Will the Music Industry Enjoy an “Adele Effect”?

February 3rd, 2016 by ddeal

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When Forbes publishes its annual list of highest-earning musicians in December, Adele’s name will surely be on it. Her astronomical album sales, even surpassing the standards of the pre-digital era, will be a large part of the story. Within its first seven weeks of release, 25 had sold 15 million copies worldwide, including about 8 million in the United States. 25 set a new record for most album sales in one week, an incredible feat given that 25 was released in the digital age. She also made headlines for refusing to stream 25, joining Taylor Swift and other artists who have protested that streaming services fail to compensate artists fairly and cannibalize music sales. Adele’s success has also raised the possibility that record albums, after experiencing years of declining sales, might come back in 2016, with the rising tide of 25 lifting all boats. Will the music industry enjoy an “Adele effect,” or is Adele’s success an anomaly?

Are Record Albums Coming Back?

Without question, 25 refocused attention on the album,. As journalist Chris Willman wrote in Billboard, “[W]hat Adele has really revived, more than any style, is the primacy of the album as an emotional experience that a single digital track is not equipped to provide . . . Voices matter. Albums, against all odds, matter. Honestly jerked tears still matter. And when you can give a parched populace all these things, we’ve now learned, they will follow you to the ends of the earth . . . which we now know to be the downsized CD section at Target.”

In other words, great music delivered in album-length form matters. And Willman has a point. Adele is not the only one making critically acclaimed received record albums that also sell. For example:

  • Ed Sheeran’s X, released in 2014, has sold 10 million copies globally.

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  • Taylor Swift’s 1989 has sold 8.6 million globally.

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  • Justin Bieber’s Purpose, considered a comeback critically and commercially for Bieber, has sold 1.2 million copies.

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  • Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, released in February 2015, has sold 1.1 million units (even though Drake claimed it wasn’t an album proper).

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  • Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, while not achieving the coveted 1-million-selling platinum status, went gold and then some, selling close to 800,000 units.

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There are more big albums to come: Drake (again), Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean, Katy Perry, and Kanye West are among the megastars dropping albums in 2016. All of them are capable of moving big numbers, too. Meantime, Rihanna’s Anti, released on January 28, went platinum in 15 hours — thanks to Samsung, which bought 1 million copies and gave them away as part of a promotion.

Even more promising is that younger artists who came of age in the digital era still make record albums even though they have every reason to venerate the power of singles. As Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic noted in 2015, millennial-era artists, such as Tyler, the Creator, and Kendrick Lamar, have made it a point to release major musical statements intended to be enjoyed as albums. And musicians continue to rely on striking album cover art to express their personal visions and market their music.

Not So Fast

But despite some high-profile examples of albums selling like crazy, the numbers don’t lie: album sales continue to slide. According to the 2015 Nielsen Music U.S. Report, total album sales (including compact discs, digital, and LP/vinyl) fell 6.1 percent in 2015, from 257 million units sold to 241 million units sold. (One bright spot: vinyl sales actually increased, from 9.2 million to 11.9 million.) Another telling statistic: sales of catalog albums (18 months or older) outperformed new albums, meaning that consumers were not buying what artists were selling in 2015. On the other hand, the rate of decline slowed — in 2014, album sales fell 11.2 percent.

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Every Day Is Black Friday

February 1st, 2016 by ddeal

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For years I used to wake up in the dead of night the day after Thanksgiving and interview Black Friday shoppers while they stood in line, enduring cold weather as they waited for stores to reward their patience with door buster sales. Eventually I stopped doing so, mostly because Black Friday has been gradually losing its significance. Oh, Black Friday still matters very much. But the holiday shopping season continues to expand its reach well beyond Black Friday and its love child, Cyber Monday. My new post for SIM Partners, “The 2016 Holiday Shopping Season Starts Now,” reflects this reality. In my post, I discuss how offline retailers especially are facing a stronger threat from online retailers, as businesses such as Amazon develop more on-demand delivery capabilities. My post urges retailers to adopt a one-two approach:

  • Be present when people use their mobile devices to search for things to do, places to go, and things to buy during the holiday shopping season. Mobile fuels holiday shopping behaviors.
  • Offer something that online retailers cannot. You cannot visit Santa on Amazon.com.

Between now and the holiday shopping season, retailers should hone their mobile chops and strengthen their offline experiences. One way is to practice through special events, both the ones you create and natural ones caused by milestones such as non-winter holidays. The holiday shopping season starts now.

