Music Industry News 2020
by Alex Cosper

Vinyl LPs Outsell CDs First Half of 2020

Nielsen Music's U.S. report on the first half of 2020 revealed vinyl albums outsold CDs for the first time since the 80s. The year has marked the vinyl configuration's 14th consecutive year of growth, although it still only represents a small percentage of total music consumption. Vinyl sales jumped from 8.3 million in the first half of 2019 period to 9.2 million in the first half of 2020, representing an 11.2 percent increase.

While on-demand audio streaming was up 16.2 percent, total audio album sales (physical and digital) including CDs for the period fell 18.1 percent from 55.6 million to 45.5 million units. Only 36 percent of these sales reflected current music. were down 18.1 percent. Digital song sales declined as well, but total audio activity increased 9.4 percent. The broad music consumption report stated total audio consumption was up 15 percent for the first ten weeks of 2020, driven by streaming. Then with the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and subsequent live venue shutdowns, numbers declined.

Music World Loses Mac Davis and Helen Reddy Same Day

Singer/songwriters Helen Reddy and Mac Davis, who both had number one hits in the 1970s, died on the same day September 29, 2020. Melbourne, Australia-born Reddy died at 78 in Los Angeles after a long battle with Addison's disease and dementia while Lubbock, Texas-born Davis died at 78 in Nashville after heart surgery.

Reddy cowrote her signature song "I Am Woman," a U.S. number one hit in 1972 that became an anthem for the women's movement. She topped the Billboard Hot 100 again the following year with "Delta Dawn." She had a total of six top 10 pop hits with "Angie Baby" being her third and final chart topper in 1974. Her discography includes several gold albums while her most successful was the 1972 platinum release I Am Woman.

Davis became well known as the writer of the 1969 Elvis Presley hit "In The Ghetto." Other songs he wrote for Elvis included "Memories," "Don't Cry Daddy" and "A Little Less Conversation." He scored his only number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me" in 1972. Although his only other pop hits were "One Hell of a Woman" and "Stop and Smell the Roses" in 1974, he racked up several hit singles on the country charts. He also wrote the 1971 Bobby Goldsboro hit "Watching Scotty Grow." Many Americans watched his variety TV show on NBC from 1974 to 1976.

Covid-19 Claims Life of Reggae Pioneer Toots Hibbert

Early reggae musician Frederick "Toots" Hibbert died September 11, 2020 in his homeland of Jamaica at age 77 from Covid-19 complications. He was the lead vocalist and songwriter for the reggae band Toots and the Maytals, which emerged in the early 1960s. Toots is credited by Oxford English Dictionary as coining the term "reggae," as his 1968 song "Do the Reggay" was the first documented use of the term. Another early reggae star, Johnny Nash, died on October 6, 2020 in his hometown Houston at the age of 80. Nash was most noted for the 1972 number one reggae smash "I Can See Clearly Now."

Toots and his band were signed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records. Starting in 1964 the band released albums every decade through 2020, culminating with Got To Be Tough. Toots and the group appeared on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2018. He and his wife Doreen had seven children. Another musician who died from Covid-19 complications earlier in the year was country singer/songwriter John Prine at 73.

2020 Becomes Year of New Musical Directions

Music normally performs well during an economic slowdown. Overall economic uncertainty for most most musicians has actually been the norm for over a decade. The music industry has survived because of the tech companies that help promote consumer interest in accessing wide libraries of music. So it's no surprise that the leading companies driving the U.S. economy all deal with music in their offerings: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix.

The pandemic has caused music scene leaders to rethink how profits can be made from music. So far the most resilient solution has involved the internet with virtual concerts and selling digital products or selling physical products through shipping. Venues have remained mostly closed during the crisis, while many may never return. Slim's in San Francisco, owned by musician Boz Scaggs, closed forever in March 2020, shortly after the pandemic triggered mass shutdowns across the nation.

One emerging model pertaining to big name songwriters is to sell their catalogs to a company called Hipgnosis Songs Fund, which invests in popular music. Barry Manilow recently sold his entire catalog to the new company that has acquired ownership of about 12,000 songs. Since the firm's IPO in July 2018 on the London Stock Exchange, it has raised $265 million and spent $700 million on purchasing the catalogs of 42 artists.

