10 Grammy Greats: The 2012 Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

2:46 PM 2/9/2012

by Shirley Halperin

With the music biz finally (cautiously) optimistic, THR takes a celebratory look at the performers and powers-that-be who will rock, roll and be honored on Feb. 12.

Dan Monick

The music business was built on the backs of rebels, from the teen who graduates from troublemaker to rock star to the independent thinker and savvy capitalist who turns passion into profits as a label head to the tech trailblazers who continually change the way we listen, buy and consume.

Today, there is no rule book, which is one reason why an artist like Adele can sell 6.2 million albums and have chart-topping songs on multiple formats: pop, urban, rock and beyond. The traditional two-year break between records? Gone, as the likes of Rihanna and Kanye West churn out the latest sounds while their last hit is still in heavy rotation. Looking to be a solo star? A cameo is your best bet: Just ask Nicki Minaj, who had nine last year on her way to fame and ended up selling 2 million albums on her own.

PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

Still, while 2011 posted the first year of positive music sales since 2004 (to the tune of 1.3 percent), whether that signified the start of a post-bottom rebound or an Adele-dominated fluke is being hotly debated as physical and digital album sales continue to decrease with song downloads not yet in the zone of making up the difference.

Everybody knows what's wrong with music these days, but for this special portfolio, the staff decided to pay homage to what's going right -- the innovators, the slow burners, the multihyphenates and the visionaries who, hopefully, won't screw it up for everyone else. THR raises its lighter to 10 Grammy nominees, who are making an impact right now.

Profiles written by Tim Appelo, Nisha Gopalan, Shirley Halperin, Steven Mirkin, Melinda Newman, Lacey Rose, Georg Szalai and Chris Willman

  • The Purists

    Dave Grohl and Butch Vig

    Dan Monick

    The Grammys shed 31 categories in April, but the Foo Fighters' Grohl has a suggestion for one they should add: "Best garage record. Wouldn't that be f--ing rad?" says the 43-year-old frontman. "Or best old-school album," offers producer of the year nominee Vig, 56. They're not entirely kidding, though it's doubtful they'd have much competition.

    That's because Wasting Light, the Foos' seventh album, was an all-analog production created by meticulously stitching together pieces of 2-inch tape, as was the usual practice until the mid-'90s, when digital recording became commonplace.

    "You have to be a little insane to make a record this way," says Vig, who also produced Nirvana's seminal 1991 album Nevermind. "And I've got all these young bands asking, 'Will you do records in analog now?' My answer is, 'Not unless you can play as good as the Foo Fighters!' " Weeks of preproduction and rehearsals in a top-of-the-line studio preceded four months spent in Grohl's garage in the San Fernando Valley, which offered the best of two worlds, allowing him to spend time with his wife and two daughters and make the band's most challenging -- and likely most gratifying -- album, the first to get a Grammy nom for album of the year (the Foos have six noms this year).

    Says Grohl: "To me, it's the greatest honor. It blew me away." Still, he adds a dose of modesty: "It's not rocket science. If you're semi-decent at an instrument and grew up with Beatles albums, make a f--ing record in your garage. You might get a Grammy nomination. It's not an impossibility."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Dan Monick on Jan. 31 at the Foo Fighters' recording studio in Northridge, Calif.

  • The Rap Consortium

    DJ Khaled and Catherine Brewton

    Peter Yang

    The first time Brewton, vp writer-publisher relations at BMI, heard Khaled's "I'm on One," nominated for best rap/sung collaboration, her reaction was instant: "I said to him, 'This is a monster hit.' "

    Brewton, who declines to give her age, has been in the Cash Money Records inner circle since its infancy and is a sounding board for its rappers. "She guides us to put out the best records," says Khaled, 30. "Records that will be licensed forever."

    To that end, the Miami native, who'll attend his first Grammys as a nominee, took 14 months to craft the perfect power-player rap anthem featuring vocals by Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne. Part of that time involved waiting for Drake's schedule to clear.