Image credit: ABC News




Rihanna and Samsung Create an “Anti” Moment

January 31st, 2016 by ddeal

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Rihanna’s Anti went platinum in 15 hours. But before you think, “albums are back!” bear in mind a big caveat: Samsung bought one million copies of the album and gave them away. For Rihanna and Samsung, Anti going platinum is not about record sales — it’s about creating a moment that earns attention for two giant brands at a time when attention is currency, as Brian Solis has noted. There are many more moments to come, as prepares to launch her Anti World Tour, where the real money will be made.

What $25 Million Will Buy a Brand

A platinum album is certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as selling at least one million copies — a difficult feat to achieve in the digital age. Only three albums released in 2015 went platinum: Adele’s 25; Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late; and Justin Bieber’s Purpose. Adele, Drake, and Justin Bieber all earned their sales the traditional way: by releasing and promoting music for consumers to buy, stream, and download (with the exception of 25).

But Rihanna rolls differently. In 2015, she signed a $25 million deal with Samsung, through which Samsung sponsors her album and tour, and Rihanna promotes Samsung’s Galaxy line of products. As part of their relationship, Rihanna and Samsung have been creating digital content together including video, website, and social media posts. Oh, and Samsung agreed to buy 1 million copies of Anti.

Samsung, in turn, gave away 1 million free download codes to its customers. Each of those downloads came with a 60-day free trial to Tidal, the high-end streaming service that counts Rihanna as one of its owners. The entire album was available on Tidal before any other streaming service could have access to it.

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Why Kanye West Should Be Twitter’s CEO

January 28th, 2016 by ddeal

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Twitter should ask Kanye West to be its CEO — or at least a member of its board.

In 72 hours, Kanye has done more to make Twitter relevant and compelling than anything its beleaguered executive team has done during the past year.

First came the #SWISH moment on January 24, when he tweeted a hand-scrawled image of the track list for his forthcoming album, Swish, with the words “So happy to be finished with the best album of all time.”

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The low-tech picture ignited a fire. His tweet about the long-awaited album was re-tweeted 160,000 times and liked 210,000 times. But more importantly, he and Twitter both gained positive coverage in media such as Forbes and The Wall Street Journalan incredible feat given that Twitter had announced mass executive departures the same day. For once, Twitter was not on the receiving end of doomsday coverage. Twitter rode Kanye’s coat tails and became relevant: one of the world’s biggest and controversial entertainers had chosen the platform to announce significant news.

And then things got weird for Kanye — and better for Twitter.

Read more »




Millennials and Old People Rule the Music World

January 25th, 2016 by ddeal

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Music fans have always reserved the right to identify with the popular artists of their time while harshly judging the tastes of the generations that follow them.

Those who came of age during World War II had Frank Sinatra, and they recoiled in horror when children of the 1950s embraced Elvis Presley. Today’s highest-earning musicians reflect the tastes of two of the largest generations alive in America, baby boomers and millennials, but their tastes are fairly complementary. The influence of baby boomers and millennials on music is the subject of today’s post, which is part of a series that examines the broader themes evident in the Forbes ranking of 2015’s highest paid musicians.

The annual Forbes list, created by Zack O’Malley Greenburg, is a snapshot of the music industry. In 2015, O’Malley Greenburg ranked 30 musicians, who reflect genres ranging from country to hip-hop. Collectively, they earned nearly $1.5 billion. All of them made huge bucks. The lowest ranking musicians, Dr. Dre and Maroon 5, made $33 million each. The entire list looks like this:

Rank Name Amount Earned
1 Katy Perry $135 million
2 One Direction $130 million
3 Garth Brooks $90 million
4 Taylor Swift $80 million
5 The Eagles $73.5 million
6 Calvin Harris $66 million
7 Justin Timberlake $63.5 million
8 Diddy $60 million
9 Fleetwood Mac $59.5 million
10 Lady Gaga $59 million
11 The Rolling Stones $57.5 million
12 Ed Sheeran $57 million
13 Jay Z $56 million
14 Beyonce $54.5 million
15 Elton John $53.5 million
16 Toby Keith $53 million
17 Paul McCartney $51.5 million
18 Michael Buble $45.4 million
19 Jason Aldean $43.5 million
20 Luke Bryan $42.5 million
21 Kenny Chesney $42 million
22 Bruno Mars $40 million
23 Drake $39.5 million
24 Foo Fighters $38 million
Tim McGraw $38 million
26 David Guetta $37 million
27 Florida Georgia Line $36.5 million
28 Jimmy Buffett $36 million
Tiesto $36 million
30 Maroon 5 $33 million
Dr. Dre $33 million

Many of the names on this list, ranging from the Rolling Stones to Justin Timberlake, reflect the collective tastes of baby boomers and millennials, who comprise 158.5 million Americans, or about half the total U.S. population. (Millennials overtook baby boomers as the largest age block in 2015.). Both groups continue to influence American culture even as more baby boomers age their way out of the work force each year.

