The Industry

A Brief History Of The Grammy Sales Bump

Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, winner of Album of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards. To date, the band's winning album, Babel, has sold 1,737,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan. i i

Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, winner of Album of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards. To date, the band's winning album, Babel, has sold 1,737,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Jason Merritt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, winner of Album of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards. To date, the band's winning album, Babel, has sold 1,737,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, winner of Album of the Year at the 2013 Grammy Awards. To date, the band's winning album, Babel, has sold 1,737,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

As televised prize-givers, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences are slouches. The dozen prizes given out in a typical Grammy Awards telecast is the lowest of any major awards-show telecast, from the Oscars to the Emmys. NARAS gives out the bulk of its little gramophones in an untelevised ceremony.

But as sales-juicers? The Grammys are unparalleled.

The Grammy telecast, with its low ratio of awards to performances, is programmed as a variety show and shamelessly fine-tuned to spur consumer music purchases. And it works: Arguably, no award has a more immediate benefit on its industry's bottom line. (Only the Tonys, which can single-handedly save a Broadway show, come close — and that's for a business concentrated in one U.S. city whose product costs over $100 a head, retail.)

Even before the age of instant downloads, a Grammy Award could vault an album up the charts. Or make a career: Bonnie Raitt's 1990 Album of the Year win for Nick of Time sent that disc to No. 1 — her first-ever Top 20 album, never mind chart-topper — and transformed the veteran singer-guitarist into a pop-radio presence. When NARAS is doing its job right, it finds a crossover point in the Venn diagram between authenticity and commercial success, and consumers respond.

Nowadays, in the digital era, many viewers don't even wait until the day after the show — the Grammys move the needle on Billboard's charts immediately. This week, Nielsen Soundscan, the industry's data-gatherers, have already released weekly sales figures ending last Sunday at midnight. Those few hours during and just after the 2013 Grammys provided a boost to at least a dozen acts who performed or won.

That includes Album of the Year winners Mumford & Sons, whose Babel shot back up to No. 4 — for the whole week — on the strength of that one night of sales. Next week, they'll do even better; the full week just after the Grammys is the one to watch each year. That's when slower-moving consumers, particularly buyers of physical CDs, wander into brick-and-mortar stores or browse online for the music they just saw performed that Sunday. After a full seven days of post-show sales are tallied, the Mumfords are predicted to return to No. 1, where Babel debuted last fall.

That's business as usual for the winner of Album of the Year. NARAS's final, marquee prize is generally the show's biggest sales beneficiary. Here's a rundown of the last dozen years of AotY Grammy winners — as you see, some winners see bigger post-show pickups than others.

Albums Of The Year, 2001 - 2012

  • 2012 Album of the Year: Adele, '21'

    In 2012, Adele won each of the six Grammys for which she was nominated, including the awards for Album, Song and Record of the Year. i i
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
    In 2012, Adele won each of the six Grammys for which she was nominated, including the awards for Album, Song and Record of the Year.
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 730,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 207%
    Cumulative sales since release: 10,364,000

    The sales total posted by 21 last February, after Adele's epic six-Grammy sweep, ranks as the largest post-Grammy week in Soundscan history. It wasn't just the year-old album's biggest sales week to date (Sony execs were reportedly shocked there were still three-fourths of a million people in America who hadn't already purchased 21); the album's one-week increase of 493,000 copies also set a record — it grew by a margin that most artists would kill to sell, period, in a typical week. As impressive as that 207% leap is, other albums have had bigger percentage boosts, especially if they were unexpected winners that underperformed before the show (see below). Adele's win last year was anything but unexpected. It's hard for an AotY winner to grow if it's already the country's No. 1 album the week before the Grammys, which 21 was — making its stratospheric jump that much more impressive. The night was a triumph for Adele on every level, as it represented her return to performing after many months away, which by itself might have convinced people to buy. Figure also that at least some of that record-breaking leap was the result of a 60 Minutes interview with Ms. Adkins televised on CBS in the hour directly before the show.

  • 2011 Album of the Year: Arcade Fire, 'The Suburbs'

    Arcade Fire's members with their album of the year Grammys.
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 41,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 238%
    Cumulative sales since release: 756,000

    By Grammy standards, Arcade Fire is the un-Adele. Their upset win over the widely predicted Eminem was the first-ever AotY for indie-rock band. Not that Arcade Fire are a tiny band, per se: They may record for veteran indie label Merge, but the seven regular members (live, the gaggle expands even further) create a stadium-size happy noise. This album, AF's third, was already a chart-topper before it got nominated, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart upon release in July 2010. In its post-Grammy run, the album's sales tripled, but after months of middling performance on the Billboard charts that sales boost only brought it back to No. 12. Figure that the quizzical "Who is Arcade Fire?" meme that spread like wildfire across the Internet after their win generated more scratched heads and web traffic than sales.

