With the recording industry under financial attack from many sides, one of the few ways for old acts to pique new interest is to be inducted into the hall of fame. So, each fall, managers and record labels dive into a mosh pit of monster egos, clashing tastes and rival interests in the industry, all in the hope of placing their artists among the royalty of rock. The 15 nominees for 2012 include The Cure, Donna Summer, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Guns N’ Roses.
Ballots are due on Sunday, and winners will be announced on Wednesday.
For the inductees, the reward can be enormous. Weekly record sales for a performer or band leap 40 to 60 percent, on average, in the weeks after selection, says David Bakula, a senior vice president at Nielsen SoundScan. While winning a Grammy often helps one album, a nod from Cleveland can lift an entire back catalog.
These days, labels and artists need all the help they can get. The music business is worth half of what it was 10 years ago, and the decline doesn’t look as if it will slow anytime soon. Total revenue from shipments of CDs, DVDs and other music products in the United States was $6.85 billion in 2010, according to the Recording Industry Association of America; in 2000, that figure topped $14 billion.
But the path to the hall of fame can be long and difficult. Controversy surrounds the selection process, which is shrouded in secrecy.
What is known is that a nominating committee of about 30 music critics, entertainment lawyers and recording executives winnows the field each year to 15 artists. Then another committee, this one of about 500 people, including past winners, selects five inductees. Artists can qualify for a spot 25 years after their first recording, which means that performers from the 1980s now have a chance to rank up there with Elvis. (The winners to be announced this week will be inducted at a ceremony next April.)
With fame and money at stake, it’s no surprise that a lot of backstage lobbying goes on. Why any particular act is chosen in any particular year is a mystery to performers as well as outsiders — and committee members say they want to keep it that way. The Bee Gees were passed over 11 times before being inducted in 1997; some fans and managers say the long wait reflected an anti-disco bias within the selection committees. And despite 27 studio albums and 45 years of touring, as well as a style that would influence many other artists, Alice Cooper was passed over 16 times before finally being inducted this year.
“When I wasn’t being nominated, I played it down all the time,” Mr. Cooper says. “But it really does make a big difference.”
He continues: “I used to think that when you got in, you’d understand how it worked, and how you get nominated — there would be a secret handshake, and there’d be a dossier about Area 51 and the president’s assassination.”
No such luck.
Rhino Records, which handles his back catalog, took advantage of his induction, however. It ran 30-second spots during the televised induction ceremony and made sure that Alice Cooper compilations, boxed sets and deluxe editions were available at Web sites and brick-and-mortar retailers. Mr. Cooper says the number of young people attending his concerts has jumped. So far this year, sales of his CDs, digital albums and other compilations are up significantly in the United States, to about 115,000 from 75,000 in all of 2010, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
THIS hall-of-fame effect is well established in the recording industry. For instance, sales of Bee Gees albums surged to 1.1 million in 1997, the year of the group’s induction, from 210,000 in 1996. Sales of Fleetwood Mac albums jumped to 3.2 million in 1998, when that band was inducted, from 483,000 in 1997, according to SoundScan.
In 2009, good news from Cleveland bolstered the career of Wanda Jackson, “the queen of rockabilly,” who gained fame in the mid-1950s and 60s. After Ms. Jackson was inducted, she collaborated on an album with Jack White of the White Stripes. Suddenly Ms. Jackson, who is now 74, was everywhere, opening for Adele’s 2011 tour and even rocking out, alongside Mr. White, on the “Late Show With David Letterman.”
“She had a phenomenal and, frankly, deserved refocus on her life and career,” says Joel Peresman, the president and chief executive of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. “I think we give some really deserved artists another chance at the spotlight.”
Their labels get another chance, too. The biggest gains come for artists who, along with managers and record labels, aggressively promote their hall-of-fame status in music magazines and online. Many also rush out or reissue boxed sets, greatest-hits albums and commemorative CD-DVD collections.
“Because of the increased awareness, there’s definitely an increase in sales across their catalogs,” says Jane Ventom, senior vice president for catalog marketing at EMI Music North America.
Bands that split up near the peak of their popularity and then get back together for the induction ceremonies can reap the biggest rewards, because fans often dream of a big reunion tour, à la the Eagles.
“With certain artists, it really gives them another bite at the apple,” Mr. Peresman says.