The Grammy Museum
The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE in Downtown Los Angeles is a project of the Recording Academy, the pre-eminent association of people and institutions responsible for the creation of recorded music, and the organization which presents the annual GRAMMY awards recognizing excellence in recorded music.
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office or online.
Time Needed: Three hours to all day depending on your level of interest and how long you want to stand. 90 minutes if you're just hitting a few highlights.
Metro: Blue Line to Pico Station (2.5 blocks); Red, Purple or Blue Line to 7th Street Station (3.5 blocks).
Parking: There is no dedicated parking for the GRAMMY Museum, but there are many parking lots surrounding L.A. Live with prices from $3 to $35, depending on location and events going on. Even during events, you can usually find $5 parking within 2 blocks or so of L.A. Live. Check losangeles.bestparking.com to compare rates at surrounding lots and garages (rates may not be up to date, but close).
Address: Although the address is on Olympic, the entrance is on Figueroa, just north of the Farm of Beverly Hills restaurant. The Box Office is on the front of the building. An elevator in the lobby takes you to the 4th floor to begin your exploration of the GRAMMY Museum and you work your way down from there. Most of the content it on the 3rd and 4th floors.
800 W Olympic Blvd (entrance on Figueroa)
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Why You Should Go
The GRAMMY Museum is a great resource for music lovers, despite some serious design flaws. Exhibits take you through the history of music, musical genres and the GRAMMYs, as well as the technologies involved in recording and mixing music. Interactive activities let you play with instruments and mixing technology.
If you are not interested in music, where it comes from, how it evolved and how it goes from concept to your Mp3 player, this probably isn't the best museum for you.
If you're a music lover, or even someone who wants a better appreciation of music, the content of the GRAMMY Museum is awesome, and I would recommend going because there is some really good stuff to see and hear. The presentation is somewhat dysfunctional, which is very frustrating because it could easily be so much better.
When I asked staff how long I should allow to visit the museum, I was told 90 minutes, so I arrived 3 hours before closing, just to be on the safe side. I spent so long on the 4th floor that I didn't have a lot of time to spend on the 3rd floor and three hours wasn't enough. If there were seats at the interactive history and technology exhibits, I could easily have stayed all day and still not seen and heard all the content.
There is no printed map, so orient yourself before you go to make sure you have time to see whatever is most important to you.
You enter the GRAMMY Museum on the first floor, but there are no exhibits on this level. An elevator in the lobby takes you to the 4th floor to begin your exploration of the GRAMMY Museum and you work your way down from there. Most of the content it on the 3rd and 4th floors.
4th Floor Exhibits - History of American Music and Songwriters Hall
It's a little disorienting arriving on the 4th floor because it's not really clear which way to go. You're in a small gallery with examples of GRAMMY awards, showing the changes in design over the years. The entrance to the main galleries is behind the GRAMMY Museum sign, flanked by red neon suits worn by Daft Punk at the 50th GRAMMY Awards.
The Crossroads exhibit is a long touch-screen table where music genres are moving around like stars in a constellation. As you grab the ones that interest you, you can see and hear how one genre influenced and was influenced by others. This turned out to be one of my favorite exhibits, where I learned about musical genres I had never heard of, like Stride, and its connection to Ragtime.
The Music Epicenters exhibit lets you choose points on a map and moments in time to see pivotal moments in the development of American music, from 1800s pioneer music to a TV show mixing music of different races in 1950s Cleveland to the first professional recording studio in Los Angeles.
The Culture Shock exhibit takes you through the intersection of music and socio-political change over the last half-century.
Similarly, Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom traces 200 years of the influence of music on politics.
In the middle of the main 4th-floor exhibit gallery are five themed pods with video and artifacts for the traditions of pop, folk, sacred, classical, and jazz music. Unfortunately, all the videos are always running, so it's very distracting.
The most recent permanent addition to the 4th Floor is the Songwriters Hall of Fame Gallery, which has original handwritten lyrics, a Songwriters Hall of Fame interactive database you can browse, another constantly running video panel and the pièce de résistance, six interactive stations where you can collaborate on writing a song with a famous songwriter. While the latter is brilliant in concept, the implementation is pretty useless and doesn't take advantage of any advanced technology. Even if the software allowed better interactivity, it is an exercise in futility to try to focus on Hal David's words with Dionne Warwick blasting a different song on the video screen behind you. On day three of the exhibit being open, two of the stations were out of order.
Finally on the 4th Floor is additional space for temporary exhibits.
3rd Floor Exhibits - Making Music, the Recording Industry and the GRAMMYs
There is more stuff to play with on the 3rd floor. There are drum kits and congas to beat on that make noise into a headset, and guitars you can't actually play that act as an interesting control panel for experimenting with guitar pedal effects. A DJ mix box lets you create your own remix. There are microphones, keyboards and mixing equipment to experiment with if you happen to know the song that is scrolling by on the screen when you pass and can figure out what to do without any instructions.
Since the GRAMMY's are all about recorded music, In The Studio, looks at what it takes to get from the song to the recorded product.
Inside listening booths, some of the recording industry's best sound engineers take you through the process of mixing and editing music. Touchscreens allow you to experiment with how different effects change the sound in real time.
Other related exhibits focus on Studio Musicians, Record Men, and the recording studios themselves.