Baby Boomer Acts: Adapting to New Rules

The top earners of the baby boomer era — Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Garth Brooks, Elton John, Toby Keith, Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones — represent the last gasp of an age when musicians could build careers by releasing million-selling albums and then touring to boost the album sales. They are all white, reflecting the whiteness of the baby boomer generation.

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Snapchat and Vine: The Disruptor and Disrupted

January 21st, 2016 by ddeal

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Remember when Vine was cool and Snapchat was dirty? How quickly their fortunes have changed. Vine, once the darling of visual storytellers, is losing brands and attention, sinking in popularity on the app store. Meantime, Snapchat has overcome its reputation as a fringe app run by a badly behaving frat boy. Adweek recently named Snapchat the hottest digital brand of the year for 2015 while Vine was making headlines for losing market share. Their changing fortunes demonstrate how easily the disruptors can become the disrupted. But the story ain’t over yet.

Vine: The Disrupted

Vine came along at the right time. The app was officially launched in January 2013 amid the rise of video storytelling. Brands, always looking for fresh content sharing platforms, latched on to Vine as a fresh alternative to YouTube. Vine’s format for sharing 6-second video stories seemed like a natural fit for a multi-tasking world with a shrinking attention span — and, crucially, Vine was (and remains) an easy-to-use mobile-first app at a time of rapid mobile adoption. Its user base grew rapidly, and Vine was hailed as a YouTube disruptor. Brands eager to extend their presence into mobile content, began adopting the app and bringing with them more users. By fall of 2013, Dunkin’ Donuts and Trident Gum were launching the first-ever TV spots using Vine.

But even as Vine was ascending, a multitude of forces were converging to disrupt Vine’s success. Just six months after Vine launched, Instagram rolled out its own video feature, with superior editing capabilities, Facebook would also beef up its video-sharing capability. Snapchat, which had existed longer, added more functions, exploded in popularity, and, in 2014, introduced advertising (while Vine did not). Facebook could wield its scale and targeted advertising effectively against Vine, and Snapchat had coolness in its favor. Meantime, YouTube kept evolving as a premier source of online entertainment for brands and YouTube stars such as PewDiePie.

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Glenn Frey and the Art of Collaboration

January 18th, 2016 by ddeal

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Glenn Frey, who passed away January 18 at age 67, did not shine in the spotlight like David Bowie did. His solo career was somewhat successful and had its moments, notably with the 1980s hits “The Heat Is On” “Smuggler’s Blues,” and “You Belong to the City.” But he really excelled as a collaborator. As a founding member of the Eagles, Frey co-wrote and sang on songs that defined a generation, including “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Tequila Sunrise,” and “New Kid in Town.” He and Don Henley rank right up there among the great songwriting duos of rock. The Eagles could not have sold 150 million records without Glenn Frey.

As an ensemble member, Frey was often overlooked and underappreciated. Henley’s gritty singing style was more distinctive. Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh usually owned the spotlight as guitarists. But between his laid-back vocal style, gentle rhythm guitar playing, and narrative approach to songwriting, Glenn Frey deserves as much credit as anyone for shaping the mellow Southern California rock sound. And when the Eagles developed a harder edge to their music, Frey adapted while reminding the group that they were still a powerful force when writing ballads.

He made an impact with the Eagles from the start, co-writing (with Jackson Browne, a perennial friend of the group) and singing on “Take It Easy” on the band’s first album in 1972, a song that would reach Number 12 on the charts. He also sang brilliantly on “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.”

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Will the Women of Country Music Flourish in 2016?

