There are a lot of musicians who are still desperately trying to pretend that it’s 1998 and by having a huge marketing campaign, they somehow believe that they can sell 10 million records. That’s delusional. No one sells 10 million records. The days of musicians getting rich off of selling records are done.
Well, I think that Moby is completely wrong here. And if you read his statement again, then you’ll notice his mistake: Moby is only talking about marketing, while completely leaving product quality out of the equation – and that’s the same mistake the entire music industry is making. So I think it’s time to take a closer look at the biggest surprise of the past 20 years now, and that’s Adele’s album 21, which was released in early 2011. The album was well received critically and surpassed the success of her debut, it has been certified 16 times platinum in the UK. The album has sold 30 million copies worldwide. 21 is the longest running number one album by a female solo artist in the history of the UK and US Album Charts. From Wikipedia:
The album topped the charts in more than 30 countries and appeared in the 2012 edition of Guinness World Records. In the United Kingdom, it is the best-selling album of the 21st century and fourth best-selling album of all time, while its 23-week tenure atop the UK Albums Chart is the longest by a female solo artist. In the United States, the album held the top position for 24 weeks, longer than any other album since 1985 and the longest by a female solo artist in Billboard 200 history, and was certified Diamond by the RIAA.
The music industry was completely surprised by Adele’s success, and so-called industry experts can’t explain it.
Why are so many people buying Adele’s album? Why is Adele way more successful than other top acts like Rihanna, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, or even Beyoncé for example?
And, most importantly:
How can Adele sell 30 million albums if the music industry claims that everybody’s just downloading illegal copies and that nobody’s buying records anyway?
If the music industry is right about piracy, then why are people buying Adele’s album, while they’re only downloading illegal copies of other artist’s albums? I found the following quote by Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), and I think he really gets the point:
Someone asked me recently, What do you think the problem with the music industry is? I said, take the Adele record, for example. It’s an amazing record and everybody’s so shocked that it’s such a phenomenon. I’m not. You know why that record’s huge? Because it’s fucking good and it’s real. When you have an artist singing about something real and she’s incredibly talented, it deserves all the rewards it gets, it’s a great record. Now imagine if all records were that good. Do you think only one of them would sell? Fuck no! All of them would. If all records were that good the music business would be on fire, but they’re not. A lot of people are promoting records that are just throw-it-against-the-wall-see-if-it-sticks meaningless bullshit. Everybody has the responsibility to do the right thing and promote artists that mean something.
So I think that Dave Grohl is absolutely right on this one, although we should analyze this a bit more in detail.
What’s the big difference between Adele and most other artists out there?
- The first difference is her overall sound. And I’m not talking about the voice here, but about the entire music. Adele’s 21 does not sound like all of that ultra cool over-produced and over-processed mega dope synth boom boom shit you’ll usually find in the Top 40.
- There is no rapper* popping up in either the verse or the bridge. And nobody’s shouting something like Yeah! Yeah!, Yo! Yo! or Aha! Aha! in the background all of the time.
- Abusive words* such as “bitch”, “fuck”, “motherfucker”, “ass”, “shake”, “smoke”, “cash”, and so on appear less than 50 times in each single song.
- Her music is appealing to people over the age of 13, as well as to people with an IQ higher than 90.
- While she’s a great vocalist / singer, her voice alone isn’t the only great element in her songs.
- She can actually sing, even without pitch correction.
- She doesn’t dress like a clown and she doesn’t dance.
- Oh, and did you notice that there are no crazy ass shaking tanga babes in her videos? And her videos don’t feature sports cars, gold watches, drugs, or guns either.
*) There’s no problem with hip hop as such, but having rap parts on each and every pop song’s bridge not only hurts the songs themselves, but this also dilutes the importance of the hip hop genre as such, turning it into some irrelevant pop gimmick.
**) And there’s no problem with bad language either. The problem is not bad language as such, the problem is that bad language is now being used in every second hip hop and pop song, which makes it irrevelant. There was a lot more and much more aggressive bad language in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, but back then it was meaningful and even revolutionary as it was both new and appropriate as there were important messages to be communicated. Just think of the early Ice-T and other rappers of that era for example. Today bad language is just another overused gimmick.
While the music industry is quite lucky that there are a number of artists heading into a similar direction now (such as Lana Del Rey for example), record companies themselves don’t get it as they’re just accepting Adele’s 21 as a unique phenomenon – something like a miracle, or divine intervention, or an unexpected one time exception – instead of analyzing what makes her so successful and then trying to support real artists who want to deliver some real quality too.
The most surprising detail, however, is that Adele isn’t even innovative.
She doesn’t do anything new or revolutionary, while this is what one should expect from a real artist.
The only thing she does is to bring back some of the quality of the past, while leaving out most of the crap that you’ll find in today’s teen pop music.
And this seems to be enough already.
It really works – thanks to the overall low quality of today’s music.
So I wonder what would happen if some artist would come up with some real innovation?
A single great new artist could start a real revolution. But there is none.
That’s the problem, and that may also be your chance. The most unbelievable fact, however, is that Adele changed her team when producing her follow-up album 25. And she not only decided to collaborate with teen pop / EDM producers Max Martin and Skrillex for example, she also changed direction and made a more trend-following pop album that clearly doesn’t follow the footsteps of her previous record. The result is an album that sounds a lot more like all of the rest of the Top 40 music, and it’s also an album that doesn’t sell as much as the previous one. It initially sold a lot, which is just normal as people expected a sequel to 21. While the first single Hello performed well, the album itself will never be as successful as its predecessor. It seems that even Adele herself didn’t really understand what made 21 so successful.
So while Adele’s 21 might be a great example of how to produce a record that sells really well, her new album 25 might also be a great example of what NOT to do.
And this also demonstrates what strange kinds of decisions record companies (and even many artists) take. With her album 21, Adele demonstrated that music featuring a minimum of quality still sells very well. But instead of continuing to head into that direction, even Adele herself chose to follow trends and to start producing music that will be more similar to current chart music that apparently does NOT sell. Sometimes it’s really hard to understand the decisions people in this industry are taking.