Hipgnosis only invests in proven hits that it believes have staying power and not in new music. At least 2,000 of its purchased songs so far are #1 hits. The company was founded by Elton John's manager Merck Mercuriadis, who has also managed Beyonce, Nile Rodgers, Iron Maiden and Morrissey. The company makes its money from songs that generate consistent royalties through airplay and other public performances.

Other ways music is developing new revenue models revolve around streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Facebook, YouTube and other digital platforms. One thing is clear: consumers are moving more toward songs and playlists rather than traditional albums. The vinyl market, however, survives with a subculture that includes a mix of younger and older music buyers. The state of album sales is echoed by The New York Times, which published a story on August 19, 2020 called "How Music Is an Album Worth in 2020: $3.49? $77? $1,000? Maybe $0."

The article explained how certain indie acts, like hip-hop artist R.A.P. Ferreira, can command a price of $77 for a double LP on vinyl. He was able to sell all 1,500 copies from his website. The key is that he has a loyal fanbase willing to pay a high price to ensure they get to own a limited edition release. Vinyl albums, due to their limited pressing, can command a wide range of pricing, depending on how well artists develop their music, brands and followings.

An example of how high a vinyl album price can rise was in 2015 when Wu-Tang Clan pressed just one physical copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The band sold it for $2 million to pharma CEO Martin Shkreli, who was arrested three years later for securities fraud. He is currently serving a prison term. The late Nipsey Hussle is thought to have started the trend of selling high-priced vinyl records due to limited pressings. The artist pressed just 1,000 copies at $100 each for his 2013 mixtape Crenshaw, which fans could hear online for free. All copies were sold, generating $100,000 in revenue.

Drive-In Concerts Come and Go

Two emerging trends in live music developed during the pandemic shutdown across America: virtual and drive-in concerts. While virtual shows appear to be set for survival, drive-in concerts have been forced to shut down in July 2020 due to the second wave of coronavirus cases.

Concert promoter Live Nation helped pioneer the experiment of staging live music events at large parking lots. Many of the sites were existing stadiums and amphitheaters. These shows began appearing in April 2020 and lasted through July. While Live Nation provided national acts at big venues, many regional promoters organized smaller shows for local talent. Live Nation announced in mid-July it was cancelling its entire "Live-In at the Drive-In" concert series.

The concept of "pop-up drive-ins" also briefly blossomed during the spring, in which movies were shown at temporary venues. Each event had its own uniqueness and pricing, from free to sometimes as high as $300 per car. Vehicles were spaced several yards apart to promote social distancing. At many events audio was delivered through apps, although some venues with FM transmitters delivered audio through FM car receivers.

Kanye West Briefly Runs for President

Rapper/recording artist Kanye West celebrated Independence Day by announcing his candidacy for President of the United States in 2020. Within a few weeks, however, an aide said he had dropped his bid. The announcement, however, served as publicity for an upcoming album. Then the story changed again days later when Kanye continued his "campaign."

The rapper, who said in 2015 he would run in 2024, tweeted the initial announcement. He immediately drew a response from Tesla founder/CEO Elon Musk who tweeted, "you have my full support." Although West did not file paperwork on time to get on various state ballots, he is first major musician to ever announce a run for the White House.

Closing of Indie Record Stores

The coronavirus has taken a toll on all kinds of small businesses, including classic record stores. One of the largest record stores in Los Angeles, Amoeba, has announced it will not reopen. On April 10, 2020 Rolling Stone published a story about how coronavirus "could be the death knell of indie retailers." It mentioned how organizers of "Record Store Day," which is usually highly profitable for indie record store retailers in the fall, have observed 80% of the 250 reporting stores have closed completely during the pandemic.

Amoeba's closing, however, is less of a surprise. The decision to shut down the store had already been made prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Developer GPI bought the building in 2015 for $34 million and is planning to convert it into a multi-use complex site. The Hollywood Reporter published a story on April 27, 2020 following the store's announcement it would most likely not reopen. The store at 6400 Sunset Boulevard has existed since 2001.

The store and its sister location in Berkeley, California have been closed since mid-March when the state issued its stay-at-home mandate. Earlier in the year the store raised $216,000 toward a $400,000 goal through GoFundMe to pay for bills and health coverage for workers.

