The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which is hosting the 56th Grammy Awards show on Jan. 26, is known for making terrible decisions. In 1966 its voting members thought the best rock ’n’ roll recording was the novelty song Winchester Cathedral by the New Vaudeville Band, not the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby or the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations. Twenty years later they picked the charity singalong We Are the World for Record of the Year over Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. And in 2001 the rapper Sisqó was nominated for four awards for an album that included Thong Song.
But the show is good at one thing—selling music. “The Grammys are the biggest driver of sales increases,” says David Bakula, senior vice president of analytics at Nielsen Entertainment (NLSN). “It introduces unknown artists to people who aren’t traditional record buyers, and it can even relaunch albums that have already sold millions.” Over the past 10 years, the Grammys, which has appeared on CBS (CBS) since 1973, has averaged an audience of about 24 million, and the typical viewer is 42 years old. Musicians rarely have access to that many eyeballs, and the three-hour-plus broadcast packs in as many performances as possible, often pairing artists in ill-conceived duets, such as the time Elton John performed with Eminem, or when Taylor Swift went embarrassingly flat while singing Rhiannon with Stevie Nicks. The mash-up trend continues this year, with Stevie Wonder joining Daft Punk. Let’s hope Stevie won’t have to wear the helmet.
When Adele performed at the 2012 Grammys, her album, 21, had already sold 6 million copies and become the best-selling album of 2011. Yet the following week, 21’s sales jumped from 122,000 to 730,000—a 500 percent increase for a record that was already more than a year old. Less popular albums sometimes make even bigger leaps: Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell tribute album River hadn’t cracked the top half of the Billboard 200 before it won 2008’s Album of the Year. A week later, it jumped all the way to No. 5.
The Grammys aren’t the only awards show that helps its nominees. Edmund Helmer, a data analyst for Facebook (FB) who’s also a big movie fan, crunched box office revenues for Academy Award-winning films and found that they average a $3 million increase in ticket sales. Helmer says the Golden Globes have an even bigger effect, at $14 million per film, probably because people use them as an indication of what movies to see before the Academy Awards. But the windfall is almost entirely reserved for Best Picture winners. The Grammys, on the other hand, give even smaller, more obscure artists a bump. Last year the blues-rock band Alabama Shakes was nominated for three awards. It lost, but in the weeks afterward, its album Boys & Girls rose 14 chart positions to No. 6 on the Billboard 200.
Bakula at Nielsen says the largest sales jump this year will likely go to Lorde—the stage name of Ella Yelich-O’Connor—a 17-year-old singer from New Zealand whose song Royals has become millennials’ antibling anthem. The track was at No. 1 for nine weeks straight last year, but Lorde is not yet a household name among older adults. She’s up for several awards this year and is also performing. “She’s still going to be a bit of a discovery for people,” Bakula predicts.
Daniel Tures, a floor manager at Amoeba Music in Los Angeles, isn’t so sure. “Every year there’s one big performance that blows everyone away, but it’s hard to guess who it’ll be,” he says. Lorde’s a possibility, he concedes, but he’s betting on Sara Bareilles, a 34-year-old piano-playing pop singer who’s up for Album of the Year. She’s performing with Carole King during the show. “If she does it right,” Tures says, “she might be able to step into the Adele role this year.” Bareilles’s label, Epic Records (SNE), has its fingers crossed.