    "I wasn't taking 'no' for an answer," says Khaled, who doubles as Def Jam South president. After Drake laid down vocals in Toronto, Khaled nabbed Ross in New Orleans and Wayne in Miami. Propelled by twitchy synths and a hooky chorus, "I'm on One" has sold 1.5 million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and was soundtracked for sporting events, movies and video-game trailers.

    The result: Khaled has been in sponsorship talks with such deep-pocketed brands as Ciroc vodka and Nike and is expanding his management company and production team. His next musical conquest? "Eminem," says Khaled, now working on his next album, Kiss the Ring.

    He has been pursuing the elusive star for more than a year."Actually," he adds, "I might be close."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Peter Yang on Jan. 20 in New York City

  • The Survivor

    Glen Campbell

    Amanda Friedman

    Decades before Taylor Swift conquered the country and pop worlds, Campbell reigned over both. Just look back to the 1968 Grammy Awards: Campbell captured four trophies, including best country and Western male solo vocal performance for "Gentle on My Mind" and pop vocal performance for "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."

    Renowned for his supple voice and sterling guitar playing, Campbell, who has been married to wife Kim for 30 years, will receive the lifetime achievement award at the 2012 Grammys, commemorating his 50-plus years in show business, including as a member of the historic studio musicians collective dubbed The Wrecking Crew.

    The 75-year-old, whose life is being developed into a biopic by Walk the Line's producers, will perform on the Feb. 12 awards show, accompanied by The Band Perry and Blake Shelton. Although recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Campbell has extended his farewell tour into June and says playing continues to give him great joy, especially since three of his eight children have joined his band.

    "I love that I've got my kids there with me," he says. "They can really flat-out play." He also loves performing "all the Jimmy Webb things," he says, bursting into the Webb classic "Wichita Lineman," a top-5 pop hit for Campbell in 1968. "I like 'me, I' songs -- 'I feel, I think, I need, I want,' " he says. "That's what grabs a person."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Amanda Friedman on Feb. 2 at his Malibu home

  • The Double Threat

    Steve Martin

    Pamela Littky

    When it comes to the banjo, Martin takes pride in his 47 years of practice. "I'm way, way better now," says the San Francisco street musician-turned-comedian-turned-movie star, who in 1965 would play for eight hours a day then hit the clubs. In fact, banjo was a crucial part of his early stand-up act.

    "What I was doing in comedy was so abstract, I thought it was good to have something in the show that looked hard," says Martin, 66, who won back-to-back Grammys for best comedy album in the late '70s.

    The instrument's lonesomeness drew him in: "I'm still enchanted with the sound. I find it a very moody, melancholy instrument." The music industry appreciated the pairing, too, nominating Martin's Rare Bird Alert with Steep Canyon Rangers -- whom he met by chance at a party in North Carolina -- for a best bluegrass album Grammy.

    Included on the collection: a bluegrass version of his 1978 SNL classic "King Tut." Says Martin: "When most actors turn to music, it's for some other reason -- to be like a rock 'n' roll star.

    I wanted audiences to know that we're actually doing a show. A funny show with serious music." So does he feel guilty sharing the Grammy limelight with lifelong musicians such as Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley? "Uh … no," he says. "I've worked hard, too."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Pamela Littky on Jan. 30 at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Amphitheatre at TreePeople's headquarters in Coldwater Canyon Park

  • The Country Rookies

    Reid Perry, Kimberly Perry, Scott Borchetta and Neil Perry

    Amanda Friedman

    When the band Perry rode into Nashville unsigned and bearing its breakthrough song, "If I Die Young," most of the music executives they met with understood its smash potential -- even if no one was brash enough to correctly predict it would go triple-platinum.

    So why did the high-spirited sibling trio from Mobile, Ala., choose Scott Borchetta, head of the Big Machine label group? "It's his hair," says Neil Perry, 21. "He has hair like he could be in The Band Perry." There were other, less follicular factors, of course.

    "One night we were driving down Music Row after being in the studio," says Kimberly Perry, 28 (brother Reid is 23), "and the Big Machine lights were the only ones still on, with people working inside. That work ethic is huge because we like to think of ourselves as a blue-collar, hardworking country band."

