How Much Money Is a Best Song Oscar Actually Worth? You'd Be Surprised.

Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone
4 min read
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How much is an Oscar worth?

Depending on how you define it, anywhere between $1 and $13.8 million. The single dollar is the price you have to set for the Academy of Motion Pictures Art Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences if you decide you want to sell your statuette. (The organization has the right of first refusal if you won it after 1950.) And the $13.8 million is the box-office bump a Best Picture winner can expect, according to a study released last year by IBISWorld, an industry and market research firm.

But a Best Song win has a smaller financial impact. Sure, sales of the music featured in last year’s Oscar telecast were up 184 percent after the telecast, according to Billboard, with the winner --“Glory,” the Common and John Legend gospel-rap mashup from Selma -- getting an 82 percent bump in sales. But a closer look at these numbers reveals something that can’t be fully explained away by the ever declining fortunes of the recorded music business: In the week after the Oscars, the soundtracks featuring the five nominees for best original song, plus the five nominated scores and the songs performed on the show (including sales of their parent soundtracks) sold 89,000 total units. By comparison, the American Music Awards accounted for some 452,000 downloads after its November telecast. Simply put, the music on the Oscars just doesn’t matter that much.

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The cultural relevance of the nominated songs has been in what can politely be termed a decline -- more impolitely, it’s fair to say it’s in the shitter -- for three solid decades. That’s around the time songs that lived in the pop mainstream gave way to Disney tunes. In the past ten years you can count on one hand the number of nominated songs (“Let It Go,” “Happy” and “Everything is Awesome”) that might inspire a flicker of recognition after the Oscar night ranch dip is gone and still have two fingers left over for that tear-jerking ballad “Falling Slowly,” from Once.

This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when the Oscar nominated songs defined their era. Sure, it was more than a half a century ago, but it happened: “Over the Rainbow,” “Swinging on a Star,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” as well as a whole bunch of now-classics that have nothing to do with heaven: “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “High Hopes,” “Call Me Irresponsible.”

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And it continued long after the 1960s: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from The Lady In Red in 1984 and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing in 1987 count as standards, of a sort. Since then, though, the Best Song Oscar has been put in a corner. Despite wins for hip-hop (Eminem, Three 6 Mafia) and rock icons doing anything but rock songs (Springsteen, Dylan), the Tin Pan Alley aesthetic has really never given way inside the Academy, which is why written-to-order songs from animated movies have won 30 percent of the time over the last 30 years, a trend culminating in 2011 when the only two noms were from The Muppet Movie and Rio. As you may or may not remember, that tear-jerking ballad “Man or Muppet” won.

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This year, Lady Gaga is the odds-on favorite, for “Till It Happens to You,” a Diane Warren penned song from The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus sexual assault. If it does win, it will basically put Gaga a Tony away from EGOT status. (She’s got the Golden Globe, and her HBO special won an Emmy for editing — though she herself missed on her two noms, why split hairs? She wears a lot of wigs as it is.) That’s the draw for musicians: whether it sells songs or not, an Oscar nomination or performance still has the power of prestige. So buckle up, Broadway — if things go right for her on Oscar night, Mother Monster may be coming your way. 

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