Sorry to break it to you…
In July 2017, Nielsen Music reported that rock relinquished its place atop the music consumption pyramid for the first time since the company began tracking data in 1991.
Of course, rock was the far and away winner in physical album sales (42.7% of the industry’s total), but that’s the same as owning a mansion built on quicksand.
The truth is, listeners are flocking to playlists, where rock has lagged behind.
Streaming is saving the music industry, and rock’s share of audio on-demand streams (18.1%) was dwarfed by hip-hop and R&B (30.3%), allowing the latter genre to take a 2.1% lead in overall consumption.
I know. YOU love rock and roll, go to the shows, support the bands, buy the CDs and vinyl and merch, etc. You’ve always been a rock fan, and that will never change. I totally understand. All good.
Just because Guns ‘N Roses, Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and U2 ranked among 2017’s top global touring acts doesn’t mean that rock is still king…those bands are icons!
Plus, two of those acts are doing their version of greatest hits tours: G’N’R sold tons of tickets because Axl finally buried the hatchet with Slash and Duff, and U2 was a top-grossing act due to performing The Joshua Tree in full. That album is 30 years old! Granted, it’s an undeniable piece of work, but this was the first time ever that U2 toured in support of a back-catalogue release in their 40-year career.
“It’s not that rock’s popularity has necessarily waned, but it’s had growing pains as consumption shifted from an owned, album-based economy to an access- or tracks-based economy,” says Dylan Lewis, head of digital sales for Glassnote Records. “If [rock] mirrors the trajectory that hip-hop has had, we see this major growth opportunity. If hip-hop can do it, other genres can.”
That reminds me of a transcript I read of an interview with Wes Borland, the face-painting breakout talent and guitarist of the ubiquitous late-1990s alternative band Limp Bizkit, who shared his take on the state of music industry and the dominance of streaming, telling Metal Sucks:
“I’m not a big supporter of Spotify. …I’m having a really hard time accepting just songs by themselves. …Of course, I’m a dinosaur and I’m 42…I’m gonna like records. …The record was made to be listened to as…one cohesive thought. Maybe not so much in the ’80s, but I kinda feel like we’re back in the ’80s in some way. People are just like ‘Single, single, single…’ My records are made with songs butt up against each other and have no change. …But on Spotify that doesn’t work…on Spotify you listen to one of my songs and it ends in a weird way because I refuse to write singles, I refuse to write in that format. I’m having trouble accepting Spotify and that way of listening. I’m set for extinction in the next however long. And teenagers don’t think that way, and neither do 20-somethings. They’re into streaming. Like any generation being overtaken by another generation, it’s hard to accept the way that they do things. And music for them has always been free. It’s just a devaluing of music.”
‘I’m having a really hard time accepting…I’m a dinosaur and I’m 42…I refuse to…I refuse to…I’m having trouble accepting…I’m set for extinction in the next however long…it’s hard to accept…’
First of all, a dinosaur at 42?? Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” is Grammy-nominated for Best Rock Performance this year, and it was released when he was 82!
Furthermore, Wes must only be considering the heyday of The Album in the 1960s and 1970s, because it’s always been a singles world, even since long before recorded music, when humans would sing around the piano in the parlor, or beat logs and grunt to the rhythm.
Great songs spread organically, and most great songs can be performed with one individual and an instrument (sometimes, the instrument isn’t even necessary)—songs are what people sing, not albums; the guy who plays an entire album on the jukebox is a jerk.
One thing you can count on, the younger generation will always defy the conventions of the older generation—Wes Borland, like many artists who experienced a high level of success early in their career, is complaining that his cheese has been moved.
Understand: the public is never wrong.
Tastes and preferences change with the times, always have, always will. So do great artists. If what you create isn’t resonating, there are reasons, and more often than not, most of the reasons have to do with the work itself. The aware artist seeks to root out those reasons and adapt accordingly, not place the blame on external circumstances or fluidity in taste or preferences.
And to that point, Austin Daboh, senior editor at Spotify UK, believes the current generation of artists are completely aware of what Spotify can do for them.
Daboh says, “Historically, artists…couldn’t just say, ‘Here’s a great song…can you play it please?’ More often than not the answer was no. So artists had to hustle.”
