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The business of the blues isn’t what it once was

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Robert Cray, the blues singer, guitarist and songwriter has been part of the nation’s soundtrack for 40 years. He’s just released a new album, “4 nights of 40 years live.” It looks back on his career. But how viable is the blues genre in 2015? The business of the blues isn’t what it once was.  

“You can hear and see the progression that’s taken place over the years,” said Cray, a five-time Grammy winner.

Cray said it’s tough to find blues on the radio these days, and the internet has changed things for all types of music. “The people today who listen to the blues are the same type of people who search out that kind of music, and then realize how much they enjoy it,” Cray said.

The numbers show the decline in the blues audience. In 2012, according to Nielsen and Billboard’s music industry report, 3 million digital blues tracks were sold, compared to 323 million rock digital tracks. Nielsen’s 2014 year-end music report doesn’t even mention the blues, because it’s such a small genre.

“Blues right now has some serious challenges,” said Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. He’s a blues historian and the author of “The Best of the Blues: The 101 Essential Blues Albums” and “The Big Book of Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia.”   

The way people consume music now is a challenge for blues artists, because the people who get their music through streaming services, for example, don’t develop a commitment and relationship with the genre, Santelli said. “It’s in danger of becoming a historic music form,” he said.

Cray said  he’s fortunate that he’s been established for some time now, and he he has a lot of different audiences that make touring possible. But, Cray added: “It’s not the same as it was in the ’80s.”

Both Cray and Santelli think the blues will survive into the future. Cray believes upcoming artists will be inspired by the past, and Santelli hopes some young people will get the  music and support it.

“It’s too important to become just purely historic,” Santelli said.

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