EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: Is Music Running on Empty?
Like so many other music fans, each week I look forward to searching, discovering, and devouring new music that is released every Friday. It’s a longtime habit from when I was in my early teens, but now, instead of visiting the local record store to look through the bins and chat up the employees who knew my interests, I rely on websites such as this one, curated playlists on various streaming platforms, and conversations on social media with friends. And because I’ve been a contributor here for over 10 years, both my email inbox and physical mailbox fills up every single day with notes from marketing firms, record labels, publicists, concert promoters, and musicians each soliciting my attention and offering more information than I could never possibly digest.
While it’s hard to pin down the exact number of new albums that come out each year, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a trade organization that represents the major labels and spends a lot of time and effort on gathering statistics on consumer habits and sources of revenue. Their site and information are open to all, and while I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of numbers when you can find them for yourselves, there are a few that stand out that I’ll share.
By just halfway through 2018, more than 70,000 albums had been released, according to Nielsen. Streaming accounts for 75% of how we acquire and listen to our music, followed by 12% for physical goods such as CDs and vinyl. Digital downloads now are only 11% and going down quickly. Statista, a company that provides all sorts of businesses with statistics about almost everything, published its 2018 breakdown of total album consumption by genre:
It drops off significantly after that, with EDM, world, jazz, reggae, religious, and classical each grabbing a couple of percentage points. You’ll notice that roots music genres such as Americana, folk, bluegrass, and blues are not tracked at all, so one can surmise they’re likely lumped together with country, R&B, and rock; we are simply a subset.
Back in the old days, many new releases were scheduled to take advantage of the holiday buying season, when there was greater foot traffic in the stores. With streaming now the dominant player, that strategy is not necessarily being adhered to. And if you’re a musician flying under the banner of Americana, the sweet spot for bringing out new music is often from January to June, to coincide with and take advantage of summer festivals and fall concert series. You want to have something new and fresh on the merch table to pick up that incremental sale that can make or break your revenue stream.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, you might be asking why my headline seems to suggest that music is no longer popular or we’re not getting new tunes to listen to when that’s clearly not the case. The answer is that it’s not for the lack of music, but time. With only 24 hours in a day, our “mindshare” is being pulled in many directions. We’re distracted by an unlimited amount of non-musical content available on the screens inside our homes, the computer on our desk, and that smart phone in our bag or pocket, all of them full of podcasts, audiobooks, and video.
This is hardly a doomsday message, because throughout the ages music, as with art and literature, have survived feast and famine, war and peace, and the shift from agrarian to industrial societies. It’s the fuel we need to distract, comfort, and entertain us, and thankfully we won’t be running out of it any time in the foreseeable future.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed here at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org