    But a family band? And were they really going to keep that name? "People tend to look at [precedent] and say, 'What's wrong with this?'" says Borchetta, 49. "We try to look at what's right with this and what people could fall in love with. When we signed Taylor Swift, people said: 'You're signing a 15-year-old female country artist? Good luck!' "

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Amanda Friedman on Jan. 28 in the House of Blues Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas

  • The Supernova Songwriter

    Scooter Braun, Diane Warren and Donald De Line

    Brigitte Sire

    With several dozen trophies lining Warren's Hollywood office, you'd think she'd be jaded about awards, especially given the more quantifiable kudos of having been partly responsible for sales of more than a half-billion albums in a three-decade career (40 million of Michael Bolton's alone) on the back of some 100 Top 10 hits.

    But one of the best-selling songwriters of all time still is thrilled to have two compositions up for Grammys this year -- "Born to Be Somebody" from the Justin Bieber concert doc Never Say Never and Cher's "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" from Burlesque -- even if they are competing against each other.

    So what has Warren, 55, so jazzed on this go-round? The age difference between the singers, she says: "Fifty years!" Not that the spread had much impact on her process. While she couldn't imagine Cher performing Bieber's ballad or Bieber taking on the brassiness of "Last," Warren's first impulse is to find the "emotional truth" and build from there.

    Says Braun, 30, Bieber's manager: "We get letters from kids all the time, but one in particular was from a girl who said 'Born to Be Somebody' stopped her from killing herself; Diane's words made her believe in herself."

    Burlesque producer De Line, who declines to give his age, concurs: "You know you're going to get a great pop song with a beautiful melody, but Diane also finds the heart of the moment."

    For Warren, heart is what's missing in much of today's music -- except for one particular artist. "Look at Adele," she says. "She's sold millions. Why? She's got a great voice, but she's real and people can connect with her -- something no amount of production or hype can do."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Brigitte Sire on Jan. 20 at Warren's Realsongs office in Hollywood

  • The Traditionalists

    Joel McNeely and Seth MacFarlane

    Smallz + Raskind

    Ask Family Guy creator MacFarlane, 38, what winning a Grammy for his big-band album would mean, and he's ready with a quip: "It would mean that everyone from Tony Bennett to Barbra Streisand to Susan Boyle has passed away prior to the ceremony."

    Indeed, he acknowledges that many are scratching their heads over Music Is Better Than Words, his musical debut, up for two awards. (His Family Guy song "Christmastime Is Killing Us" scored a nom as well.) But his composer McNeely, 52, whose credits range from American Dad to Disney's Tinker Bell, insists MacFarlane is more knowledgeable about traditional pop (for which the album was nominated) than anyone he's ever known.

    "It's a little freaky," McNeely says of MacFarlane's ability to tick off details about virtually any classic song, including the recording year, studio and players. "He has a genuine love for this music." MacFarlane's goal is for others to find they do, too. "If there's any service that we're doing with this album and the shows," adds MacFarlane, "it is to expose the public -- certainly the younger part -- to the sound of a live orchestra."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Smallz + Raskind on Jan. 21 at Capitol Studios in Hollywood

  • The Hitmaker

    Ryan Tedder

    Mark Leibowitz

    "I'm turning into the Susan Lucci of music awards shows," says Tedder, the songwriter, producer and frontman for the band OneRepublic, who has seen more than his share of Grammy noms -- six since 2009 -- without a win. He's up for producer of the year this time.

    "I genuinely feel honored, especially in the company I'm with," says the 32-year-old Tulsa, Okla., native, who's being recognized for his work with Adele and Beyonce, among others. (The competition: the Smeezingtons, of Bruno Mars fame; Paul Epworth, who produced Adele's "Rolling in the Deep"; Butch Vig; and Danger Mouse.) "But I'm not writing any acceptance speeches."