January 18th, 2016 by ddeal

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Country music produced several big moneymaking superstars in 2015, but none of them were women. To wit: in December, Zack O’Malley Greenburg of Forbes published his annual list of the world’s highest-paid musicians. Of the 30 names on the list, seven were country stars, and, boy, did they make some serious bucks. Garth Brooks came out of retirement to earn $90 million, making him the third highest earning musician of 2015 in any genre. And he had plenty of company among the men of country:

Rank Name Amount Earned
3 Garth Brooks $90 million
16 Toby Keith $53 million
19 Jason Aldean $43.5 million
20 Luke Bryan $42.5 million
21 Kenny Chesney $42 million
24 Tim McGraw $38 million
27 Florida Georgia Line $36.5 million

Those seven performers earned $345.5 million through extensive touring, a few new albums, product endorsements, and brand extensions. But where are the women superstars?

According to Billboard, country female artists are landing fewer charting singles and albums compared to men. Taylor Swift, the only female with country roots on the Forbes list, was the fourth highest earning musician in 2015, making $80 million. But her success came from touring as a cross-over artist with a pop album, 1989, which underscores the reality that women who stick to country are not dominating country music like men are. Similarly, country breakthrough star Kacey Musgraves was nowhere to be found at the 2015 CMA Festival, a big-time event hosted by the Country Music Association. She was playing the mainstream Bonnaroo Music Festival, supporting a perception that women in country need to find success elsewhere.

The Rise of Bro Country Read more »




When Strangers Mourn

January 17th, 2016 by ddeal

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Facebook elevates the loss public figure into a global events for widespread mourning. When David Bowie and Alan Rickman died the week of January 10, we posted our favorite video clips of Bowie singing and Rickman acting. On our Facebook walls, we wrote mini-essays about their impacts on our lives. We wondered aloud how two beloved people could have had died of cancer at age 69 within only a few days of each other. We said many other things, too, and shared visual icons (some of us changing our Facebook profile photos to honor one of them).

The mourning occurred on other social spaces, too, but nowhere was the sense of loss felt so heavily as on Facebook, where each time we checked our newsfeeds, a Facebook friend was sharing another memory.

I think Facebook mourning is good. Facebook gave me a place to discuss my reaction to David Bowie’s death and reach out to others who were touched by his passing. Facebook also helped me appreciate the magnitude of Alan Rickman’s loss. I had always appreciated Rickman’s acting talents and was personally inspired by his portrayal of Snape in the Harry Potter movies, but I did not appreciate his widespread impact until my Facebook friends posted their own reactions as well as reflections written by those who knew him personally. Good for Facebook and for those who were moved to share.

But on January 14, something happened that underscored how personal a public death can become: I participated in a face-to-face conversation about David Bowie among strangers. I’m talking about the type of sharing that forces you to look someone in the eye, take a risk and make a statement, wait for a reply, and build upon the other person’s words with your own additional insight.

I was a music resale shop near my home southwest of Chicago. I asked an employee about how customers were reacting to Bowie’s death. He confirmed what I expected, which was that sales of all things David Bowie had skyrocketed throughout the week.

Then he added, “It’s a shame about his death.”

I replied, “But what a way to leave the world, turning your mortality into art.”

I had in mind Bowie’s newly released album Blackstar, especially the song and video “Lazarus,” which contains clear references to his death, which he knew was coming when he wrote the song.

The employee smiled. I hadn’t mentioned Blackstar by name, but he knew what I was talking about.

“I love Blackstar,” he said. “Isn’t it ironic that one of his more avant-garde albums is Number One on the charts?”

A young 20-something guy thumbing through vinyl records jumped into the conversation. He volunteered that he first learned about Bowie not through his music but his visual style.

“You make your first impression from what you see right in front of you,” he said.

The employee and I both agreed and began comparing our favorite David Bowie personas with the 20-something guy, such as the glam-rock Ziggy Stardust and the elegantly wasted Thin White Duke.

Our conversation continued with other customers sharing their favorite Bowie songs and memories, including a man who had seen Bowie four times in concert. He remembered how surprised he was when, during his 1974 tour, Bowie began to introduce songs from an album (Young Americans) that Bowie would not even get around to releasing until 1975. The fans had come for hits, and instead they got songs they didn’t know. Typical David Bowie: not afraid to challenge, even confuse, his audience.

The irony was not lost on me: I was sharing memories about someone I had never met with people I had never met.

As the conversation wound down, no one vowed to exchange Facebook contact information. We didn’t even share our names. We just shared the moment.

