The Decline of New Music

Posted on July 24, 2022 by

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By, Bob Lefsetz

This story has been buzzing for months, but I point you to a recent article on the decline of new music in the United States:

“It’s Official: New Music Is Shrinking In Popularity In The United States”: https://bit.ly/3uZw9gv

Is new music not as good?

I’d argue that case, but that is not what is happening here. We’ve reached the tipping point, YOU JUST CAN’T REACH PEOPLE ANYMORE!

The music business is the canary in the coal mine. It’s where disruption happens first. What happens in the music business ultimately spreads to other industries. So what is happening here is there’s a plethora of product and the means of promoting that product has become ever less efficient and diverse.

Let me make it simple. Used to be if you were on AM radio everybody knew your name and music.

Then FM bifurcated the attention, but it turned out active listeners/buyers/concertgoers all listened to FM, so the business burgeoned, along with disposable income.

Then came MTV. MTV minted worldwide stars. Fewer acts got through the sieve, but those who did could play to audiences anywhere around the world. Even one hit wonders are embedded in everybody’s brain. Can you say “Take On Me”?

But then came the internet.

At first it was all about excavating the past. Both official and unofficial product. And while the oldsters were complaining about having their money stolen the younger generations, unexposed to the past, embraced the new tools of creation and distribution and soon seemingly everybody was making music.

And music was easier to make than ever before. Your computer could be your studio. You could buy the beats, and anybody could rap. There used to be a bar, you had to know how to play and write. Or someone with connections thought they could mold you into a star. Studio time was expensive. Most people could not play.

And at first all these people who were previously excluded posted on YouTube, and then SoundCloud, and finally Spotify and its ilk.

As for terrestrial radio? Seems like younger generations, who actively move the popular music needle, have given up on it.

So where you gonna hear the latest hits? What’s going to motivate you to rally around the priorities of the labels, pushing their product?

But if you want to really be shocked, read this article:

“No One Even Comes Close to Bad Bunny’s Stardom Right Now”: https://bloom.bg/3zks7SB

Here’s the meat of the story:

“Bad Bunny songs appeared in the Spotify top 100 more times over the last 2 months than those of Harry Styles, Olivia Rodrigo, Drake and Kendrick Lamar combined. Three of those four acts also released new albums. Post Malone, one of the most popular performers of the last few years, didn’t even crack the top 10.

Now let’s take it a step further. Bad Bunny beat every single record label in the industry. The only label that even came close is Columbia, which charted songs from more than a dozen artists, including Harry Styles, Lil Nas X, Adele and The Kid Laroi. Bad Bunny songs appeared more than twice as many times as acts from Atlantic, home of Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Cardi B, Lizzo and Jack Harlow.”

That’s right, one single artist eclipsed the ENTIRE OUTPUT of every major label.

Talk about a blockbuster business.

The essence of Bad Bunny is he is worldwide, his music translates everywhere, whereas most of what is in the Spotify Top 50, at least the American acts, does not. In other words, new music is an ever smaller circle jerk, appealing to fewer and fewer customers.

Now the end result here will be more labels looking for more Bad Bunnys. But what we’ve learned is there is only mindshare for only a few of these ubiquitous acts. And those we think are ubiquitous often are not. Like Post Malone, his new album is a disappointment. And Beyonce’s new single has underperformed so far.

I mean could anybody get more ink, more publicity than Beyonce?

But ink no longer means that much. The endless reviews, the stories in the straight media. It all comes down to the public, which can be manipulated ever less in the modern world.

Used to be you paid the programmer to put your records on the station, whether it be with cash or CD players or TVs or other physical products. There was a direct connection from your label to the ears of the customer. That connection has been broken. The number one place to expose new music is TikTok, and the labels are all in cahoots with the Chinese social media company, but you can lead a horse to water, but that does not mean they’ll drink.

In other words, TikTok pushes music to its influencers, but they don’t have to use it. And even if they do, that does not mean it will go viral, with others making videos to the same music. The labels have lost control!

But what about the Spotify Top 50!

Take a look at it. It’s got a very narrow scope.

Then check out the genre playlists.

Yesterday I wanted to catch up on country music. I went on Spotify and they’ve got SEVENTY EIGHT official country playlists! The one I found most palatable, Heart of Texas… Most of these records don’t even show up in the Hot Country playlist, never mind the Spotify Top 50.

And there’s a plethora of playlists for every genre.

