awards than anyone since this honor was founded 65 years ago. (The current record holder is the late classical conductor Georg Solti, who won 31 trophies.)

Having said that: Beyoncé is in a realm of her own — it doesn't seem likely that any more or fewer Grammys are going to move the needle for her, in terms of income. (Bragging rights, sure.) As it stands, she's already the female artist with the most Grammys in history. She just announced an upcoming tour that is already selling out instantaneously as tickets are released. Last month, she did a one-hour private show in Dubai for which she was reportedly paid $24 million.

For artists and industry workers who are not quite in that stratosphere, however, winning a Grammy can still matter both in terms of enhancing reputations and lining bank accounts.

The number of Grammy Awards fluctuates pretty regularly. New categories are introduced; less popular categories get streamlined and sometimes phased out. This year, the Recording Academy, which is the non-profit organization behind the Grammys, is giving out awards in 91 categories. Many of the nominees work in niche genres and areas of the business, from blues to reggae to writing the best liner notes.

For those folks, having that Grammy seal of approval continues to be a door opener. It can attract new audiences and generate future gigs; streaming and sales go up. Artists sign new recording deals or partnerships with more influential managers. The "Grammy bump" is real.

Take, as one example, Megan Thee Stallion. In 2019, her career was still percolating. She had her first major hit that year with "Hot Girl Summer;" later in the year, when she stopped by NPR to perform a Tiny Desk concert, it was the very first time she had ever worked with a live band in public.

There's a case to be made that her career, which was already on the rise, really took off after she won Best New Artist at the 2021 Grammy Awards. She was the first female hip-hop artist to win that prize in more than two decades; no one had managed it since Lauryn Hill did in 1999.

Hip-hop fans knew Megan already, but her Grammy wins, which also included
Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song that year, meant that she was suddenly on a wider radar. By the end of the night of the Grammys telecast, her digital album sales were up 178% over the day before, per Billboard. By the end of that year, she had signed a first-look production deal with Netflix.

Last year, lots of folks were shocked when bandleader and composer Jon Batiste took home Album of the Year, the biggest prize of the night, along with four other awards. Many longtime Grammy watchers have said that his win was unsurprising because his album We Are hit a lot of sweet spots for the traditional Grammy voters. Even so, his work was new to many music fans. According to Billboard, his album sales skyrocketed more than 2,700% immediately following his Grammy wins.

Historically, there have been cases where a Grammy win did not help an artist at all. There's an old joke that the Best New Artist award is actually a curse — and that trop dates back way before Milli Vanilli won in 1990 and then were exposed as fakes. With the long-term successes of more recent winners like Adele, Chance the Rapper and Billie Eilish as well as Megan Thee Stallion, maybe that era is behind us.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.