Alanis Morissette Says Women in Music Abused

Canadian Singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette has given a controversial interview with UK publication The Sunday Times about how the music industry mistreats women. According to the singer, "Almost every woman in the music industry has been assaulted, harassed, raped. It's ubiquitous - more in music, even, than film. It's just so normalized." She mentioned in the article published April 26, 2020 she had been a victim of sexual abuse and predicts there will be an "explosion of stories" relating to the music industry's mistreatment of women. The 45 year old singer is best known for her hits from the huge selling 1995 album Jagged Little Pill featuring the hit "You Oughta Know."

KROQ Gets Heat for Firing "Kevin in the Morning with Allie & Jensen"

Entercom, which owns alternative station KROQ/Los Angeles, has been facing criticism by listeners and industry professionals on social media for the abrupt firing of 30-year morning show host Kevin Ryder and his sidekicks Allie MacKay and Jensen Karp. Ryder had been previously part of the "Kevin and Bean" show featuring Gene "Bean" Baxter, who left in 2019 to live in England. The new co-hosts were added on January 2nd and the entire team was let go on Tuesday, March 17th. The news broke in Variety and other publications the next morning. The station and show's ratings have declined in recent years. Read more about changes at KROQ.

Coronavirus Crisis Leads to Mass Closures and Event Cancellations

The global spread of the coronavirus pandemic has led to massive closures of nightclubs, restaurants and other public places in March 2020. New York and California have led the way in these shutdowns in an attempt to prevent the disease, known as COVID-19, from spreading further. The pandemic has been fueled by both media hysteria and rising counts in infections and deaths. Most of the deaths have affected seniors and people who are already ill with weak immune systems. Public schools have also temporarily closed across the nation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic on March 11th. Major concert tours postponed or called off in the wake of the virus were Pearl Jam, Madonna, Santana, The Who, Yes, Green Day, Kiss, Foo Fighters, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Bob Weir and Wolf Bros, Blake Shelton and Dan + Shay. Big festivals canceled or rescheduled included C2C in Europe, SXSW in Austin, Coachella in Southern California, Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Beyond Wonderland SoCal, Big Ears in Knoxville and Dreamville in Raleigh. The Academy of Country Music's 55th Annual ACM Awards was set to air on CBS Television Network April 5th, but has been rescheduled for Wednesday, September 16, 2020.

In the San Francisco Bay Area residents were ordered to stay at home except for essential needs such as grocery shopping until April 7th, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on March 16th. This mandatory order announced by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, however, was not considered an official government lockdown, although law enforcement was asked to oversee compliance. The previous week city officials banned gatherings of over 100 people, leading to the closure of bars, nightclubs, venues and fitness centers. Restaurants were allowed to stay open for takeout food only. At the time there were at least 272 confirmed COVID-19 cases throughout the Bay Area.

Lucian Grainge, Chairman of the world's largest record label Universal Music Group, was hospitalized in Los Angeles on March 15th and tested positive for the virus, as reported by radio/music trade publication All Access. The label immediately issued a work-from-home policy for its employees. Variety reported Grainge came in contact with other major music executives at his 60th birthday party in La Quinta near Palm Springs on February 29th. Guests included Apple CEO Tim Cook and music executive Irving Azoff. The other two major labels Sony Music and Warner Records also initiated work-from-home policies. Several radio companies have ordered employees to work from home as well.

"Lean On Me" Legend Bill Withers Dies

Bill Withers, known most for his number hit "Lean On Me" in 1972, died at the age of 81 on March 30, 2020 from heart complications in Los Angeles. The song is one of the most covered in music history, including the 1987 cover by Club Nouveau, which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. His other big hits included "Ain't No Sunshine," "Use Me" and "Just the Two of Us." Withers married TV actress Denise Nicholas in 1973, but the couple divorced the following year. In 1976 he married Marcia Johnson, in which they had two children.

Country/TV Legend Kenny Rogers Dies

Country singer/songwriter Kenny Rogers died of natural causes in Sandy Springs, Georgia on March 20, 2020 at the age of 81. With over 120 chart singles to his credit in the county and pop genres, he is regarded as one of the most famous crossover recording artists of all time. Most of his biggest hits, however, were written by other songwriters, including his 1978 signature song "The Gambler." He was originally from Houston, Texas.

