My thoughts on their Grammys win, after a full day of mulling over it.
First, I believe they deserved it based on musical merit, no question. I'm glad they won, and think it was the right choice. Not one bit of this post is arguing that they shouldn't have won, just why I think they didn't win for the reason they should have.
Album sales and popular influence, they were far out of their league, and "Album of the Year" never specifies that it is necessarily the best album musically. You could argue that highest selling, most well known, most influential album should be the album of the year, and I feel that's usually how the Grammys chooses to define it. So why did they go for musicality this year?
Because indie is where the music world is at right now. Choosing an indie artist just took an award show that no one I knew cared about and made it today's most talked about subject by "music kids." They chose one of "our" bands. I think the music industry has realized that it's not the pop music eaters but the "indie" and "alternative" music kids who matter. I use matter loosely as I don't really mean this as praise. I mean it as money.
Take Lady Gaga, who sold millions of albums this year and probably should have been the Grammy pick. Her record was heard by everyone with a radio and almost everyone with an internet connection, TV, or mp3 player has seen one of her videos. Her album took the music world by storm.
Take the average Lady Gaga fan: they'll spend maybe $150 on a ticket to see her once a year, and another $50 on merch and CDs. Give them another estimated $50 of music purchases over the course of the year and you have a $250 fan.
Now take the average Arcade Fire fan: $50 on merch/CDs, $50 on a ticket. That's $100 for Arcade Fire. But the kind of person listening to Arcade fire isn't just going to Arcade Fire shows. They're also going to music festivals (say $200 for the year, low end), buying at least a CD a month for assorted bands ($150 low end) and going to local indie shows ($15 x 25 a year = $375). Throw in a couple more $50 tickets to see their favorite touring acts, and you're quickly approaching $1000 a year in music, per person, based on low estimates.
I know these people. I'm one of them. I had a thought to add up my music spendings last year, and realized I spent over $300 in December alone. I got scared and stopped counting.
So why do I think the music industry gave Arcade Fire a Grammy? Not because they deserved it (which they did) but because they realized where the money's at right now. They're betting that there are fewer than 1 million $250 fans and more than 250,000 $1000 fans. They're just figuring out how to get at us. Fingers crossed that they'll never succeed and that the indie musicians will keep getting our money, not the labels and executives.