  • 2010 Album of the Year: Taylor Swift, 'Fearless'

    Taylor Swift accepts the award for Album of the Year during the 52nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California on January 31, 2010. i i
    Robyn Beck/Getty Images
    Taylor Swift accepts the award for Album of the Year during the 52nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California on January 31, 2010.
    Robyn Beck/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 53,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 58%
    Cumulative sales since release: 6,707,000

    The only person making "shocked face" when Swift's sophomore album took home the AotY Grammy was Swift herself, a practiced awards-show gawker. Fearless, released in November 2008, was the best-selling album of 2009 and — with universal industry gratitude for hauling young people into record stores — a mortal lock to take home the hardware. By the time Swift took home Grammy's big prize, however, Fearless had already surpassed quintuple-platinum and was days away from crossing six million. Hence, her 58% post-Grammy sales pop is the smallest of any of the dozen albums covered here. For Swift, fully arrived at the turn of the decade as one of the music business's top-selling acts of any genre, the AotY Grammy was more coronation than sales spur.

  • 2009 Album of the Year: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, 'Raising Sand'

    Alison Krauss (left) and Robert Plant (right) with producer T Bone Burnett accept the Album of the Year award at the 51st Grammy Award ceremony in 2009. i i
    Robyn Beck/Getty Images
    Alison Krauss (left) and Robert Plant (right) with producer T Bone Burnett accept the Album of the Year award at the 51st Grammy Award ceremony in 2009.
    Robyn Beck/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 76,500
    Post-award sales bounce: 715%
    Cumulative sales since release: 1,588,000

    One quirk of the Grammy calendar is that their eligibility year for nominations runs from October to September. That means award-winning discs can be as old as 16 months by the time the artists ascend to the podium — and Plant's and Krauss's collaboration, released in October 2007, was just that old when it won the night's final Grammy in February 2009. For an album tailored to older record buyers, it had already done well: In late '07 it debuted on the Billboard album chart at No. 2, quietly crossing platinum the following spring. The week after winning the Grammy, Raising Sand vaulted back to its peak position of No. 2 (behind Taylor Swift's future AotY-winner Fearless, then locked at No. 1); the huge percentage increase belies how modest the album's sales were so long after its release. Even at that late date, the Grammy had to have introduced Raising Sand to scores of new record buyers, as the album and its songs wound up collecting five awards that night.

  • 2008 Album of the Year: Herbie Hancock, 'River: The Joni Letters'

    Herbie Hancock poses backstage at the 50th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 10, 2008. i i
    Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images
    Herbie Hancock poses backstage at the 50th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 10, 2008.
    Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 54,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 967%
    Cumulative sales since release: 297,000

    Hands down the strangest, most left-field AotY winner of the 21st Century — this makes the Arcade Fire win look predictable --the 66-year-old Hancock somehow triumphed over a pair of critically acclaimed blockbusters, Amy Winehouse's global breakthrough, Back to Black, and Kanye West's third album, Graduation. Prior to the 2008 Grammys, Hancock's homage to Joni Mitchell had spent only two weeks on the chart and hadn't even cracked the top half the Billboard 200 album chart — the only title in Grammy history to win Album of the Year before it cracked the top 100. Vaulting from No. 199 to No. 5 after the telecast, River: The Joni Letters virtually doubled its cumulative sales in a single week; to this day, that 54,000-unit week represents more than one-sixth of the album's sales, ever. Winehouse, who swept every other category in which she was nominated that year (Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist, among others), consoled herself with a leap to No. 2 and 115,000 in new sales — more than doubling the weekly total of the man who beat her for the final prize.

  • 2007 Album of the Year: Dixie Chicks, 'Taking the Long Way'

    The members of The Dixie Chicks, (from left) Emily Robinson, Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire pose with their Grammys for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Country Album.
    Vince Bucci/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 103,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 714%
    Cumulative sales since release: 2,494,000

    Most acts going into Grammy night with a chart-topping, double-platinum album would probably feel like culture-dominating heroes. But for the Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way was a comedown, a move from commerce toward art. In their first half-decade, the Chicks racked up two diamond (10 million) sellers, 1997's Wide Open Spaces and 1999's Fly. Their third album, 2002's Home, had just crossed sextuple-platinum in early 2003 when Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines's (in)famous dis of President Bush in the run-up to the war in Iraq compelled country radio to dial down rotations of the Chicks — a core act of the genre for years. Shunned by those that brung them to the dance, the trio leaned pop on their fourth album. In May 2006, Taking the Long Way became the Chicks' third straight No. 1 album, but it sold with one hand tied behind its back — little radio airplay in any genre, as the Chicks were now too pop for Nashville and too Nashville for Top 40. Nonetheless, they were richly rewarded the following year by NARAS (a voting body whose politics, to put it mildly, do not directly align with Nashville's) with five Grammys. After the ceremony, the nine-month-old Taking vaulted from No. 72 to No. 8 on the Billboard chart. But the album's sales burst was short-lived, and it never crossed triple-platinum — remaining the lowest-selling of the Chicks' albums of the Maines/trio era and, as of this writing, seven years later, the last album they recorded.

