The music industry in 2021. A few insights…

Without out a huge preamble or some clever introduction about the sucky year that was 2020 and the hopefully less sucky year that 2021 could be, here are some fairly general and pretty specific thoughts about the music industry and some trends to watch for as we start the new year:

  1. The popularity of podcasts will continue to cannibalize music streams worldwide. What??? You say… Yes, Billboard reported that music streams went-up marginally while the number of new paying subscribers grew. The culprit? Podcasts and video games. Even in lockdown, we have seen that there are a finite number of hours a day that your average listener will stream music. Also, there has been a huge push by the streaming platforms to push listeners to podcasts (which are far cheaper for them) so, music people are turning to podcast people. Finally, I could write pages on the importance of video games and how their growth happened despite the pandemic. The future of entertainment are video games. The video gamers are going crazy during the lockdown.
  2. Artists will be releasing singles versus albums across the musical spectrum — not just pop or hip hop. This has been a trend in pop music and hip hop for some years. But now, we are seeing classical, jazz, new age and even country artists releasing singles instead of albums. The album isn’t going away. However, artists need to finally grasp that listeners don’t listen to albums anymore. They hear songs, mke a playlist and then share songs with friends. The idea of someone sitting down and spending an hour listening to an album is pretty much over — for now. “Albums” may come back at some point but the trend is definitely going the other way.
  3. The idea and the use of music genres will gasp its last breath, finally. I have been talking about this for years. I run a record company that does not use genre as a descriptor or as a marketing organizer. It has been wonderful. The problem has always been the “old guard” at radio who need to put music into clearly defined “boxes” that can be used to hang advertising on. Thankfully, this practice is disappearing. Radio now is about creating “experiences” with its content which is frequently streamed as a digital radio station which can cover many territories of the Earth versus being a local broadcaster.
  4. A few brave “legacy” bands will try to put on shows in 2021… However, COVID will continue to keep the live music business shut-down until at least the Spring of 2022. When things do come back; the stand-alone concert will be replaced by the music festival. Read or re-read my blog about life after Corona Virus. I described a situation where bands won’t be able to get insurance, be bonded or travel because they can’t get visas. A new factor here is that audiences want choices when it comes to the time they spend at a live show. Therefore, having three stages and 25 acts is better in this new world than a single band. There is also the whole spontaneous community that springs-up at a festival; the vendors selling a variety of big and little goods, the multiple food options and the drama of the many kinds of people who come together. Before the pandemic, I visited a music festival that had a huge tent for vendors, a dog show (not kidding), a flea market and more. This will be the new normal in the new world after COVID. It does mean that bands will have less opportunity to play but more opportunities to get in front of potential new fans.
  5. Interactive music concerts will be a thing, soon. I did just write that stand-alone concerts were going away. Perhaps, I should have said LIVE concerts are going away. During the pandemic, we saw two very interesting executions of “virtual” concerts using VR technology and state-of-the-art video techniques. Billie Eilish created “Where Do We Go? The Livestream” in October 2020. It was a very successful and critically acclaimed evening. Enormous animated creatures and chimeric landscapes whirled by around Eilish, her brother Finneas, and her drummer Andrew Marshall as they played into multiple roving cameras from a 60-by-24-foot stage; the trio’s sparse physical presence made for a striking silhouette to the rapidly shifting scenery, while the occasional close-up quick cut allowed the audience to feel like they were inside the performance itself. On a sidebar, fans had the ability to type into a chatroom and purchase Eilish’s merchandise. And then, on December 31st, 2020, synth pioneer Jean-Michele Jarre’ performed live in a 3D visual reconstruction of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. He joined forces with the French startup VrOOm to put together an exclusively virtual concert. The concert lasted only 45 minutes, during which time Jarre performed a set of pieces from his album “Electronica.” However, what’s important is that it was FREE, it was simulcast on at least 10 streaming platforms and the visuals and sound were amazing. Is this the future of concerts? Maybe…
  6. The pandemic has completly changed how we use and listen to music forever. Without millions of people getting into cars and commuting to work everyday, daily routines have radically changed personal listening habits. The biggest issue: people must create the time to listen to music in a crowded home during lockdown versus passively listening to music in a car, on the subway or even in an office. Having someone hide in a bedroom closet with headphones on to escape the “craziness” of a home during lockdown was repeated on a daily basis throughout the US and the Western World. Listening to music has become a reward for many and an oasis of calm in a world unmoored from our routines and the usual activities we did pre-COVID. This has changed many people’s relationship with music forever. Time will tell what happens in 2022 and beyond...
  7. Artists will use apps as a music as a content delivery device which sidesteps the major streaming platforms and even social media. This trend has been a long-time coming but now the technology has arrived to make it financially possible for a music artist to embark on this idea. 26 years ago, Peter Gabriel created “Xplora1: Peter Gabriel’s Secret World” as an interactive experience that truly was “multimedia”. It was a brilliant forward-thinking product that many bands could still use as a template as they create their own apps. Many artists are frustrated with streaming platforms and social media. They believe that by having a direct connection to their fans that they can have a more creative and a more lucrative relationship with them. I would say that the failure of many of these apps is that the on-going content becomes less and less quality over time and fans loose interest. This is the same problem artists have on Patreon or other platforms where the emphasis is on creating quality content all the time.
  8. Watch what Chinese company entertainment Tencent does in 2021. You heard it here first…

Have a safe, joyful and very musical new year…

Emmy® Award-winning composer, record company executive, copyright expert, dad, dog owner and CrossFit newbie

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