John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants loaned his to his parents. Adele rode hers to a 730,000-unit sales spike. Fiona Apple's producer and multi-instrumentalist Charley Drayton says it's the only award in music that matters. Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips says it's not whether you win it, but WHAT you win it for.
"It," naturally, is a Grammy Award. At 8 p.m. Sunday, we'll find out what 12,000 voters in the National Academy of Arts and Sciences think represents the best work of the year.
"As a young musician, I can only use my own personal experience," said NARAS President Neil Portnow, who began his career as many in the music business do--playing in a high-school garage band. "The thing that you strive for is being able to say, 'Hey, I've really made it, and I've been recognized at the highest level in terms of my work.'"
That it comes from your peers makes it even more meaningful, Portnow said last week in a call to his office in Santa Monica, Calif.
"It's the seal of approval from those folks," he said. "As much as one loves to be recognized by sales and chart positions, popularity, Tweets and all the other ways one might measure excellence, nothing comes close to a Grammy."
Drayton, who produced and played on Apple's Grammy-nominated "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do," might agree.
(By the way, the disc is nominated for best alternative album, not for longest title in the 55-year history of the awards; otherwise, the competition would be over before it starts.)
"To see a project like 'Idler Wheel' hit the street was the best feeling," said Drayton, who woke from a dream about playing with the late, great Sister Rosetta Tharpe to enter into an email question-and-answer exchange. "I think the Grammy nomination confirms in some way that people are listening."
Listening translates to buying, and that's a good thing, especially for an artist's bank account. A Billboard story after last year's Grammys noted that Adele's six wins--and her performance--triggered a one-week, 730,000 boost in sales of her album "21." That set a Nielsen SoundScan record for the biggest post-Grammy bump.
It's not like there's no competition. As Portnow pointed out, all members of the academy, not just major labels, can submit albums, songs and artists for consideration. In this burgeoning digital age of Garage Band and Pro Tools technology, that's a sizable number. This year, the academy received 17,500 entries, the most in its history.
"Almost half our entries come from our indie sector," he said.
"If you think how many entries would be in the selection process for nomination, and then to make the top five is another victory," Drayton wrote. "Win or not win, you don't lose. Everyone will sell a few downloads."
"There's lots of data on resultant sales bumps," said NARAS boss Portnow. "You're talking about staggering, MASSIVE percentages of increases, in some cases, four digits worth."
This is Drayton's first foray into the Grammy world as a producer, but he has performed on several winners.
"When I was a child, I would sometimes dream of winning a Grammy," he said. "Now, I dream for the quality of the music to improve again."
They Might Be Giants' Flansburgh doesn't necessarily see the Grammy as the end-all, be-all. The band begun by Flansburgh and John Linnell in New York back in 1982 has two Grammy Awards, one for their tune "Boss of Me," which became the theme song for the television show "Malcolm in the Middle," and one for their children's album, "Here Come the 123s."
"A Grammy means your mother finally understands what you're doing with your life," said Flansburgh, only half-jokingly.
"It's very flattering," he conceded. "You're very aware that the first thing a lot of people are going to say about you is that you're a Grammy winner."
But Flansburgh also sees the business side.
"On a professional level, it's easier for your booking agent to ask for more money," said Flansburgh, whose band plays the Beachland Ballroom on St. Patrick's Day.
"The odd thing is where to put it? Where do you put a Grammy in an apartment?" he asked. "It's kind of ostentatious, so for a long time, I gave my Grammy to my parents, and they had it in their house, where they could tell everybody 'Our son won a Grammy.'"
Drozd of the Flaming Lips, who are out on tour with Akron's own Grammy-nominated Black Keys, has a similar tale. The Lips have three Grammys, two for best rock instrumental performance--"Approaching Pavoni's Mons by Balloon" in 2003 and "The Wizard Turns On .¤.¤. " in 2007--and one for best engineered album, "At War With the Mystics," also in 2007.
The Black Keys--guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney--won three Grammys in 2011, were nominated for one last year and are up for five this year, Auerbach up for a sixth as producer of the year. They were not available for this story.
"A lot depends on what the Grammy IS," Drozd said. "If you're Alicia Keys and you're already selling [expletive]loads, you'll get a spike. For us, if you get a rock instrumental Grammy, it doesn't translate into huge sales.
"I think that especially for people who don't know anything about the Grammys, it's perceived as this wonderful, prestigious award," he said.
"Between you and me, I didn't care about it," Drozd said. "I was excited because my dad was floored that we won a Grammy because he was a musician. It was almost an Olympic medal."
Of course, there HAVE been up sides, even for Drozd.
"As far as real world changes, it puts you in a different category," said Drozd. It's how the Lips' "When Do You Realize" won the vote to become the official rock song of Oklahoma (the Lips got their start in the Sooner state). "It gives you this cachet you wouldn't otherwise have."
But Drozd still keeps his tongue firmly in his Lips when it comes to the popular perception of a Grammy.
"It's a guarantee of high quality," he said. "People think that, and we don't argue with them."