Decade
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2010s-What Happened

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SALES DIED

Remember when we were arguing about the cost of cuts on iTunes and whether Apple could sell individual tracks or had to sell the whole album? Funny how the battles of yesterday are meaningless today. Of course, I’m talking about file sales, but if you want to talk physical…CDs are great earners, but de minimis in sales numbers. As for vinyl…the statistics are all wrong. They’re using a suggested retail price when digital is net. Turns out people want to own things. And if you have something cut analog and are playing it on an expensive stereo system, more power to you, but if the album was recorded digitally and transferred to analog and you’re playing it on a cheap system, the joke is on you.

STREAMING TRIUMPHED

Music has it figured out, we live in an on-demand culture. The movie business still can’t square with the digital age. As for those bitching about streaming, they were the same ones bitching about files, about Napster. The past is never coming back. And in the past, the key was to get a record deal, and then you could live off the tit of the record company. So numerous acts with few sales survived, the company hoping for a breakthrough. Today, record deals are not so rich, and mainly only in hip-hop and pop, and you live or die on your streaming numbers, i.e. demand, and what we found out is that many acts who were loved by the press and tastemakers were not so loved by the public. Furthermore, tastemakers became irrelevant, critics don’t matter, it’s all about word of mouth. And everything is available and you get paid as long as people keep listening. So, in a business where everybody sells their rights it’s best not to, best to hang in there for the payments that will keep you alive down the road.

MAJOR LABELS

The center will not hold. Major labels will decline in market share. You don’t need them for distribution and as far as their marketing efforts… Will TV and press make a difference? As for radio, unless you’re hip-hop or pop, it’s essentially irrelevant. So you’ve got Glassnote shifting distribution to AWAL, you’ve got a lot of wannabe rappers and pop stars trying to get signed, but everybody else, who can actually play, has given up on getting a record deal, they’re focused on building an audience, primarily on the road.

VIRAL VIDEOS DIED

You can only exhibit the trick once. One Radiohead “In Rainbows,” one PSY “Gangnam Style.” The public can smell a rat, if it’s not organic, they want nothing to do with it. And just like Guitar Hero and Rock Band before it, TikTok will fade as a way of breaking artists. Once everybody knows about it, the early adopters are on to something else, as the johnny-come-latelies try to monetize what is evaporating.

MATURITY


The more mature something becomes, the more there is consolidation. Usually, this is the end of the paradigm. We’ve got Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Amazon…and Microsoft, and if you try to compete with them you’re either put out of business or bought. Same deal if you’re a concert promoter. But the consolidation in major labels provides opportunities for outsiders. Watch this space.

CLASSIC ROCK

The biggest audience at the highest price. Most acts today are evanescent. Classic rock had the benefit of careers, built over albums, that the public savored. Now it’s flavor of the moment.

CREDIBILITY

Forgotten, anybody with any traction is looking to sell out. Credibility bonds you to your audience, otherwise you’re just a mercenary.

TECHNOLOGY

There’s nothing wrong with electronic music, sampling, but history tells us there’s always a return to basics. Funny how the biggest act in the world plays alone and writes songs you can sing along with, i.e. Ed Sheeran. But just like no one is cloning the Adele paradigm, no one is cloning the Ed Sheeran paradigm. It’s just too hard. Adele paid her dues. Ed Sheeran walked into the wilderness and starved before he made it, after a ton of hard work and opening for Taylor Swift. No one wants to put that kind of hard work in today, at least no one in music, which is the land of the unskilled with no portfolio. As for labels, they want it quick, the execs want their bonuses. A backlash will come, eventually.

NO ONE IS THAT BIG

Just like we all read and believe different news, we all listen to different acts. You’d be surprised how many people are ignorant of Drake, never mind Post Malone and the other streaming giants.


MEDIA AND LABELS ARE TRYING TO MAINTAIN THE OLD PARADIGM, ALONG WITH RADIO

That’s right, there’s a monoculture, of top hits, played on the radio, and they who control radio ultimately win the game, proving what a dumb business music is. Terrestrial radio keeps releasing data saying kids are listening and you can’t find a kid who is. Terrestrial radio is network television…a hobbled medium trying to appeal to everybody that is losing its grip on the public, surpassed by more innovative products. But since the labels can’t figure out the special sauce of word of mouth, they rely on radio.

