The Muse of the Grammys

In a creative industry, what pattern of artistic influences increases the likelihood that an artist will produce innovative products? This research examines all major artists in popular music between 1951 and 2008, their unique historic network of artistic influences, and their innovation achievements in the Popular Music Industry.  The research applies network analysis to the social structure of the industry to see: do artists who create innovative products occupy unique structural positions in the complete network of artistic influences?

Artistic influences are the set of recognized social predecessors in a Creative Industry who are credited for prior achievements in a Creative Industry. The creative influences of artists in a Creative Industry can and do vary widely, but they are particularly interesting because artists openly recognize and celebrate their influences—the raw material from which they attempt to fashion industry-changing innovations. For example, The Beatles report they were strongly influenced by Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison who, respectively, were influenced by Elvis Presley, The Clovers, Hank Williams, and Hank Ballard.  Influence networks of this type, for each artist, can be assembled and traced back to before the creation of recognized innovation achievements in the industry to determine what patterns of influences are most productive for fashioning innovative products.  We examine each artist’s structural pattern of artistic influences as idiosyncratic resources from which they may develop new music.

The popular music industry is of interest for research in entrepreneurship because it is a rich environment to explore the evolution of an industry, because musical innovations can be tracked, and because social networks are an important element in how innovations are assembled and diffused.  Each artist is embedded in, and therefore occupies a unique position in, the historical/longitudinal network of musical influences. As such, one can study artists as a type of entrepreneur that looks to bring change to an industry by exploring and exploiting new combinations of resources.

Our dependent variable is number of Grammy Awards won, the industry’s standard of an artist’s innovativeness. Grammy Awards are not bestowed based on an artist’s album sales or chart performance.  Rather, the Grammy Foundation states that Grammy Awards are “the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency, and overall excellence in the recording industry”. We find that musicians with structural holes (disconnects) in their influences network—those who are brokers between otherwise disconnected artists—are most likely to create innovative products as measured by Grammy-winning.

Artistic Ties and Popular Music

Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial firms in Creative Industries—such as music, film, publishing, software and design—commonly develop innovations and generate new wealth by exploiting resources in their professional and personal networks.

Relatedly, if one looks to the Popular Music Industry, artists responsible for major innovations have often combined new technologies, new group members and fused different musical styles to fashion new musical experiences (e.g., The Beatles, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, and Herbie Hancock). More broadly, in Creative Industries, loose personal and professional affiliations are a treasure chest for locating critical talent, for sourcing funding for risky new ventures and for assembling teams to commercialize and industry-shaping innovation.

Social contacts, or one’s position in a social network, may enable or constrain access to critical resources needed for basic operation, growth and innovation. Critical resources obtained though social contacts may include financial resources, such as funds needed to develop a technical innovation, or social capital, such as important social contacts needed to assemble or distribute an innovation. From this perspective, social ties—and particularly resources obtainable in the external environment—are what shape the survival and innovation capacity of certain industry players. A chief point in this theoretical perspective is that one’s position in a social network may enable or constrain strategic actions by an industry entrepreneur.

Networks should have advantages in recognizing entrepreneurial opportunities and fashioning innovations because they sit at the nexus of unique information. Specifically, those artists who are connected to other network actors—where those network actors are otherwise unconnected—can exploit unique information flows and perceive entrepreneurial opportunities that only partially present themselves to others (who, by contrast, have inferior access to unique information by virtue of their network positions).  In specific terms, a structural hole is an absence of ties (or hole) between network peers from the perspective of a focal actor. Structural holes may occur within networks at all levels of analysis, but here we explicitly consider the individual level of analysis. A growing body of networks research suggests that brokerage across structural holes is favorable for initiating innovations. Therefore, examining musicians in the music industry, we posit:

Hypothesis 1: The structural pattern of artistic influences for innovators will be different than non-innovators.

Hypothesis 2: Artists with structural holes in their influence networks will be more likely to create innovative products.  

The context we are studying is particularly interesting because structural holes do not occur within a close, small group of industry participants. Moreover, the underlying social ties we examine are not direct in nature. Few artists maintain relationships with all of their direct and indirect artistic influences.  Rather, we analyze the impact of different structural positions of direct and indirect influences on an artist’s likelihood of creating innovative products.

The Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards are presented annually for outstanding achievements in the music industry. Since the awards were established in the 1950’s, nearly 8,000 Grammy awards have been bestowed. We chose this measure of an artist’s ability to create innovative products because it is measurable; because it is the industry’s standard for artistic innovation; and because, as noted, Grammy Awards are bestowed unrelated to the financial or chart performance of an artist.