I relate this story not to belittle the conversations that occur on social media, especially Facebook. After David Bowie died, you better believe I was posting my reactions on social spaces such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and I am grateful to others who have done the same.

But the strongest gauge of an event’s impact is something we cannot measure effectively: the number of people who are moved to share their reactions with strangers face to face. It takes more guts, and more effort, to open up in person, especially with someone you don’t know. You can’t post a remark on someone’s Facebook wall and return to binge watch Orange Is the New Black on Netflix. You have to take a chance that your remark will be met with stony silence and perhaps a bemused “And just who the hell are you?” look.

Occasionally a news event sparks this kind of public sharing among strangers. Shocking disruptions such as 9/11 have that kind of impact, and sports milestones do as well (the latter usually more so on a local level.) But how many times have you seen the loss of a public figure inspire the experience I had in that resale record shop? I would love to hear your stories.




Are You Ready for the Self-Driving Car?

January 13th, 2016 by ddeal

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A few weeks ago, Adweek‘s Chris Heine asked me how soon Americans will accept self-driving cars — or vehicles that do all the driving while everyone in the car kicks back and enjoys the ride, freed up to bury our noses in our mobile phones, watch movies on longer drives, and do all the other things passengers do. I responded that many Americans are acting already as if they’re behind the wheel of a self-driving car, judging from the number of distracted drivers I see texting, reading, fussing with their kids, and, well, basically doing all the other things passengers do.

Silicon Valley and Detroit are bringing self-driving cars to our lives sooner than you think, as I discuss in a new blog post for SIM Partners. And I believe I believe a critical mass of consumers — enough to support the uptake of driverless cars — will accept autonomous vehicles as soon as automakers make them commercially viable and demonstrate how safe they are.

As I write in my post (which focuses on the marketing implications of self-driving cars), driverless cars are expected to be hitting our roads in 2020, and a number of developments are hastening the process. The two vanguards of autonomous driving, Google and Tesla, have generated plenty of headlines, and justifiably so, for making self-driving cars real and achievable. But the behemoths of the traditional model, the big automakers, are making breakthroughs, too. General Motors recently announced with Lyft a $500 million partnership that includes a self-driving service. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford announced it is testing a self-driving car in poor weather conditions, thus tackling what is considered to be an impediment to driverless performance (which Google had been testing already). Mercedes-Benz rolled out the 2017 semi-autonomous E-class sedan, thus bridging between the world we know today and the one that’s coming (as Tesla is doing with semi-autonomous cars).

That so many automakers are adapting to a new role of “mobility company” (to cite words used by Jeremiah Owyang in January 12 VentureBeat article) tells me how real the autonomous world is. Legacy brands shaped by 20th Century assumptions are embracing a 21st Century business model instead of fighting it.

Are consumers ready for self-driving cars, though? I think the answer depends on a number of factors, including where you live and your emotional attachment to the idea of driving a car. The World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group recently surveyed of city dwellers around the world and found that 52 percent Americans are likely or unlikely to try a self-driving car, with 17 percent neutral. But it stands to reason that city dwellers are going to be more open to trying self-driving cars given the hassles of city driving. In 2014, Pew Research conducted a similar survey that included a more broadly defined audience. Interestingly, 52 percent of city dwellers also said they wanted to ride in a driverless car, but only 36 percent of people in rural areas were interested. Overall, 50 percent of respondents were interested in a driverless experience, and 48 percent were not.

Reservations about self-driving cars are predictable, ranging from concerns about safety (“what if this car makes a mistake on the expressway, and I cannot stop it?”) to loss of control.

I think it’s interesting that in April 2014, 48 percent of the public was actually open to riding in a driverless car — that’s nearly half the population being open to riding in a driverless car even though we’ve been conditioned to accept a conventional driving experience for decades. In fact, we’re already adapting our behaviors to smarter cars that do everything from help us search to manage our media. The development of semi-autonomous cars from Mercedes-Benz and Tesla will help ease in the self-driving experience, but more affordable brands such as Ford would have more of an impact

With effective marketing and the introduction of cost-effective alternatives, I believe self-driving cars will first gain the trust of key demographic segments such as city dwellers and aging baby boomers who have the most to benefit from driverless vehicles. The future will arrive in stages.

And once that trust takes hold, there will be no turning back.

I am curious to see how soon driverless cars emerge, especially after, a few days ago, I dodged a distracted driver who careened the wrong way down a one-way street. Computers make mistakes, too. But I’ll take my chances.