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What Does A GRAMMY Nomination Actually Mean?

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While many operating in and around the music business may question the real value of being nominated for a GRAMMY these days, many industry veterans such as Sammy Hagar, Cage The Elephant, and Tori Kelly still feel that such a nomination can do a lot of good for one's career.

Guest Post by Steve Baltin on Medium

On December 7, GRAMMY nominations for the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 15, 2016 will be unveiled. Despite the continuing slew of predictions that lead up to the announcement, the only thing we can be certain of for nomination day is we will see, hear and read a ton of interviews where one phrase is repeated over and over: “It’s an honor to be nominated.” We spoke to a wide berth of people, including musicians, a producer and an engineer to figure out just how much impact a GRAMMY nomination really has and some of the very surprising ways a GRAMMY can help an artist.

Veteran rocker Sammy Hagar won for the now-defunct Best Hard Rock Performance category at the 34th Annual GRAMMY Awards while fronting Van Halen, and while he and his band mates didn’t make the ceremony, he does believe that everyone is indeed flattered to be up for a GRAMMY.

James Hetfield, Sammy Hagar, Ozzy Osbourne, and Kirk Hammett arrive at Clive Davis and The Recording Academy’s Pre-GRAMMY Gala on Jan. 25 2014 in Beverly Hills (Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com)

“I think any artist, whether they say it or not, digs the recognition and digs the fact they might be up for one,” he says. “I don’t care if you’re Pearl Jam or Neil Young and these guys that are anti it, when they see their name saying they’re nominated or they just won an award you get a little tingle.”

Getting a little tingle and the respect of your peers is an honor and thrill, no question. And a nomination is, as Hagar calls it, “A great thing on your resume.”

Beyond giving a tingle and a resume boost, what does a GRAMMY nomination really mean though? Does a nomination mean more work, more credibility, higher sales, a longer career? Guaranteed work is a big perk, as is a prime slot on a packed bill. Cage The Elephant’s Matt Shultz says that was one of the benefits his band enjoyed from their 2015 nomination for Best Alternative Album for Melophobia. According to Shultz, people heard the record in a different light after it was GRAMMY nominated.

“It definitely opened up some doors for us and created opportunities that maybe weren’t there before. Even for some people who hadn’t quite seen the album in its right light yet, I think maybe they revisited it and changed their opinions on the record,” he says. “Everyone wants to have good billing at a festival and I think that’s where GRAMMY nominations and GRAMMY wins help the most for a band like ourselves.”

Both Shultz and 58th GRAMMY nominee hopeful Tori Kelly say that having GRAMMY on your resume is impressive. Though Shultz says it’s less about the GRAMMY title and more what it says about an artist’s work ethic and ambition.

“It makes a lot of sense that possibly producers and engineers and people of that sort would see an artist who had a GRAMMY nomination and be eager to work with them,” he says. “It takes a certain type of person and a lot of hard work to get to that place of a GRAMMY nomination or a GRAMMY win, so people want to work with people who are gonna continue forward and hopefully be successful and make great art.”

As for Kelly she feels the same. “When I see the phrase GRAMMY nominated or GRAMMY winner in front of something it kind of makes you feel like this person is legit,” she says.

From an audience perspective, Kelly points to watching as a fan and getting turned on to a few artists. “I think of Esperanza [Spalding] for sure. I didn’t know who she was when she won, but I was super curious cause she actually performed that year too. So when she was up there with her stand-up bass I was like, ‘Oh, this girl is dope.’ I became a fan when she won that year,” Kelly says. “Even earlier on I remember watching Alicia Keys win a bunch one year, she was so new, so fresh, that was exciting to me.”

Emily Lazar, an engineer who has been nominated for her work with Foo Fighters on Wasting Light, agrees making it on to the televised portion does make a big impression. “I do think that the nominations for the few GRAMMY Awards that are televised — Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best New Artist — definitely deliver more impact as far as overall exposure is concerned,” she says.

As for those artists, like Keys, Norah Jones, in 2003, or the undisputed current queen of pop, Adele, who was unbeatable in 2012, Hagar believes that GRAMMY domination has a profound effect on an artist’s career. “If you come out of nowhere like Adele and makes a great record and gets that much attention on the GRAMMYs she’ll never be the same, that’s life fucking changing.”

Malay, the GRAMMY-winning producer best known for his work with Frank Ocean, received his first nod in 2008. That first nomination did have an impact he believes, but all of the nominations had a cumulative bearing on his career.

“It definitely was a snowball effect. I think the first nomination* was back for John Legend in 2008,” he says. “So from that point on, that was a nomination for one song in an obscure category, then fast forward to when I did all the Frank stuff, I was nominated in multiple categories. So between ’08 and when that record came out, I was still steady working, but since the Frank Ocean record everything I’ve done has been really solid.”

One major benefit Malay received from Ocean’s six nods in 2012, including in major categories Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year and Best New Artist, is more creative license and freedom. “I got right in with artists, so it took the credibility to another level, especially to a label wanting to trust you’ve already proven yourself and you can do something as a producer that’s going to be critically acclaimed, commercially acclaimed or whatever. So you have an opportunity to lock in with doing bigger projects as opposed to pitching songs or hoping someone cuts your songs,” he says.

Regardless of the final outcome or who ends up making it on the GRAMMY stage, history proves that when nominations are announced December 7, there will unquestionably be a bump for several artists, especially for any underdogs who haven’t yet achieved mainstream recognition, a la Spalding. Who knows, maybe we’ll even have a surprise comeback this year, as we did in 2008 when veteran Herbie Hancock scored an upset win for Album Of The Year at the 50th Annual GRAMMYs.

*Malay produced John Legend’s “Green Light,” which was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2008. This category nomination is for the performance of the song, not the production. Therefore, Malay’s first nomination came in 2012 for Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.

The Recording Academy will kick off the announcement of the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards nominations Monday, Dec. 7 live on CBS This Morning. Immediately following, at 8:30 a.m. ET, nominations across all 83 categories will be announced via press release and made available on GRAMMY.com.

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