Top Grammy contenders find grassroots strength in streaming

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Iggy Azalea (C) performs ''Beg for It'' during the 42nd American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California in this November 23, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The old-fashioned radio still reigns as
consumers’ top source for finding new music, but at Sunday’s Grammy
Awards, online streaming might show itself to be the fast track to
industry recognition.

With the likes of record-of-the-year nominees Iggy Azalea and Meghan
Trainor breaking out on YouTube and streaming services such as Spotify,
this year’s Grammys could be a celebration for one of music’s few
growing segments.

Among the nominees for this year’s top awards –
song, record and album of the year – only British soul singer Sam Smith
and R&B artist Pharrell Williams had a hit that placed among the top
10 radio songs in total plays in 2014, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

“I
don’t think anyone who is voting thinks that the Grammys happen in a
world where streaming doesn’t exist,” said William Gruger, the
social/streaming chart manager at Billboard.

The online success of
Azalea’s rap hit “Fancy” with singer Charli XCX and Trainor’s ode to
full-figured women “All About that Bass” underscore the power that
streaming – and its young-skewing consumers – have in elevating a song’s
profile at the grassroots.

Such is the promise of streaming that Apple bought headphone maker Beats for $3 billion last year, in part for its curated music service.

Grammy
voters, however, are supposed to cast their ballots only on artistic
merit, said Neil Portnow, the president of the National Academy of
Recording Arts and Sciences, which hands out the awards.

“The fact
that music is available to consumers via streaming and via download or
via traditional product, that doesn’t have anything to do with the
awards process itself,” Portnow said. “There isn’t anything about
streaming that relates directly to how those awards are given.”

STREAMING DIVIDES INDUSTRY

But
falling album sales and digital song downloads have elevated
streaming’s prominence within the industry. In December, Billboard and
data compiler Nielsen SoundScan revamped the weekly album chart to
include online streaming.

Services such as Spotify, Beats and Google’s YouTube helped propel on-demand music streams to 55 percent growth in 2014.

“The
industry is paying more attention to it especially when Billboard is
changing their charts,” said Lyndsey Parker, editor of Yahoo Music.

Azalea’s “Fancy” was the top song on Spotify in 2014 while its video racked up 440 million views on YouTube in under a year.

“‘Fancy’
blew up because people were streaming that song like crazy … it’s
good for discovery and elevating the profiles of new artists,” Parker
added.

Trainor’s “Bass” has been streamed 569 million times on
YouTube. By contrast, John Legend’s “All of Me” was last year’s top
radio song with 816,000 plays.

But streaming still faces an uphill
climb among the industry’s establishment, which is unhappy with the way
and amount of money services such as Spotify compensate for the art.

Megastar
Taylor Swift, a song and record of the year nominee, notably pulled all
her music from Spotify and streaming sites in November prior to the
release of top-selling album “1989.”

Spotify, which boasts 60
million active users, says about 70 percent of its revenue goes to
record labels and publishers, which then have their own separate
agreements with artists.

“If a streaming service bases its
business on the music that it plays, one would think there has to be a
way where the people who write, perform and own that music can be fairly
compensated for the work they do,” Portnow said.

“I don’t think we are there yet,” he added, “and I think there is a long way to go.”

(Editing by Ken Wills)

 | Reuters

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