The start of another year: hangovers and food comas subsiding, resolutions broken, back to work. Lame. Looks like a good year in the music world is upon us though – here’s some thoughts on what to expect.
[NOTE: I just put this together by listening to rumblings from 2015, musings from musical friends, NME, some music blogs and a bit of Googling. I’m not a super seer, just a super keen music lover.]
DEATH OF THE ALBUM?
Has the meteoric rise of streaming services, the instant gratification of single song downloads and the ultimate combination of these in playlists confined the humble LP album to the history books?
The industry has been climbing towards this point over the last few years – BBC’s flagship and taste-making music supremo, George Ergatoudis, tweeted in 2014:
“Make no mistake. With very few exceptions, albums are edging closer to extinction. Playlists are the future.”
Though perhaps this doesn’t mean too much as last month he announced his departure from the BBC to work for Spotify.
It shows that the want for instant hits and the easy access of streaming for the general consumer is trumping the art form of the album. Rather than the conscious engagement with the canon of work in an LP, music has become pick-n-mix. There’s a downward spiral: commercially minded labels focus too heavily on singles to market records, even focusing on whether the first 20 seconds will grab the listener (…read buyer). Too much B-class material fills out rest of the album and the cycle is perpetuated as the end consumer just streams the singles and the album is forgotten. Will labels even bother with albums in the future, just using streaming and playlists to group together artists’ singles catalogue?
It’ll take an indie movement of real art fans and labels to turn the tide. Much like the sudden growth in craft beer, perhaps 2016 could see an explosion of united indie labels changing the game with a cohesive strategy that attracts discerning and engaged fans who smell authenticity. People who put on music not just for background, but to just sit down and listen to. People who enjoy the crafted journey of an album. People who buy vinyl.
VINYL & STREAMING
Vinyl sales have continued to soar in 2015 to a new 20 year high – so much so that the official chart company has created a specific vinyl chart. Vinyl is good for labels for the significantly higher markup, which is good for artists as it converts to strong royalties, which in turn recoups advances (assuming the royalty rates for vinyl are fair in an artist’s contract). Vinyl is also fast becoming one of the biggest profiteers for tour merchandise – the best way for hard working artists to break even on the road.
Vinyl is good for the consumer, let alone for the audiophile-level sound quality. It condenses music back to an art form – something to specifically enjoy as a leisure activity. Putting the record on the turntable. Placing the needle. Having to change sides. It’s an activity as well as a soundtrack: something for people to engage with. As lowest-common-denominator singles rule the streaming playlists, it’s no surprise the indulgence of vinyl is making a resurgence.
The music industry has always peaked and troughed – perhaps a spectrum with streaming at one end and vinyl the other will strike a balance for the coming year: good income for artists, cheap and easy access for punters. This could even lead to streaming services becoming a shop window – the advertising branch for labels. Place a shortened version of the album for streaming, but only physically manufacture full LPs on vinyl to sell. Could this be the balance for artists like Adele who have previously shunned streaming? Time will tell, but expect lots of development over 2016.
ONES TO WATCH
– Jack Garret: winner of the self-fulfilling prophecy Brits Critic’s Choice and favourite for the BBC Sound of 2016 poll. Previous artists who have won both in the same year: Sam Smith, Jessie J and Ellie Goulding. Electro-pop, infused with soul. And he has a big beard.
– AURORA: Light Norse synth electro-pop: some intimate vocal layers with elements of CHVRCHES and Florence & the Machine. 2015’s tear-jerker John Lewis Christmas ad was soundtracked by AURORA’s Oasis cover, her debut EP released on Decca earlier in the year to a warm reception.
– Billie Marten: another BBC poll longlister, it’s astonishing that Billie is only 16. Recently supporting Lucy Rose on tour, the young songstress’ delicate vocals and gentle folk sensibilities have already attracted ample radio play and support from Ed Sheeran.
– Sundara Karma: Indie guitar rock is back! Well… not quite, but it’d frankly be rude to not include at least one band. Reading teens Sundara Karma released several EPs last year with single ‘Loveblood’ racking up over a million Spotify streams. Featuring on Guardian music’s New Band of the Week in August, expect soul-searching (yet convicted) vocals and intelligently simple driving guitars from the quartet.
Maybe 2016 will be the year of the female solo artist?! Check out the BBC Sound of 2016 poll (link below) as they announce the run down and winner this week – always a sure fire bet to be big.
Looks like it’s shaping into a good year for music!