The data come from, whose database is the platform for both America Online’s and Yahoo! Music’s e-commerce website. The archive provides data including each artist’s name, discographies, and most importantly, lists of artistic influences. In total, there are 14,000+ “influenced by” ties for nearly one thousand artists. This data allows for a seamless and complete network picture of all major artists in the industry and their artistic influences over the past six decades. Figure 2 provides a network visualization showing the artistic influences among the most influential musicians in the industry (those cited most as artistic influences to all the other musicians in the industry).

For this study, we built the complete network of artistic influences and measured the network positions associated with each artist. Based on each artist’s structural position in the network, we calculated each artist’s structural holes in addition to other common structural network variables including the number of times a musician occupies the shortest average path between other musicians based on their position in the network and the number of musicians citing an artist as an influence.  Because the following controls could also influence the number of Grammies won, we included in our model: the number of decades an artist produced music as well as the number of years they were deemed active, whether the artist is a solo artist or a group, the total number of albums created, the total number of Top 10 albums created, the number of labels signed onto, and the total number of genres played.  We also examined whether or not artists created in new markets in the first year of their existence (market pioneers vs. non-pioneers), arguably a separate potential measure of artistic innovation.


Initially, relationships between variables were examined by whether the artist won a Grammy award and whether the artist was a pioneer of a new market.  Market pioneers (those creating music into new markets during their first year of existence) have almost six times the mean number of Top 10 albums (7.9 for market pioneers vs. 1.6 for others) and almost double the overall mean number of albums (24.8 vs. 14.9, respectively).  For artists with at least one Grammy award, the results are more modest with five times the mean number of Top 10 albums (5.0 vs. .9) and almost 30% more albums overall (19.7 vs. 14.0).

Not surprisingly, the number of decades an artist produces music, the number of albums produced by an artist, the number of other musicians influenced by the artist, and pioneering a new market have a strong positive relationship to the number of Grammy’s won.  Interestingly, solo artists win more Grammies than group artists. Somewhat surprising is that having multiple record labels and performing in multiple styles have a negative impact on the number of Grammy awards won.

Consistent with Hypothesis 1, those winning the most Grammy awards are peripherally not centrally, located in the complete network of influences. Consistent with Hypothesis 2, artists with more structural holes, or low network constraint, win more Grammy awards.

Collectively, the findings about the negative association with centrality and the positive association with structural holes suggest brokerage among artistic influences is a better predictor of Grammy winning than occupying a central position in the influences network. This is true even considering the span across six decades of direct and indirect artistic influences. In particular, structural disconnects across artistic influences increases the probability of winning multiple Grammies.

Implications and Value 

This research draws attention to the unique social nature of innovative product creation. Despite the widespread stereotype of the socially isolated, tortured artist, our findings suggest that innovators likely fuse together several different creative influences versus fashioning innovations from an absence of influences. As with our other research on new market pioneering in the music industry, these findings de-emphasize the importance of one’s individual talent versus one’s idiosyncratic pattern of artistic influences in creating innovation.

One’s position in a network should impact one’s ability to create innovative products, particularly if one has superior access to resources that other’s do not. Here, access is meant in a creative or inspirational sense where all musicians have artistic influences, but only some have certain structural patterns among their influences and occupy certain unique structural positions in the complete network of influences. Being influenced by structurally-separated artists, appears to be an especially efficient way to access the disparate resources from which to fashion innovative music.

This research may suggest that music recording companies, such as BMG, Sony Music or Universal, might examine their aggregate artist portfolio positions in influence networks to maximize the probability of creating innovative products in the future. Such an inquiry might suggest which music-recording companies are strongly, or weakly, positioned for future industry evolution.

Future research examining networks in Creative Industries should examine how artist positions in networks impact commercial success, which often differs dramatically from what is regarded as innovation. While there are artists in creative industries that are regarded for creating commercially-successful innovations, a common outcome is innovation without commercial success or commercial success without innovation. Clearly, research on creative industries needs to examine both market and financial outcomes in relation to these questions.  This research presents the opportunity to disentangle the importance of individual talent—which is so commonly viewed as a primary driver of innovation—and the importance of idiosyncratic influences on innovation.

The three authors are professors at Babson College, MA. For a full version of the paper see Noyes, Erik; Allen, Elaine; and Parise, Salvatore (2010) “Artistic Influences And Innovation In The Popular Music Industry,” Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research, Vol. 30: Iss. 15,Article 3. Available at:

By Erik Noyes, Elaine Allen, and Salvatore Parise



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