We’re told by the powers-that-be, the major labels with their hype machine and the publications who eat and regurgitate their pabulum, that we live in a hip-hop/pop world. But this is patently untrue. Yes, those genres have large reach, arguably the most. Then again, the biggest album of the last eighteen months is by Morgan Wallen, who sings songs, with verses and choruses, that you can sing along to, the kind that are rarely represented in the Spotify Top 50.

But number one is Kate Bush’s track from “Stranger Things.”

Does this mean old music is better than new music?

I’d say the old music is better, but that’s not what this statistic represents. It shows the power of Netflix, the power of one hit show. And TV is still expensive to make, and despite all the press about the number of shows it’s a small number compared to the number of records released.

But Netflix, et al, have huge competition. Not so much from each other, but from TikTok and YouTube. Kids spend hours on those platforms, that’s the center of culture except for a breakout here and there. And TikTok and YouTube have endless space, meaning that any “hit” reaches a smaller percentage of the public.

Going back to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”…

According to the MBW article above, catalog has increased by 14% compared to the 1.4% drop in new music consumption.

So there you have it folks, the old music is far superior, people want classic rock!

Well, they do, but that’s not what is going on here.

Turns out catalog is anything in excess of eighteen months old!

“Music originally released in 2019 alone took a 14% share of all ‘Catalog’ streams in H1 2022; music originally released in 2018 took an 11% share.

And music originally released in either of these years was more popular on US streaming services in the first half of 2022 than all music released in the 1990s combined.

Same goes for all music released in the 1980s, and all music released in the 1970s.”

So the decline of new music’s share is not so much about the golden oldies but the difficulty of creating hits in an ever more dense marketplace. People go to what they know, that’s what they want to hear. And more people know the old music than the new. Every year new music consumption goes down. Because it’s harder to reach people and create a ubiquitous hit.

Yes, the music business has returned to the fifties, the pre-Beatle era. It’s a small business run by shysters, only in this case the labels are all public companies. No one’s throwing the long ball, there’s almost no innovation, they keep doing what they know, which means new music reaches fewer people and outsiders can dominate the marketplace, i.e. Bad Bunny.

And in truth, Bad Bunny is distributed by the Orchard, now owned by Sony. But what does it say when your indie arm outdoes your main business?

So what does this mean for music in general.

There’s no there there. There is no Top 50. It’s an irrelevant metric. We no longer pool all music. Instead, there are various verticals. And it’s not about crossing over, nearly impossible, the verticals are ever more narrow and defined, but becoming as big as you can in the world you inhabit, which means you’re probably going to be less big than the hit acts of yore.

Which doesn’t mean you’ll be broke without an audience. There are so many more ways to monetize these days. And to know who your fans are and reach them. But worldwide dominance? Mostly a fairy tale.

And that which goes worldwide… Bad Bunny is quite good, but is that the music you’re creating, the kind that can play everywhere, can be understood by anybody who can appreciate a beat? Probably not. But expect in pursuance of the Bad Bunny paradigm ever less innovative Latin music from the major purveyors. They see all that money and want some. And they suddenly realize it’s a worldwide business, which is a good thing.

And we need Bad Bunnys, to bring us together, to make us feel part of society if nothing else. But creating them is nearly impossible, much harder than ever before. And, this means that the niches, the verticals not represented in the Spotify Top 50, are bigger than ever before.

Analogize politics. There are so many people you can’t reach with the truth, they don’t want to hear the truth, and there are outlets speaking to every predilection, every conspiracy theory.

And that’s what these people want, to belong to a tribe, just like a music fan. And we’ve always known the largest tribes are the least sustaining. Because it’s the casual fans who glom on when you need the dedicated hard core fans to continue.

So if radio means ever less, if the Mediabase numbers don’t mean much, and neither does the Spotify Top 50, what does count?

Well, concert grosses. And isn’t it interesting that those grosses rarely align with the Spotify Top 50. You can have a hit on that chart and still be unable to go on the road, not enough people willing to pay to see you.

We are living in an era of chaos. And in an era of chaos, most people look to the past to hang on to, something they are familiar with, something they know, otherwise the landscape is too overwhelming.

We let everybody play on Spotify, et al, and ultimately this contributed to the decline of the new music business. There’s just too much there for anybody to comprehend, so they revert to the oldies.

It’s only going to get worse. This is the new normal. Declining expectations.

Unless you’re Bad Bunny.

And even Bad Bunny didn’t know he was Bad Bunny. Worldwide domination always comes from left field, it’s unpredicted, you can’t clone it, you’ve just got to wait for it.

Everything, well, so much you thought you knew, is dead. That the majors are all powerful, that radio is all powerful, that charts are all powerful…

And it gets harder to comprehend each and every day.

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