Why new music is facing decline as older artists gain popularity

At this year’s Grammy Awards, young artists such as rappers Lil Nas X and Doja Cat and singer-songwriters Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo were vying for top honors, particularly in the coveted categories of album and of the record of the year.

Not that the Fab Four, which disbanded half a century ago, were rewarded, although Paul McCartney, the 79-year-old former Beatle, competed unsuccessfully in two categories (best rock song and best album rock) solo. artist. The real point, however, is that older music — not just the Beatles, but anything from the 50s up until a few years ago — is gaining traction in an industry once defined by a mindset. of the Top 40 consisting of listening to the hottest new releases.

The numbers tell the story, especially when it comes to the all-important audio streaming format, which is how many Americans are now listening to music. Current release streams were down 19.4% in 2021 while older release (or “catalog”) streams jumped 29.4%, according to industry tracker MRC Data.

In fact, in an annual report, produced in conjunction with music publication Billboard, Rob Jonas, chief executive of Luminate, MRC’s parent company, noted that this is the first time that older music has surpassed new in terms of popularity, at least in the realm of streaming.

“We have a generational shift,” Jonas told MarketWatch.

Current release streams fell 19.4% in 2021 while older release streams jumped 29.4%, according to industry tracker MRC Data.

This arguably explains why older artists have become investor favourites. Legends such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen Neil Young and Stevie Nicks have sold their catalogs to various businesses and corporations for sums in excess of $100 million. The Springsteen deal – at Sony Music SONY,
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– reportedly valued at $500 million.

Don’t overlook the Beatles either. They remain a cultural force, as evidenced by all the attention given to Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” documentary, which debuted on the Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+ DIS network.
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Older artists have also featured in this year’s Grammys: for example, the Foo Fighters, a group that was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame last year, won several accolades.

Lil Nas X, who has been nominated for a number of Grammys, is seen here accepting the Male Artist of the Year award onstage at the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Awards.

Rich Fury/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

So what’s behind this boom in all the older stuff?

Luminate executive Jonas says this can be partly explained by the influx of Boomers and Gen X’ers ​​who are now listening to music on streaming platforms. In the early days of streaming, younger listeners gravitated to the format — and it’s those same listeners who are typically the biggest consumers of new music. But once older generations jumped on the bandwagon, Jonas says it was inevitable that demand would rise for artists that baby boomers and Gen Xers had known and loved since their formative years.

Also worth noting is the fact that so many new tracks are coming out, says Jonas, citing the fact that Spotify adds some 60,000 songs to his playlist each day. While this could seemingly raise the profile of contemporary music, Jonas said it could have the opposite effect: new artists face an uphill battle to be heard in such a competitive market.

“Awareness and pick-up is probably more difficult than ever,” he said.

Which is not to say that young listeners are strictly fans of young artists. On the contrary, this group is increasingly interested in the music of previous generations, say industry professionals.

Joe Mulvihill, a manager who works with artists such as Boyz II Men and NSYNC’s Joey Fatone, points out how prominently “The Batman” movie brought Nirvana’s song “Something In the Way” to the fore. Not only does this signal a new appreciation for this iconic grunge band, but it will also likely have a side effect among younger listeners, Mulvihill said.

“Next thing you know, they’ll be listening to Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains,” he said, referring to other great grunge and alternative bands from the same era.

There may be another element to why older music is so influential in today’s market. Namely, it is the question of whether artists from previous eras are actually “better” than today’s crop as a whole.

In general, professionals tend to be on their toes when the topic comes up. “I wouldn’t say it’s better music. It’s a different kind of music,” veteran entertainment attorney Kenneth J. Abdo said of the classic work by older artists.

Yet Penn Holderness, the viral video maker and musician who works alongside his wife Kim Holderness, isn’t holding back. In a recent video titled “We Are Gen X,” he said of his generational cohort, “We hate all new music.”

Holderness says he may have overdone it — he considers himself a Lil Nas X fan, for example. Still, he says he finds a craftsmanship and character in older music that is often lacking in the newer material he listens to when driving his daughter to school and she controls the radio. .

“Everything seems pretty similar right now,” Holderness said. “You hear a song and then you think, ‘Have I heard this song before?'”