  • 2006 Album of the Year: U2, 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb'

    U2's Larry Mullens Jr. (from left), the Edge, Adam Clayton and Bono pose with their Album of the Year at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards. i i
    Kevin Winter/Getty Images
    U2's Larry Mullens Jr. (from left), the Edge, Adam Clayton and Bono pose with their Album of the Year at the 48th Annual Grammy Awards.
    Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 27,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 512%
    Cumulative sales since release: 3,267,000

    As impressive as a momentary sextupling in sales for its album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb seems, the mere 27,000 total units the disc sold in the week after the award is anemic for a band of U2's stature. That's largely because, for U2 in 2006, Grammy wins were more victory lap than career-jolter. They had already won Album of the Year as young lions, for 1987's classic The Joshua Tree. And they'd been no slouches since then — U2 entered that year's Grammys with 17 previous statues and piled on another five that night, for a career total of 22, the largest of any rock band. When Atomic Bomb emerged victorious at the end of the night (over an ascendant Kanye West, nominated that year for the more widely acclaimed Late Registration; Bono actually offered 'Ye condolences from the stage), this U2 album was already roughly 15 months old, a relic from the holiday season of 2004. Any American who wanted Atomic Bomb in February 2006 already had it — and was at that moment probably trying to score tickets to U2's two-year-long Vertigo Tour. For a band busy filling stadiums, CD sales were an afterthought.

  • 2005 Album of the Year: Ray Charles, 'Genius Loves Company'

    Ray Charles's Grammy-winning duets album Genius Loves Company.
    Courtesy of the artist

    Post-award weekly sales total: 224,500
    Post-award sales bounce: 202%
    Cumulative sales since release: 3,261,000

    Spinal Tap's manager Ian Faith was right: Death sells. It also generates awards — for John Lennon at the 1982 Grammys, and for Nat King Cole, electronically resuscitated by his daughter Natalie, at the 1992 Grammys. When R&B legend Ray Charles passed away in June 2004 with an album of duets already in the can, it was a safe bet that the disc would not only sell well but dominate the following year's Grammy ceremony. For heaven's sake, Genius Loves Company opened with a duet between Charles and recent Grammy queen Norah Jones (see 2003, below); this, friends, is why the term "Grammy bait" was invented. By the time Grammy night 2005 rolled around, the posthumously-released album had already peaked at No. 2 on the charts and sold more than three million copies. Because Brother Ray was, of course, not present to perform on the Grammy ceremony, his post-show gain was nearly eclipsed by alive-and-kicking band Green Day, who won Best Rock Album for American Idiot and performed its title track. In the end, however, Charles's album outdid the Bay Area punkers' by about 50,000 copies — a handy reminder that even a poppier strain of punk can't fully qualify as Grammy bait.

  • 2004 Album of the Year: OutKast, 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below'

    Andre 3000 (at microphone) and Big Boi of OutKast accept the Grammy for Album of the Year at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards. i i

    Andre 3000 (at microphone) and Big Boi of OutKast accept the Grammy for Album of the Year at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards. Frank Micelotta/Getty Images hide caption

    itoggle caption Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
    Andre 3000 (at microphone) and Big Boi of OutKast accept the Grammy for Album of the Year at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards.

    Andre 3000 (at microphone) and Big Boi of OutKast accept the Grammy for Album of the Year at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards.

    Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 275,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 147%
    Cumulative sales since release: 5,713,000

    This double-album by Atlanta's finest rap duo ranks as perhaps the most contemporary Album of the Year winner in history. That's not just "contemporary" in the sense of its up-to-the-minute hip-hop sound or the fact that NARAS actually rewarded an act at its peak. No, at the moment OutKast won the big Grammy, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was less than five months old and right in the middle of generating radio hits. Its back-to-back No. 1 singles on Billboard's Hot 100, the André 3000–fronted "Hey Ya!" and the Big Boi–driven "The Way You Move," had just left the pop summit a month earlier; the album's future Top 10 hit, "Roses," was weeks away from dropping. Having already sold four million copies and topped the album chart for seven weeks, SB/TLB didn't need much chart help from the Grammys — yet it found 275,000 new fans that week, many of them likely charmed by the cuddly pop/rock stylings of "Hey Ya!"