MUSIC IS AS TRIBAL AS THE COUNTRY

In the aughts, we all partook of the smorgasbord, people were fans of everything, but today there’s much less cross-interest. Don’t expect any classic acts to suddenly be embraced by the kids. We are in uncharted territory, where we will end up is unclear, but young people today don’t care about music history, they care about themselves, in a world where they’re bombarded by messages.

TELEVISION IS IRRELEVANT

Only SNL and CBS “Sunday Morning” can move the needle. Late night gets a ton of ink but few viewers. At best those shows create viral moments. But, interestingly, Jimmy Fallon focuses on entertainment and his ratings sink, and Stephen Colbert focuses on politics and he wins the ratings race. Don’t be afraid to be dangerous. That which questions authority, reveals untruths, has credibility, speaks to a core and not everyone, triumphs.

PLAYLISTS DID NOT DELIVER ON THEIR PROMISE

Music discovery is broken, and no one wants to fix it because it doesn’t pay. If you’re listening to playlists, you’re probably not a fan. A fan knows what to listen to…well, they used to, now they oftentimes just listen to the same damn thing.

SKIPPING


It’s nearly impossible to get someone to stay involved if they don’t want to. You’ve got to hook them. The concept of repetition driving acceptance…very little gets repetition.

WINNER TAKE ALL

The music business proved this, but in the future it’s going to lead the charge out of this. That’s right, turns out everybody doesn’t want to be on the same page, people are proud of the niche they inhabit, like the vinyl cabal. And media has no way to quantify this so there are no reports. We are going to see a broadening of the types of music people listen to in quantity.

HIP-HOP

The only musical medium in touch with today. Rock is still lost in the last century, country is still controlled by white men who think they matter. Ergo, hip-hop dominates. Hip-hop gave it away for free. Hip-hop delivered multiple releases. Hip-hop focused on features. Hip-hop let anybody play, creating excitement. Meanwhile, a woman can’t get on country radio, nor can outlaws. As for rock, talk about a backwater, they’ve lost the formula, the classics could sing, there was melody, today’s rock is so far from the garden as to be laughable.

LATIN

Ignored because the white men in control don’t understand it. But the public flocks to it when they hear it. Furthermore, there is a huge Latin population eager for music. Latin will only grow.

CONCLUSION

The 2010s were all about cementing the change in the music business. Acts are built on the internet and streaming dominates. Once again, those who don’t accept this are doomed. But now that the infrastructure is in place, the focus is on software, i.e. music, and this is where there’s lack of innovation. No one wants to take a risk. The labels or the makers. It’s too much effort to push the ball uphill. But those who are anti the present ethos, who go their own way and don’t put money first, will start to shine, and that will change the business once again. This is a business where one style comes along and kills what dominated before, just like Seattle killed the hair bands. Now, with terrestrial radio so ineffective and dominance out the window, opportunity arises for new sounds. Let’s be clear, there will be acts that develop on the road. And then there will be acts that develop via recordings, online. You have to ask which one you are, because the development process is different. Road dogs need to work 250 nights a year minimum, leveraging their fanbase for growth. Recording stars have to lock themselves up in the studio and experiment until they get it right. As for collaboration…we’re looking for the vision of one, not music constructed by committee, which is judged by the labels, tweaked by remixers before it is released to the public. One person and their guitar, or their piano, speaking their truth from the heart, that never goes away. But in an era where it’s all about the cash, that’s not the path people are taking. People want safety, and there’s safety in numbers, but musical breakthroughs are always made by incorruptible outsiders. From John Lennon to Kurt Cobain. It’s kinda like the internet in general, if everybody likes you, if you don’t offend, if you don’t have haters, then you’re not doing it correctly. Don’t bitch about the naysayers, embrace them, that means you count, that you’re on the right road, otherwise, they wouldn’t bother. Create a one listen hit. Or get out of the way and go on the road and hone your sound. And if you don’t fit either of these paradigms, give up, not everyone was made to be an artist. They call it “popular” music. If no one’s interested, if it’s not popular, it doesn’t count. That’s your goal, to make your music popular. And you can give up social media promotion completely, the hype is the least important part. Just keep posting your music and informing your fans, if you deliver, expect a conflagration.

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