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Year after year the Grammys roll around and year after year they play out pretty much the way most people would expect. I know, I know, the Grammys are played out and your favorite artist isn’t a sheep like the others; but if you think for a second they don’t care about winning a Grammy then you a mothaf****n’ lie. Hate it or love it, it’s still the single most important awards show in the industry, but you are right about one thing. The show has been showing it’s age horribly, and instead of being the industry leaders and recognizing the acts that are truly impacting the culture, they’ve looked like the old, horribly out of touch mechanisms of the machine they’ve always been accused of being. For too long they’ve dropped the ball on recognizing what’s really going on in music, and this year they’ve decided to take steps to try to finally address this. 

The Chance effect

A major reason for this sudden move to act was due to the incredible year Chance the Rapper had. Coloring Book was a huge success with both critics and fans alike, and was sure to be a shoe in for a Grammy nomination, but there was one problem. Chance gave Coloring Book away for free and only placed it on streaming services; effectively disqualifying it from nominations, once again exposing just how out of touch the Grammys were. That rule had long been outdated and streaming was no longer the monster looming over the horizon, it’s right here, right now, and it’s quickly becoming the dominant way to consume music. Think about this, most kids from this generation will never own a single CD in their life (let that sink in for a second). Facing ever increasing pressure to recognize Coloring Book (including from Chance himself) the Grammys finally decided to amend their rules, allowing albums only offered through streaming services, albeit paid ones (sorry Souncloud), to finally be recognized at the Grammys.

It was a huge win for Chance, and one he bested mere months later by winning not one, but two Grammys for both Best New Artist and Best Rap Album. Without a doubt it was a monumental moment for Chance, and the biggest of his career thus far, but maybe even more importantly it was a massive victory for independent artists, streaming services, and it added even more pressure to traditional record labels already struggling to keep up with this ever evolving landscape.

Open up the floodgates

Every year there seems to be a new unknown who puts out a “street tape” that ends up lighting up the airwaves but never getting the respect and recognition it deserved from the establishment. For Chance the Rapper and all other artists who’ve chosen to go the independent route, these Grammy wins were even more added validation to their independence and to the streaming services it was the equivalent of striking oil. They’ve essentially already been stepping into the role as publishers and with their seemingly last barrier being torn down, expect to see more and more artists opting to go fully independent. For streaming services the message is clear; leave your labels, keep your masters, keep more money, and you’ll still get your Grammys.

The question now for the labels is “How can they keep artists from jumping ship?”, and sadly the answer will most likely be that they can’t. Outside of meager management deals they don’t have a ton left to offer artists, especially ones already established. Admittedly, the death bell has already been rung on them on more than one occasion, but it’s hard for me to see them overcoming this one. In the end it won’t be one massive hit that’ll be their downfall, but a death by a thousand cuts. The traditional label is all but dead now and don’t be surprised when artists start doing direct contracts with these streaming services.

“I know that people think that independence means you do it by yourself, but independence means freedom.”

But I’m not sad and neither should be any true music fan. You should be ecstatic at the thought of your favorite artists gaining their creative freedom and removing the shackles of corporate expectations because as Chance so aptly put it, “…people think that independence means you do it by yourself, but independence means freedom.” Freedom to create, freedom to express, freedom to bring their true musical visions to life. Now whether that’s a good thing or not is yet to be seen, but one thing’s for sure, there’s some wild times ahead.

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