Hustle is not simply working hard and keeping your nose to the grindstone. More than that, it’s being aware of what’s happening on the streets, how it relates to and informs the collective cultural consciousness at large, and adapting and innovating within your chosen vocation’s industry based on your findings, changing the game from the inside out, all while retaining your authenticity.
So…if Wes Borland records an album and no one is around to stream it, does it make a sound?
He doesn’t seem to think so.
“I feel like the musician is gonna become like a trade of the past, like court jesters and coal miners, something that’s just not necessary anymore. I think people will do it as a hobby,” Borland concludes. “The whole musical middle class will be completely obliterated to where you’re either Rhianna or you’re one of the multitudes of any band trying to get time off your jobs so you can go play [big festivals]. And there’s gonna be no one to replace any of the headliners. Once Metallica is done, who’s gonna replace Metallica at European festivals? There’s no one. No band is big enough. …Bands nowadays into the past decade have not been able to have the opportunity to become legends. Because they don’t have the support, because music has been devalued.”
Is that the way it really is, though??
“…In the last year, I’ve noticed a change in artists gravitating towards Spotify, understanding their numbers,” Daboh continued. He believes Spotify gives, “a level of data that no other service gives, to let [artists] know how to better themselves on the service…[our] artist relations [department has] done an amazing outreach job…showing [artists] how this thing works.”
Amen! I’ve been in contact with artist relations at Spotify, and not only do they respond quickly, they are eager to help.
However, Daboh admits that Spotify still has work to do in this area. “There are [artists] we haven’t felt love from because they haven’t quite been educated about what Spotify can bring to their ecosystem. [But]…to the emerging ones making music in their bedrooms and garages…the message is coming across loud and clear that Spotify is here to support you and give you global levels of exposure. What we’re bringing to the game is a level of democracy, if your music is good and we believe there’s an audience for your record, we’re not scared to add you to our biggest playlist.”
The thing is, the future doesn’t care about old dead rock and roll legends. The great ones still get propped up out of respect because they once created something that spoke to the zeitgeist of the times and penetrated the mass consciousness.
But when their new stuff doesn’t cut the mustard, they either attempt to channel the vibrations of their past and make new music in the vein of their old catalogue, or they simply perform the old catalogue…
Because they are afraid of alienating or losing their old fans—their base—and they refuse to believe they can somehow adapt to the times and garner a newer or younger audience without sacrificing their authenticity.
Bottom line: They’re afraid of becoming irrelevant.
Kind of like that old-time rock and roll.
“We’re back to the ‘50s now, where the focus is on songs rather than albums,” Bono said in a recent Rolling Stone interview. “U2 make albums, so how do we survive? By making the songs better. And having, I hope, the humility to accept that we need to rediscover songwriting.”
Let’s face it, the rock and roll you have come to know, love, and live with for the past half century is dead—your music, and the way you prefer it to be distributed and consumed, is not at the top of the food chain any longer, and it’s time to accept it.
But somebody’s gonna bring rock into the future, by adapting, innovating, challenging norms.
And it’s gonna happen sooner than you think.
Hide and watch, kids.
P.S. Because it seems appropriate, click here to listen to my song “Say Goodbye 2 Rock and Roll”: https://open.spotify.com/track/485qXOrmjCejqoifQs1qTr
P.P.S. Guess what?? Wes Borland released a new album with his Big Dumb Face project on October 31. …You can stream it via Spotify.
Wes Borland: Professional Musician is Becoming a Trade of the Past, Soon People Will Only Do It as Hobby: https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/news/general_music_news/wes_borland_professional_musician_is_becoming_a_trade_of_the_past_soon_people_will_only_do_it_as_hobby.html
For the first time ever, hip-hop is officially bigger than rock: http://www.nme.com/news/music/hip-hop-most-consumed-music-genre-bigger-than-rock-nielsen-2017-year-end-report-2205720
Austin Daboh on Spotify’s role in the UK rap scene: http://www.musicweek.com/digital/read/we-re-not-scared-to-add-artists-to-our-biggest-playlists-austin-daboh-on-spotify-s-role-in-the-uk-rap-scene/070839
After Losing Ground In the Streaming Era, Rock Charts Its Comeback: https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8070586/rock-roll-streaming-music-business-comeback
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