  • 2003 Album of the Year: Norah Jones, 'Come Away with Me'

    Norah Jones poses with her five Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist at the 45th Annual Grammy Awards. i i
    Scott Gries/Getty Images
    Norah Jones poses with her five Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist at the 45th Annual Grammy Awards.
    Scott Gries/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 621,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 331%
    Cumulative sales since release: 10,908,000

    Back when Adele Adkins was an unknown girl of 14 (not yet 19, let alone 21), the 23-year-old Norah Jones was NARAS's Grammy-sweeping queen. How much did the sultry Blue Note recording artist benefit from Grammy love? So much that her album topped the charts the week it got nominated by NARAS, before Jones had even won anything. (Nominations rarely have that big a sales effect.) Come Away with Me had already been on the charts nearly a year before reaching the summit, making inroads at adult-contemporary radio and quietly racking up more than three million in sales. Jones went into Grammy night with the same number of nominations as Avril Lavigne and Ashanti — but unlike those ladies, Jones finished the night with five actual statues, taking every category she was up for (the album generated eight Grammys total, including awards for its producer, engineer and a songwriter). The week after her sweep, Come Away more than quadrupled in sales; Jones's one-week gain of 477,000 copies set a Soundscan-era record, one that held until Adele's 2012 win and subsequent 493,000-unit uptick. One last Norah–Adele connection: In 2005, after three years of steady sales, Come Away was certified diamond, for 10 million in sales --the last album to earn that certification for seven years; in late 2012, Adele's 21 reached the diamond mark, matching Jones's feat.

  • 2002 Album of the Year: 'O Brother, Where Art Thou' Soundtrack

    Gillan Welch (left), Emmylou Harris (center), and Alison Krauss with The Soggy Bottom Boys perform songs from the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards. i i
    Kevin Winter/Getty Images
    Gillan Welch (left), Emmylou Harris (center), and Alison Krauss with The Soggy Bottom Boys perform songs from the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards.
    Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 209,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 259%
    Cumulative sales since release: 7,780,000

    The slow-burn album of the decade, this T-Bone Burnett–helmed collection of dustbowl-era Americana and bluegrass standards went into Grammy night having already long outlasted the late-2000 Coen Brothers film it soundtracked. With no radio airplay, not even at country radio, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack had already shifted four million copies, selling to heartlanders and urban public-radio types in roughly equal measure. Its commercial expectations already wildly exceeded, O Brother then, improbably, (a) won the big Grammy (defeating albums by Bob Dylan and U2), and (b) got even bigger. The week after the 2002 telecast, the album nearly tripled in weekly sales. Two weeks after the show, O Brother finally reached No. 1 on the album chart, in its 63rd chart week — one of the slowest climbs to the summit in chart history. Since that Grammy night 11 years ago, the album has roughly doubled its cumulative sales total, continuing to sell to music lovers who probably don't recall that the disc ever had anything to do with George Clooney's mustache.

  • 2001 Album of the Year: Steely Dan, 'Two Against Nature'

    Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan accept the award for Album of the Year at The 43rd Annual Grammy Awards. i i
    Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
    Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan accept the award for Album of the Year at The 43rd Annual Grammy Awards.
    Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

    Post-award weekly sales total: 32,000
    Post-award sales bounce: 747%
    Cumulative sales since release: 1,067,000

    Generally regarded as Exhibit A for the perennial Grammy theme of "awarded past their prime" (see also Eric Clapton's 1993 win for Unplugged), this largely forgotten Steely Dan album was destined to appeal to a small, devoted fan base. The album was gold going into Grammy night, so its eventual platinum sales — the Dan's best-seller since 1980's Gaucho and a comeback after two decades of near-inactivity — must be regarded as a quiet victory. So, too, was the huge percentage jump of Two Against Nature's sales the week after the Grammy broadcast — but a move from 4,000 the week before the show to 32,000 the week after was still a modest result. Donald Fagen's and Walter Becker's declining to perform on the show likely didn't help. The bigger irony: The week Two Against Nature returned to the charts at No. 54, it ranked about 20 notches lower than the major album Steely Dan defeated, Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP. To this day, this is how Dan's Grammy-winner is remembered — as the safe alternative to Eminem, then the subject of pre-show protests for his homophobia and general lewdness. Doubly ironic, given that the Steely Dan album's first single, "Cousin Dupree," was a sardonic ode to incest.

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