    Good thing he's a multi-hyphenate with several careers to fall back on, including hit songwriter and rock star. Says Tedder: "My wife probably wishes I just picked one, but I tell you what: Having the multiple outlets for creativity definitely keeps me in school and off drugs."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Mark Leibowitz on Jan. 24 at Park City Live in Park City

  • The Indie Darlings

    Jeff Tweedy and Tony Margherita

    Joe pugliese

    "What is this, Band Manager Fancy?" Wilco's singer, Tweedy, ribs his longtime adviser Margherita midprimp. Playfully, of course, since these two go back 24 years, to the days when they worked at a St. Louis record store (Margherita was the boss, Tweedy a clerk) with nary a concept of Grammys, gold plaques or sold-out tours.

    Yet today, after two major-label deals (following stints at Reprise and Nonesuch, the band went fully indie in 2011, partnering with Anti Records for its Grammy-nominated The Whole Love), one documentary (2002's I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, in part chronicling the injustices of said labels) and 3.1 million albums sold, the nature of their relationship hasn't changed all that much.

    They're all about "talking on a daily basis, 90 percent of the time about shit that doesn't have anything to do with what we're supposed to be talking about," Tweedy, 44, cracks. Adds Margherita, 52, "There's an amount of trust and faith that makes it easier to do the job."

    They must be on to something because Wilco, formed from the ashes of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo in 1994, is having one of its best years yet, with Love ranked on nearly 80 Best of 2011 lists and a best rock album Grammy nomination, for which Tweedy makes no apologies. "We won," he declares.

    "I'm not just talking about us, but indie rock and smart-people music. I'm proud that it's reached a broad audience, and I think it's OK to go to something like the Grammys and represent."

    And while Tweedy acknowledges that a red carpet logjammed with the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry does feel like a "different universe," he sees Wilco's place clearly: "It's more like you're infiltrating or interloping, that's how I look at it."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Joe Pugliese on Jan. 24 at The Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood

  • The Crooner and His Backup

    Tony Bennett and Danny Bennett

    Matt Jones

    How do you keep an 85-year-old icon's career fresh and relevant? The secret, according to Tony -- whose son Danny has been his manager for 33 years -- is a balance of pure, old-school music, new collaborators and social media. That's partly how Duets II, released Sept. 20, shot straight to the top of the Billboard 200 with 179,000 copies sold during its first week, marking Bennett's first No. 1 album and making him the oldest living artist to debut in the top spot.

    He's nominated for best pop/duo group performance for the Duets II track "Body and Soul," a collaboration with Amy Winehouse. The original Duets, conceived by Danny to reintroduce his father's hits to a new audience, and also Grammy-nominated, sold 1.7 million copies thanks to big-ticket collaborators such as Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand.

    The sequel paired the crooner with next-gen names including Winehouse, Lady Gaga and Michael Buble. "It was very easy to get the artists to agree to the project," says Danny. "People like Gaga and Winehouse grew up with him and knew him." With digital accounting for 14 percent of Duets II's sales, well above the share for its predecessor, Danny can say with pride that his dad's fans cover the demographic spectrum.

    "Tony is ageless, and what he does transcends -- it's about reinvention without changing the music," says the younger Bennett, 58, who, to inquiring minds, professes, "Tony and I always get along" and says he studied the Beatles' tactics to learn about marketing. "We never think about how many records he'll sell --- only about the sound." The music legend says he likes technology, but Auto-Tune doesn't enter his universe.

    "A record is about trying to capture a true performance," says Tony. But while he usually needs only one to three takes and forgoes earphones in the studio, Tony does have a gadget jones. "He won't go anywhere without his iPad," says Danny.

    Tony has held fireside chats with fans from his art studio via Skype -- and he totally gets the monster power of social media. "Lady Gaga kissed me on the cheek at the end of the recording date, and she hit the Twitter, and all of her [18.5 million] fans got that photograph," he says. "It was amazing."

    PHOTOS: 10 Grammy Nominees Making Waves in the Industry

    Photographed by Matt Jones on Jan. 25 at Jack Studios in New York City

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