Numbers don’t lie, and there’s no denying the success of Adele. Her new album 25 is breaking records left and right, and it’s on pace to sell over two million copies in its first week. According to Billboard, her album alone accounts for over 42% of all music sales. Yes, all recorded music sales. In the world.
Adele’s popularity is incredible, but these enormous sales numbers are partly due to her release strategy. Instead of streaming the album on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, or wherever else, Adele is holding out. If you want to hear the new Adele album, you have to buy it.
Pigeons & Planes’ editor-in-chief Jacob Moore (Confusion) is disappointed by this release strategy, and P&P’s managing editor Alex Gardner (Constant Gardner) think it’s a good move. So we argued about it through email.
So here’s my thing: I’m disappointed that Adele’s album isn’t streaming anywhere.
It’s great that Adele can sell so many records in 2015. She’s a timeless artist with mass appeal, and this is a smart strategy if the goal is record sales. She’ll make tons of money. But I think this was a chance for her to be a leader, embrace the direction the industry is moving in, and show what universal success looks like in the new age of streaming. It feels like instead, she’s taking advantage of the fact that we’re still stuck in this in-between phase, where buying music on iTunes and CDs isn’t totally obsolete.
First things first. I can’t be even a tiny bit mad at Adele (or her representatives, although sources claimed that she was personally involved in the decision to not stream the album) for deciding how her art—her baby, the album she’s been working on for years, that she scrapped and remade, that means so much to her—can be consumed. Of course, that’s the artist’s prerogative, but beyond the fact that she can do what she likes, expecting or wanting an artist to fit in with the technology du jour, is a slippery slope to start down.
Would it really be such a bold statement to stream her album like every other big (and small) artist does? Whereas Taylor Swift actively protested Spotify’s royalty rates in an op-ed, and then streamed her album 1989 on Apple Music only after they agreed to pay royalties during Apple Music trial periods, Adele hasn’t tried to defend or explain her position.
In the coming decades, I believe that people are going to stop buying music. The idea of “owning” an mp3 or a CD won’t make sense to kids who grew up streaming everything. So it’s just disappointing to see the world’s most successful artist completely ignoring the trends of music consumption and basically forcing the entire world to revert back to the old ways. And since she’s so popular, she can do that, but to me it’s counterproductive and selfish.
If Adele had streamed the album, it still would still have sold millions of copies—a large part of Adele’s audience is not going to be seeking out illegal downloads on the internet—and the streaming revenue itself would have likely been substantial.
Is this a regressive move that slows down music industry advances, is this a cash grab, or is this a statement on the value of art in the streaming age?! We will probably never know for sure, but I think it’s at least worth considering that streaming isn’t necessarily the end point, but it’s at least worth considering that maybe paying a small amount of money for access to all the world’s music, and artist payout being further reduced by whatever cut the streaming service takes, isn’t the shining light at the end of the tunnel.
We will probably never know? Come on. Let’s not pretend that this is about integrity or the value of art. Of course Adele is going to make money no matter what, streaming or not. I am not suggesting that Adele owes us anything, just saying that by denying us access to her album via streaming, there will be negative consequences.
The way we access music is streaming. Maybe not all of us (yet), but that’s the direction things are moving. This is about sales and money. If not, then it is at least about dictating how we consume her music. And it is disappointing to me that the biggest artist in the world is forcing us into old, dying methods of consumption.
What this album is going to do is show labels that we don’t need to completely give up on sales yet. It shows that we can hold on to these old methods and be successful. And now, instead of thinking of how to solve the issues that come with streaming, we’re going to see more labels trying to avoid it altogether.
Fine, fine, I was playing devil’s advocate to some extent—I do agree that this is a money thing.
But I don’t think the success of Adele is really going to slow down label’s efforts to solve the streaming conundrum and make it viable. Overall though, it’s not a problem that should be put at Adele’s feet. If Spotify and the other streaming services were artist friendly and the artists themselves felt they were fair, we wouldn’t be having these problems. Let’s not suggest that artists should do something that is not financially or artistically in line with what they want in order to help “progress,” that seems a backwards way to approach things.
Adele’s case is an interesting one, she’s not an artist who can put out an album every year and tour 150 dates. She really uses her voice on record and live, and I am absolutely behind her doing all she can to make all the money she can while she has the ability to do so.
I’m happy for her success, but I think it’s clear that CDs are going to become obsolete in the near future. In the distant future, do you really believe people will even be buying mp3s? Kids who grew up streaming music are going to laugh at us for paying a dollar for this mp3 file that does nothing other than take up space on our computers.
Eventually, we’ll figure out how to build sustainable business models around the streaming economy. That’s an important thing not just for individual artists, but for the future of the entire music industry. But it’s only going to happen when it’s a necessity, and when the biggest artists are refusing to participate, it just slows down the whole process.
I do agree that buying a CD or mp3s on iTunes may become obsolete (although maybe there will be a CD revival similar to the vinyl revival!), but it’s streaming as a technology that is going to replace it, not necessarily the model of paying $10 a month to have access to all the world’s music.
The idea of paying an artist for a certain product (whether that’s merch or an album), however, is not something I think will die out. People want to support the artists they love, and the more we hear about low streaming revenues and falling albums sales, the more I hope artists and labels will explore new ground in terms of monetizing their art
No CD revival! CDs suck!
Anyway, I’m not trying to put this all on Adele, but I do think it’s artists’ responsibilities to consider their fans. Fans are the only reason that there even is a business around music. In 2015, it’s greedy to completely reject streaming and not give fans that option. And you’re right, part of this is streaming services’ faults. Right now, things aren’t fair. But the answer is not forcing fans to buy CDs. That’s counterproductive.
We’re definitely in agreement that things need to change.
In 20 years, people might not be paying for a physical CD or an mp3 file, but they might well pay $15 to get behind a pay wall and have access to, for example, all of J. Cole’s discography, plus exclusive tour diaries, videos, and the chance to win a meet and greet with fans.
This isn’t an especially new or groundbreaking idea—the Kardashians, for example, are doing something similar with their subscription sites and paid apps, where they are constantly sharing content like messages, photos, and videos—but it’s certainly a space that artists can and should be exploring.
I’m not ready to accept that the pay monthly for all the world’s music model is the definitive future of the music industry, and neither is Adele.
I hope that in the coming years, we figure out how streaming fits into the music industry, and how we can build new models that make sense given the changes in technology and the shift in how people consume music. I believe that we will.
Until then, I hope that the biggest, most successful artists in the world are forward-thinking. They are the ones with the most power and the ability to take risks, change things, and lead us through these uncertain times. I hope that they think of their fans, and consider the future. I’m not mad at Adele for making money and looking out for herself. It’s her music and she can do whatever she wants. I’m just disappointed that she’s trying to make me buy a fucking CD in 2015.