Also on the 3rd floor, you'll find everything Grammy, from the history and timeline of the GRAMMYs and how the winners are chosen, to red carpet outfits and GRAMMY performer memorabilia. There are individual showcases on GRAMMY winners Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond and Miles Davis. One wall is dedicated to the charitable work of the Recording Academy.
Footage from historic GRAMMY telecasts screen is a small theater area where you can actually sit down. The final exhibit on the 3rd floor is a gallery dedicated to the Latin GRAMMYs.
2nd Floor - Clive Davis Theater, Museum Programs, Special Exhibits
On the 2nd Floor of the GRAMMY Museum, is the 200-seat Clive Davis Theater, where musical programs are held. There is also a gift shop and space for temporary exhibits.
The GRAMMY Museum program series includes interviews with music legends punctuated by their (generally unplugged) musical performances. Images and videos from past programs can be found in their archives online.
An escalator takes you back down to the exit on the first floor.
The GRAMMY Walk of Fame
If you don't make it inside the GRAMMY Museum, you can still get a little GRAMMY history from the Recording Academy's GRAMMY Walk of Fame on the pavement outside at L.A. LIVE. One commemorative disc for each year of the GRAMMY Awards recognizes the winners of the big four categories (Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Artist of the Year, and Album of the Year) from 1958 through 2008 when the GRAMMY Museum opened. The disc marking the historic 50th telecast in 2008 is just outside the doors of The GRAMMY Museum.
Room for Improvement - It Could Be So Much Better!
I'll admit that I am spoiled, having visited some of the best museums in the world, but the designers of the GRAMMY Museum really didn't do their homework as far as state-of-the-art exhibit technology for musical content. It's true that most visitors will not have visited as many museums around the world as I have, and may not realize how much better the GRAMMY Museum could be. Even if I didn't know what was possible technologically, there are two areas, which they could easily fix, that make the GRAMMY Museum less than visitor-friendly.
First, rather than making the many video panels user activated, so they would only play when someone is there to watch, they loop, so they are all running at once. There is a constant cacophony that turns award-winning music and stories into annoying noise. Even if you're the only person in the gallery, everything is running at once on the exposed video panels. There are many exhibits with headphones, where you can navigate the content with touch screens, but the headphones don't shut out the constant noise from the big-screen video displays.
In some areas there are "listening booths," but they don't block sound in either direction, so there is a jumble of sound coming from them as well, and when you're in one, you can still hear everything else going on.
There is no volume control on the headsets or other audio components and the sound levels are set for rockers who have gone deaf listening to loud music. I still hear quite well, so had to hold the headphones away from my ears to listen most of the time. This is especially dangerous for kids, and I suggest they actually measure the decibel levels rather than using any individual's hearing to set the volume, or better yet, get sound-blocking headsets with adjustable volume on the headset.
Staff admitted that is the most frequent complaint they hear.
The second issue that would be easy to fix, is that despite having hours of content in some of the interactive exhibits on the 4th floor, there is nowhere to sit. The exhibits seem designed to rush you through, not stay and appreciate what they have so painstakingly created. Most museums with extensive audio and video content create kiosks where you can sit and watch or listen. Even art museums often give you a bench in the middle of the room to sit and appreciate the art.
Long rows of head-phoned listening stations allow many visitors to participate at once, so it wouldn't hurt to let people sit down and peruse the content. I could have spent much longer on the constellation of musical genres in the Crossroads exhibit and the history of music exhibit, but after standing in one spot for half an hour and hearing all the extraneous noise through the headphones, I had to move on. Fixed benches, or even a handful of movable stools, would make a world of difference.
The sub-par interactive technologies and software at the GRAMMY Museum would be much more expensive to rectify, but would greatly enhance the visitor experience if they did. The music content exhibits on the 4th floor are fine if they would just fix the noise problem and add benches, but the making music and some of the engineering components are lacking.
Gallagher & Associates, who designed the exhibits, should have paid a visit to Zeum in San Francisco and Trompo Mágico in Guadalajara, Mexico, which have two of the best hands-on music exhibits I've experienced. Both of those museums have exhibits where you can write music, play instruments and sing and record a song and take it home with you (more staffing required, but also an additional income stream).
The GRAMMY Museum, on the other hand, has activities that pretend to let you collaborate on a song or record and mix yourself into a recording, but really don't. I approached each activity thinking "this is so cool" and was invariably frustrated with the implementation. This is very disappointing for a tech-savvy audience that can have a more authentic experience at home playing Rock Band.
It also struck me as odd that all the record-yourself-singing activities were in open spaces, adding to the chaos of noise, and discouraging people who are a little shy, rather than inside one of the many listening booths. I could understand this if it was something like the American Idol Karaoke at Madame Tussauds, that benefits from an audience, but it doesn't make sense for emulating a studio setting.
As I mentioned in the 4th-floor exhibit description, the songwriting collaboration concept in the Songwriters Hall of Fame Gallery is brilliant. In 1995 the implementation might even have been state-of-the-art, but given what is technologically possible today, it's kind of lame.
Funding is always an issue for museums, so it would be nice if all those GRAMMY winners could donate some cash to implement more advanced interactive technology.
There isn't much. Beyond the lobby, where a staff person directed me to the elevator, there seemed to be a lone security person covering multiple floors. There were no other staff around who could answer questions about how things were supposed to work