Music Business

Why pop music is getting less popular [VIDEO]

A new report from Luminate proves what analysts have suspected for some time: that popular music is no longer popular.

by James Shotwell of Haulix

A midyear report by US market monitor Luminate—the same company behind the Billboard charts—has revealed the alarming fact that “new”/”current” music is becoming less popular in the country, and this statement can be backed up by facts and statistics, as first reported by Music Business Worldwide.

In the first half of 2022, Total Album Consumption (all streams and downloads, as well as physical album sales) of “Current” music (which means released in the 18 months before being streamed or purchased) dropped by 1.4% when compared to 2021.

With 131.3 million album sale-equivalent units reported for this year, “Current” music dropped almost 2 million units from the first half of 2021, which means that new music is not only selling less but is also being less popular in terms of streaming platforms. There was a drop of 3.7 between 2020 and 2021, which officially makes this a downward trend.

This tendency is opposed to the Total Album Consumption for “All” music in the US, which grew by 9.3% in comparison with 2021, standing at 475.4 million units sold.

Even more surprising is the news that “Catalog” music, which includes any release older than 18 months, grew by 14% in the year’s first half. 

The report also found that “Current” music’s on-demand audio streams dropped by 2.6% this year, with an even more drastic decrease of 10.4% in video streaming platforms versus a 19% increase by “Catalog” music.

In his latest update, Music Biz host James Shotwell examines the possible contributing factors to our declining interest in current music. As he touches on the inherent lucrative nature of legacy acts, he also ponders who—if anyone—will become the next generation of “timeless” musicians.

A lack of blockbuster releases is potentially contributing to the decline in current music consumption. Over twenty fewer albums from the first half of 2022 debuted on the Billboard 200 chart compared to the same period in 2021. 

The pandemic is another potential explanation. As the industry shut down, listeners turned to the artists and albums that brought them a sense of peace. So-called “comfort listening” became common while many big artists delayed their records until their teams could implement a more traditional promotional cycle. 

There’s also a mathematical explanation. There is far more catalog music and much more written, created, shared, posted, and said about those artists and their material than anything released in the last 18 months. Even Harry Styles can’t outpace Paul McCartney when it comes to press. 

But the problem we obsess over is two-fold. 

The first is a lack of clear pathways to long-term industry success in the modern era. How does a new musician starting today become the next Aerosmith or Madonna? Will we ever see another world-changing talent like Elvis? Will they emerge from a platform like TikTok? Can streaming services create ecosystems that support sustaining one’s career and nurturing it into a long-term (decade-plus) run of success? 

Until we can succinctly explain how anyone goes from unknown to arena headlining in 2022 (or 2023, etc), we as an industry have work to accomplish, which leads us to the second point:

Very few artists are afforded the support system or time needed to flourish nationally or internationally. The margins in music have become so slim that the slightest deviation from an upward trajectory can send any musician’s career into turmoil. Fans want more content than ever at a rate the traditional industry workflows were not designed to meet. When artists come alone and deliver on consumers’ expectations, they only have a short distance to grow before aging industry architecture prevents them from meaningful growth (in other words, festival appearances, world tours, radio promotion, physical distribution). A select few have found workarounds, but they are always exceptions to the rule, not the norm.

If we want people to care about new music more, we must do more to support it.

Go to your local Target tonight after work. When you get to the clothing section, scan the t-shirts to see which musicians are promoted on the shelves. Carrying rock band merchandise is still relatively new for the company, but it’s lucrative. Target stores nationwide often have a half dozen rock shirt designs for all ages and genders, if not more. But you’re unlikely to find anything resembling a current artist: no Post Malone shirts or Justin Bieber sweatpants. You won’t find anything related to Kendrick Lamar or Drake, but there will probably be at least one Wu-Tang Clan design. 

The music section in Target or any other box store is equally bleak.

In everyday life, most people encountering music branding do so through legacy acts. Most kids of rock fans know “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Enter Sandman” before anything from the catalog of Shinedown or Three Days Grace (the two bands tied for the most #1 singles in modern rock radio history). 

Music must celebrate its current successes with the same effort it does in its cornerstone acts. When that happens, maybe—and that is a big maybe—everyday people will also start to care about the new stuff.

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