Let's Face It, Without Controversy, The Grammys -- and Probably The Music Business -- Would Be Done

No doubt about it. The Grammys are in trouble. Aside from an occasional moment of actual artistry here and there - like Annie Lennox's recent performance - over the past decade, the barely credible awards show that celebrates, what it claims, are music's best and brightest, has made it its mission to hype the same overly-processed/produced artists, singing the same overly-produced songs, and saying the same ridiculous things. If that's not enough proof the show's relevance is in a downward spiral, just look at the numbers.

Last Sunday's telecast of the annual awards show netted its lowest ratings in over six years, combined with a 10% drop in viewers in the all-important 18-49 demographic.

This shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone, except for maybe Kanye West, who happens to be one of the few interesting artists left in the decaying corpse that is today's music business.

And, God bless him. Without Kanye dissing Beck, without Chris Brown and Rhianna throwing down, without some dork crashing a Bob Dylan performance, without J-Lo showing up half-naked, who would care about an awards show for an entire industry that only promotes about 11 artists a year?

Simply Google "Kanye Beck Grammys" and you'll be able to peruse over 44 million posts. If that's not a great way to stay relevant these days, I don't know what is. But, obviously, it has nothing to do with music.

Yes, kids, this is what it looks like when the prophecy "Pop will eat itself" actually comes true. But, it's not just The Grammys that are in trouble, it's the entire music business.

This, also, should be no surprise to anyone over the age of 15, but even though we're well-entrenched in the iTunes generation, it's still pretty alarming to see a mega-successful artist like Meghan Trainor claim she's broke .

You couldn't go anywhere in the past year without hearing "All About That Bass," yet, in a recent interview, the outspoken Miss Trainor says she's hardly seen any returns. Nonetheless, the record industry keeps churning along blindly, handing out awards for "Best This" and "Best That", which is all well and good, but when no one knows what a record is anymore, what does it really mean?

For the lucky 5 or 6 artists that make it through the machine, it means a phone call from Clive Davis, or one of the other two remaining moguls, but, as the facts clearly show, this type of business model - if you can call it that - is akin to the dinosaurs eating everything they see while doing nothing to replenish the soil. We all know what happened to them.

Today's music buyer has an attention span of about five minutes. He/she downloads one or two songs by an artist and moves on, making it all but impossible for most artists or groups to build their brand. The other end of the process - the actual writing of a song - is just as constricted.

A friend of mine is a mega-successful songwriter/producer. He's written for the likes of Britney, J Lo, and many others and made millions from publishing. However, in the past 4-5 years, he's found it almost impossible to get anyone to work with him. This is due, in no small part, to the handful of mega-artists - who make up a huge chunk of what's left of music sales - circling the wagons and only working with the one or two writers/producers they know from way back when, leaving a lot of talented writers - even in the cheesy top 40 category - watching from the sidelines.

One of my Facebook friends posted a great quote the other day that sums up this whole mess quite nicely: "It took 68 people to make Beyonce's album. Beck did it all by himself."

Foo Fighter's mega-talented front-man Dave Grohl's recent Facebook post talking about how kids these days think that the way to become a musician is to wait on line with a thousand kids, go on television and sing a song for a few ego-maniacal judges, and, voila!, you've got yourself a career, is another good illustration of what the industry - and the art - has become. However, Dave misses one important distinction: Standing on line and singing for judges on T.V. is not how you become a musician, it's how you become a pop star, and, even more so today, they're two very different things.

It's easy to put the blame for the shambles the music industry as a whole currently finds itself in on the shoulders of the greedy corporate executives from years past. But, another major factor of the collapse of this once unstoppable machine that cannot be ignored has to be former president Clinton's signing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

This one action instantly removed all restrictions of media ownership - restrictions that would've provided the nation's treasury with an additional $70 billion in license fees - and allowed corporations like Clear Channel to gobble up as many television and radio stations, concert venues, promotion companies, media outlets, and ticket vendors it could get its greedy hands on. This move, accompanied by the simple trick of the same ownership using different names like Live Nation - to make it appear as f they are different entities, was/is arguably the single-greatest reason the music industry has lost 99% of its diversity.

Even a monkey could tell you allowing one or two giants to monopolize an entire industry, be it music, movies or even long distance telephone calls, all but stifles any hope of organic creativity and competition, yet, apparently our congressmen and women felt otherwise. What else is new? Sure, once in a while something slips through the pipes, but that's about as rare as an escape from Alcatraz.

So, how do we make things better? Obviously, there's no easy answer. But, seeing as how the days of "artist development" are pretty much gone forever, it's good to see nationally recognizable brands, like Restoration Hardware - a company that, in your wildest dreams, you'd never associate with music - stepping up and using its resources to help launch the careers of independent artists.

I guess the best we, and they, can hope for at this point is that, perhaps, along with the surprise of Gerardo winning Album of the Year, the 2016 Grammys will feature a few more real "musicians" in between the dance numbers. If not, there's always the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now, there's a group who know what they're doing.