What's in a Grammy?

TOM CARDY
Last updated 08:51 15/02/2013
Gotye and Kimbra

WINNING: Gotye and Kimbra pose with the awards they won for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for Somebody That I Used to Know.

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Kimbra's double win at the Grammy Awards this week capped off an eventful two years for the pop star. But how big an impact can a Grammy have on a music career?

"We're coming close to our fame/They'll put a star beside our names," sings Kimbra on her song Two Way Street released last year.

After winning Grammy Awards for record of the year and best pop duo/group this week with Australian musician Gotye, Kimbra's lyrics now sound eerily prophetic.

But how much impact can a Grammy win have on a Kiwi's career? Does it mean increased sales, bigger audiences at shows and a bigger profile?

Kimbra is one of at least 10 Grammy wins for New Zealand, the earliest includes Dame Kiri Te Kanawa for The Marriage of Figaro in 1984. It has also included Wellington-based composers Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement in 2008 and The Lord of the Rings screenwriter Fran Walsh in 2005 for the lyrics to Into the West.

English-born Jon Mark and Thelma Burchell, who set up their own record label White Cloud in Wellington 20 years ago, won a Grammy in the world music category in 2004 for recording and producing Sacred Tibetan Chant: The Monks of Sherab Ling Monastery.

Burchell, now based in Auckland, says the initial nomination came as a complete surprise to the two. The album had been submitted by the American office of recording company Naxos, which had a distribution deal with White Cloud.

"We had no idea, right to the last minute when it was shortlisted and it was pretty much too late for us to go [to the ceremony]" says Burchell. "Even then we thought there's no point as [popular Cuban ensemble] Buena Vista Social Club were also listed. We thought those guys would get it. So we were absolutely amazed."

But Burchell says the Grammy win didn't have a big impact on their career and only "very slightly" increased sales "for a very short while" of the recording.

Burchell says this was more to do with the time, their circumstances and the award category. The impact may have otherwise been different.

She says she and Mark - whose career began in the 60s playing with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull and John Mayall - at the time were winding down from recording ethnic music.

"I think perhaps if we were younger - and it is actually quite hard to develop styles of music in New Zealand anyway. Everything's become electronic now with downloads and everything. That was happening at the same time."

Burchell says the Grammy win had a much bigger impact on the Sherab Ling Monastery monks in Tibet whom they recorded. A monastery representative was able to attend the awards ceremony.

"For them it was a really big deal and that was lovely."

The award was also important in other ways, she says. For her, it was recognition for Mark's long career as a musician and producer. Mark, based in Rotorua, in recent years has had to reduce his music work due to illness.

Ultimately, says Burchell, winning a Grammy matters.

"We felt gratified. The category we won in meant more for the performer than it did for the producer. If it had been in the pop category for example that would make a significant difference, or The Lord of the Rings. You can see how that gives significant credibility to that particular thing."

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McKenzie and Clement were in Wellington when they learned of their 2008 win for best comedy album for EP The Distant Future.

"It is amazingly flattering, just because of the many great people that have won it, and great people were up for it this year," Clement said at the time. "It's a great day for New Zealand musical comedy," said McKenzie.

While a direct link between increased recording sales and the duo's Grammy win may be difficult to quantify, it doesn't appear to have hurt.

By the end of 2008 The Distant Future was the sixth biggest selling comedy album in the United States, according to Billboard.

Flight of the Conchords' self-titled album, released in April in 2008, debuted at No 3 on the US charts and sold 52,000 copies in its first week - the New Zealand equivalent of more than three times platinum sales. It was the second biggest selling comedy album that year.

Those sales numbers mean the US remains one of the most financially lucrative markets for Kiwi musicians, but it's also the hardest to crack.

Kimbra singing on Gotye's Someone that I Used to Know, the biggest selling single in the US last year, was likely to have been a big factor in the big US sales for her own recordings.

Her debut album Vows got as high as No 14 in the US charts last year - a significant feat for any Kiwi artist - selling 22,000 copies in its first week. She had also sold at least 25,000 copies of her EP Settle Down.

Phil Howling, general manager of Kimbra's label Warner Music New Zealand, says the Grammy wins will make a difference, including increased sales and a bigger live audience.

"This will open all kinds of doors... From a profile position, everyone in the music world now knows who she is. It will definitely increase awareness of her own material. Who would not want to see a two time grammy award winner perform? This achievement is truly the icing on the cake.”

- The Dominion Post

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