A huge congratulations is owed to Adele. My god. For those of you who were adolescents around the peak of the boy band craze of the late 90’s, early 00’s, you’ll remember how absolutely insane of a time that was for pop music. It would have been fascinating to have been an adult at that time from a business perspective, but from a music fan perspective, I have not seen fanaticism like that since.
Peak TRL. Peak music videos. Peak CD sales. Peak pop. Peak hair gelled frosted tips.
With record sales
slipping plummeting over the last decade or so as a result of a generation more focused on access than ownership*, and without clear dueling giants ruling an industry (Boy Bands & Pop Princess), I thought we’d be hard pressed to see record sales numbers like that of “No Strings Attached.”
I remember friends and family members skipping school and work in 2000 to make sure they were at the record store hours before it opened so they could get their copy of the N’Sync album. Everyone had to have it. Every family had it in their minivan. Every kid had it in their walkman. It was insanity. In its first week, “No Strings Attached” sold a record breaking 2.42 million copies in the U.S. Adele sold 3.38 million. And she did not make her album available to stream on Apple Music or Spotify.
I’m excited for Adele. I’m excited for music. She’s got unbelievable talent and I’m pretty stoked to see that talent recognized and rewarded. What I’m not excited about is that every single old guy on his porch screaming at Spotify to get off the lawn of the music industry is holding up a newspaper headline (lol newspapers) and yelling that 25 is proof that musicians don’t need streaming services.
Now, I didn’t do so hot in Statistics when I took it my sophomore year of college. Actually, that’s a lie. I did fine. But I only did fine because I paid a kid I went to elementary school with to do all my work for me. But even though I skipped 75% of my Statistics classes, I know what an outlier is. Adele is an outlier.
Adele is also not down with Spotify. But she admits that it’s, “probably the future.” Adding, “eh.”
I don’t blame Adele for being “eh” about streaming services. I don’t blame anyone who makes a decent living off of sales of their recorded music for not wanting anything to do with streaming services. Especially since there’s like, a dozen of those people. If I had just sold over 3 million freaking copies of an album in one week, I wouldn’t give a rat’s behind about Spotify, either.
But what people need to remember is this: it’s Adele. She’s not just any artist. She’s tapped into something intangible that goes beyond your typical music fan. Adele has enough talent and authenticity to capture the attention of even the most casual listener. So, no. She doesn’t need Spotify. She is a super star. She doesn’t need Spotify because realistically, she doesn’t need anything. The woman could fart into a Playskool Tape Recorder and make a platinum record out of it.
Don’t forget that for every Spotify subscriber who does not have access to 25, and who does not purchase recorded music, there exists a pirated copy of 25 that earned her $0. That’s what record companies don’t want to talk about. That music piracy is down. People who were stealing music illegally are now paying for it. Record companies are just a little upset that people aren’t paying the $20 prices of 2000.
I won’t sit here and argue that she still would have sold 4 million copies even if she put the album on Spotify. That’s an impossible hypothetical to argue with certainty one way or another. However, we can’t count out Spotify from the whole 25 success story. Her single, “Hello,” released October 23rd on Spotify, has been streamed over 210 million times. Ask any other artist if they’d sacrifice all physical sales of one of their albums for 210 million streams of one song in just over one month. (That’s not counting whatever revenue she’s getting from YouTube or Pandora, of course.) Do not think for a minute having “Hello” on Spotify didn’t help persuade hundreds of thousands of listeners (safe estimate) to purchase the album.
Spotify is not the answer for many artists. In fact, it’s not the answer to any artists. It’s simply part of the answer of what it means to be a successful artist in 2015. You can’t argue that streaming services don’t help build an artist’s audience. You just can’t. If you don’t understand the necessity for a lesser-known, non-billboard, independent, up and coming artist to have their music widely available to stream in order to build an audience, then you don’t get to form an opinion about Spotify. Adele didn’t sell copies of 25 on Spotify. But she sure as hell used Spotify to help build her audience.
This audience may not buy an album regardless of its streaming availability. But without an audience, no one tunes in for television appearances like Saturday Night Live. Without an audience, there’s no award show appearances, awards, or even tours. This isn’t 2000 anymore. Music videos and record sales aren’t going to hack it unless you’re Taylor Swift or Adele. And that’s okay. Because remember, contrary to what the record industry has convinced you, the record industry is not synonymous to the music industry. Go support live music in venues big and small. Buying a ticket to a local act in the club around the corner does more for the music industry than buying the new Adele album. I promise.
*It should be noted I wrote that access over ownership was becoming a thing months ago and it wasn’t an original thought then, either. But suddenly this guy from the UK has a car ride with a guy 20 years his junior and experiences what is really happening and it’s this huge revelation.