During 2015, we saw a myriad of new and interesting music released, as well as several pop megastars triumphantly returning with new albums and singles galore. Adele’s 25 managed to smash all sorts of records despite being released less than two months before the end of the year, whilst Bieber’s return has proved both financially and critically lucrative.
British artists such as Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, James Bay, Hozier, One Direction and Jess Glynne have all had very good years in terms of album sales – but this was the first year in history where ‘old’ artists and albums outsold new ones – and by 4.3 million copies! 10 years ago, new music outsold old music by over 150 million albums to put that into perspective, but in reality this figure isn’t really worth paying much attention to.
To qualify as a catalogue album – to become ‘old’ music – the album only has to have been released for 18 months. The Nielsen report that revealed this information doesn’t include streaming figures, which both Universal and Warner Music revealed had overtaken downloading for income.
Therein lies the major issue: the most popular form of music consumption hasn’t been included in a report that is recording the music consumption practices of America – this seems flawed. It’s probably to do with distinguishing between actual sales and streaming, but it can’t really be claimed old music is more popular than new based on ultimately incomplete stats.
2015 had arguably not been a great year for legacy musicians. Cilla Black, Lemmy and Ben King are all amongst the deceased – but this did translate into spikes in album sales. A Cilla Black compilation album, for example, broke the top 25 list for bestselling albums of the year. As unfortunate as they are, celebrity deaths do lead to commercial success , and the generations most of these musicians grew up in are the same generation that still buy physical CDs. Younger generations would simply YouTube or stream the very same music.
The vinyl revival is also worth considering here. 2015 was undoubtedly the year of the vinyl, with supermarkets having a dedicated stock for the first time. Appealing to both hipsters and audiophiles alike, vinyl are intriguing: there are far, far more old albums in existence than new ones. The format is what is successful here, not the releases themselves.
The criteria for a catalogue album is also problematic. 18 months really isn’t a great deal of time – Ed Sheeran’s X is technically a catalogue album, being released in June 2014, despite the fact it is still receiving airplay for its singles and its hype is only just starting to wind down. Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour is also in a similar situation, coming out in May 2014.
This seems backwards – most young people would classify this music as ‘new’ music, but the Neilson report classes both albums as catalogue now. Surely a different time frame would be more effective in revealing actual information on the old/new divide?
You’d have to be a fool to think that older albums outselling new ones means old music is more popular than new music, especially with the flawed decision on what constitutes new and old. If you see any articles proclaiming old music is destroying new music, just stop reading and put your headphones back in.