Lots of upsets, life-size Jim Henson Co. puppets and a giant egg carrying Lady Gaga were enough to drive the Grammy Awards to its largest audience in more than a decade. Sunday night's biggest winner, however, might be an act that didn't even take home a trophy.
The U.K. folk-rock band Mumford & Sons, which went 0-2 in its nominated categories but performed with Bob Dylan, has already seen a huge boost in digital sales. Nielsen SoundScan tracks sales through Sunday evening, meaning the full effect of the Grammys on retail won't be evident for another week, but the growing importance of the digital retail sector can provide an early indicator. Mumford & Sons' U.S. label, Glassnote Entertainment, reports that through Sunday night, the group's debut, "Sigh No More," had sold 31,000 copies at Apple's iTunes store alone, and it is currently No. 1 on the both the iTunes and Amazon digital album charts. In the week leading up to the Grammys, Mumford & Sons totaled 25,000 in sales, a number that included all digital outlets as well as physical stores.
The single the band performed on Sunday's telecast, "The Cave," was at No. 8 on iTunes' top-selling digital singles as of Monday afternoon. Before the start of the CBS broadcast, the song was at No. 108, said Jenna LoMonaco, Glassnote's head of new media. Going into Grammy week, "Sigh No More" had sold a total of 766,000 copies in the U.S. in its 46 weeks of release, a slow-building and consistent-selling success story.
"What's significant is that this was just a performance," LoMonaco said. "They didn't win the two awards, but the performance swayed people. So, rather than basing any opinions on what voters thought, these are fans."
As albums continue to decline at a more-than-double-digit pace — sales are down 14% in 2011 compared to 2010 — the Grammys are increasingly looked to for providing a major sales boost.
About 26.6 million people tuned in to the music industry's biggest awards show to see the Arcade Fire, Lady Antebellum and jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding score surprise wins. That's a 2.5% increase over last year's program and the largest audience since the 2000 show, which drew 27.8 million viewers. In the key 18-to-49 demographic, the program had its strongest ratings since 2004.
The numbers are indicative of the appeal of live events. Awards shows, particularly music ones, have had a renaissance as of late. Some credit social networking and sites such as Twitter, which allow viewers the ability to share thoughts and critiques while the program is happening, as a factor in driving interest in live shows.
The show was not entirely glitch-free. Although CBS did a good job of catching most of the obscenities that flew out of the mouths of some performers, a couple bad words seemed to have slipped through. Given recent wins by the broadcast industry in court over the Federal Communications Commission's enforcement of its so-called fleeting expletive rules, the network may not have too much to worry about.
In the four years leading up to 2009, SoundScan reported that week-over-week post-Grammy sales increases grew from 10% to 17%.
"Maybe more so than five or 10 years ago, the Grammys mix up the type of artists on the show," said Nielsen Entertainment president Eric Weinberg.
Eric Garland, chief executive of research firm Big Champagne, did not have sales numbers, but he said the company's preliminary data from iTunes reported huge sales gains for country act Lady Antebellum, album of the year winner the Arcade Fire and best new artist winner Spalding. Apple's iTunes store, the largest retail outlet in the U.S., does not release sales information.
Though the Grammys are often criticized for being a popularity contest, the telecast still has the power to act as a music discovery tool. While hardly an unknown, Herbie Hancock's 2007 Verve album "River: The Joni Letter" had been playing to die-hards prior to the Grammys, having sold just 61,000 copies heading into the telecast. After winning album of the year, the album saw a post-Grammy sales jump of 54,000 copies.
In that sense, the Grammys can do wonders in raising the profile of a relative unknown such as Spalding. Her "Chamber Music Society" had sold 31,000 copies to date, and had been nestled in the top 10 at iTunes and Amazon since the show ended.
However, Garland warned against looking to the Web and social networks as a predictor of sales success.
"The gap between momentary attention and fan engagement has never been more apparent," Garland said. "The biggest stars in the sky — Gaga, Bieber, Rihanna — dominated the Web chatter. But the real winners were those who stood to gain the most: the Arcade Fire and Spalding, with huge percent sales gains."