By Hugh McIntyre
2016 has finally come to a close (or it will relatively soon, thankfully), but we’re not done just yet. December is always the busiest month for everybody, and the same is doubly true for the music industry. The biggest albums are released, year-end lists begin rolling out, the Grammy nominations are announced, and everybody starts gearing up for a new year. This December was no different, and there was quite a lot going on.
- Drake was the most popular artist on pretty much every streaming platform there is, and it wasn’t even close;
- Artists being played on the radio might soon see their royalty checks dwindle;
- A classical composer who has been dead for a century nabbed the title of the best-selling CD of 2016; and
- We all love Facebook…except the music industry and indie musicians, that is.
Drake ran all of streaming by an enormous margin in 2016
It should come as no surprise that Drake was the most-streamed artist of 2016, with almost no differentiation between the major players in streaming.
The hip-hop star was the most-played on Spotify and Apple Music, and the most-thumbed on Pandora (meaning more people liked his songs than any others). His album Views and his songs “One Dance” and his collaborative hit with Rihanna, “Work,” helped his name appear at the top of essentially every ranking.
Drake himself saw his music played close to five billion times on Spotify alone, and Views just recently became the first album on Apple Music to see its songs streamed at least one billion times. Spotify, which has five times the users as Apple’s relatively new entrant to the streaming market (100 million vs. 20 million), padded the rapper’s wallet even more. Just about a week or so ago, “One Dance” became the first to reach the one billion milestone on Spotify, becoming the first of what will surely be many.
The only places on the web where Drake didn’t seem to rule were on video platforms. He was not among the most popular acts on sites like YouTube and Vevo, which was because his album Views and the singles released off of it didn’t have promotional strategies based on videos for the most part.
While not everybody can rack up as many plays as Drake and his friends, the number of songs being streamed in the U.S. every year is growing rapidly, and that benefits everyone. Nielsen reports that by the time the year has concluded, over 250 billion (yes, that’s billion with a b) tracks will have been streamed in America, which represents a 77% increase from 2015. With more and more people signing up every day, that number should continue to climb by at least another 50% in 2017.
Radio stations are looking to pay songwriters even less
The radio industry is notorious for low payout rates, and ones that only benefit some artists, and it still isn’t satisfied with that fact.
A committee combining the powerful forces of 10,000 radio stations across the United States has launched a lawsuit against Global Rights Music (GMR), a performance rights organization that is tasked with collecting royalties from people and companies that play the music of its artists, and with working to slowly, but steadily, raise the amount paid for those broadcasts.
This action, while despicable to artists of all kinds and at all points in their careers, is nothing new. For decades now, the radio industry has fought to lower the amount of money it needs to pay when songs are broadcast to listeners. Every so often, there seems to be some new all-important reason why the business of radio deserves to put more money in its own pockets, or why artists are being overpaid.
While the industry’s reasons change from effort to effort (and this time it’s something a bit too technical to actually be relevant or important to most people, and it seems like a real grab), the fact that radio needs music much more than the opposite remains irreversibly true. If every major artist pulled their catalog for use on commercial radio, people would find other ways to listen to tunes, while the business would go under. Radio argues that it provides valuable promotion to artists and record labels, which makes them money, but does that mean the entire industry should continuously be allowed to pay less and less for the same performances?
The radio industry doesn’t often win in these cases, or at least not by too much, so hopefully this latest legal assault won’t pan out, and artists will still be paid the fractions they earn now.
The best-selling CD of 2016 is shocking, while the best-selling albums are not
It might sound too crazy to be true, but the artist that managed to sell the most CDs from one collection is none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The composer, who certainly wasn’t around to do any promotion or tour on the new item sold under his name, released a new box set in 2016, and his super fans snapped it up.
Mozart 225, a celebration of essentially everything he ever wrote for his 225th birthday, is a 200-CD box set that retailed for under $350 on Amazon, making it a serious steal. The label behind this project, Decca, wasted no time in sharing the news that it had nabbed the best-selling CD of the year, which is technically true…at least in some respects. The box set only moved about 7,000 copies, but when one considers that there are 200 CDs per box, that adds up to about 1.3 million shifted, which is rather impressive in 2016.
Having said that, Mozart 225 is only available on CD, so it lost out to more current stars when other forms of albums are added into the mix. Drake, Beyoncé, Adele, and Rihanna all moved more albums (or album projects when streaming is taken into account), and people bought their CDs too!
CDs as a category took another hit in 2016, but millions of people around the world still want to own the music they love in physical form, and they are willing to pay. Those artists working in genres that cater to audiences that like to buy music, especially in physical mediums such as classical, should not be swayed from making these products for fans to buy.
Facebook is clashing with the music industry in major ways
Social media giant Facebook has long been a leader when it comes to many technological advancements, from connecting with friends and family around the world to messaging to online gaming, but when music is concerned, the world’s most popular social channel is playing catch up, and things do not appear to be going well.
The company started integrating music and music videos in a major way not too long ago, and while that sounds like it should be a good thing for everybody involved, the music industry has banded together for the most part, and it is not thrilled.
Licensing deals have not been signed with the major labels, and advertising does not exist in the same way as on sites like YouTube or Vevo, so the money isn’t flowing as it should. This means that artists of many sizes, especially those towards the bottom in terms of popularity and those trading in covers, aren’t earning money on their works, even though Facebook can collect cash on ads placed not necessarily on the videos themselves, but on other pages on the website.
Because Facebook isn’t yet paying for using music (which already seems like a ridiculous sentence), takedown notices are pouring in as they used to on YouTube before advertising models caught up with the way people were uploading tunes. This is bad for anybody trying to promote their music, or themselves, on the platform, and it’s sadly not going to change until the industry can force Facebook to start paying for the music it is using. The social channel could, and hopefully will be, a powerful tool for promotion and a source of revenue, but that may need to wait until next year.