His first major hit was a psychedelic pop drug warning song by the First Edition called "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) in 1968. The band was billed as Kenny Rogers and the First Edition on subsequent early hits as vocalist/bassist, for songs such as "But You Know I Love You" and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town." In 1977 he scored his first major solo hit "Lucille." He went on to have a long string of pop and country hits including chart toppers "Lady" in 1980 and his duet with Dolly Parton, "Islands in the Stream" in 1983. Starting in 1973 Rogers made several television appearances throughout his career each decade until 2009.

Austin's SXSW Convention Canceled Due to Coronavirus Scare

For the first time in the history of America's biggest music conference, the 34th annual South By Southwest Convention in Austin, Texas has been canceled. The SXSW website announced the news on Friday, March 6, 2020, explaining that Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a local disaster due to the international coronavirus outbreak. The virus is associated with colds in China, but has been spreading globally in recent weeks. Severe cases have led to death, although most cases have been characterized as mild so far.

The news came as a shock to the independent music world, as SXSW has traditionally been a launching ground for up and coming acts. While many of the artists originate from Austin, it's also a showcase of new artists from around the world trying to get the attention of major and small label A&R executives who sign talent. Originally, SXSW was just a music showcase, but in recent years it has expanded to include tech and film. The event's co-founder Roland Swenson told the Austin Chronicle the festival was not backed by cancellation insurance that covered a disease outbreak, although it was covered for other disasters.

Some of the acts scheduled to perform were Christine Renner from Austin, Flyying Colours from Australia, Guidestones from Canada, The Blind Suns from France, Go Cactus from Spain, King Nun from the UK, School of X from Denmark and Lembra from Puerto Rico. Hundreds of other acts were set to play at various venues as well.

The large convention, which is held every March, was scheduled to last from March 13 to 22. While SXSW planners said they would "faithfully follow the City's direction," they've also suggested they were working on rescheduling the event, at least as an online experience. By Wednesday morning of last week they received a petition from with over 40,000 signatures asking organizers to cancel. Tickets for the event cost from $1,395 to $1,725, but SXSW did not say in its announcement anything about refunds.

Last year the conference drew 73,716 people from all over the world, in which over 19,000 came from other countries. "Super sponsors" for the 2020 SXSW were White Claw Hard Seltzer, American Express and The Austin Chronicle. Technology partners included Austin Convention Center, Eventbase, Hootsuite, CP Communications, Dell Technologies and NewTek. Other tech firms that pulled out of the event included Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. The cancellation is a major setback to Austin restaurants, venues and theaters, as SXSW is usually the local scene's busiest time each year.

The coronavirus outbreak has been observed by Wall Street analysts as the reason for several stock market plunges in February and March, as investors fear it will hurt global business. On Friday the Dow Jones Industrial average was down over 300 points, but earlier in the week it fell by over 1,000 points. While Austin officials did not report any coronavirus cases within Travis County, they claimed over 100,000 people have been affected globally.

Grammys Slip To Record Low TV Ratings

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards show fell to its lowest Nielsen ratings to date for its Sunday night CBS broadcast on January 26, 2020. It was also its second smallest audience in its history, falling from last year's average of 19.9 million viewers to this year's average of 18.7 million viewers. This year's show did, however, manage to lead all other programs in its time slot with a 5.4 rating. These figures reflect the 18-49 demographic, which is most important to TV advertisers. The least watched Grammys telecast was 17 million in 2006.

As a comparison, the most watched TV broadcast of the year is consistently the Super Bowl, which draws over 100 million viewers. The Academy Awards has fallen under 50 million, while the weekly top programs are usually NFL games, drawing around 20 million viewers. The most watched Grammys show was in 1984, pulling about 52 million viewers.

The show, which originated from Staples Center in Los Angeles, which is home of the NBA team the Lakers, was eclipsed by tragic news earlier in the day that Lakers basketball legend Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash just north of Los Angeles in Calabasas. Host Alicia Keys opened the show with a tribute to Bryant. Other artists who paid tribute to him were Lizzo, Boyz II Men, Lil Nas X, Aerosmith and Run DMC.

Here are some of the night's top award winners:

Song of the Year - Billie Eilish - "Bad Guy"
Record of the Year - Billie Eilish - "Bad Guy"
Album of the Year - Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Best New Artist - Billie Eilish
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance - Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus - "Old Town Road"
Best Pop Solo Performance - Lizzo - "Truth Hurts"
Best Rap/Sung Performance - DJ Khaled featuring Nipsey Hussle & John Legend - "Higher"
Best Rap Song - 21 Savage featuring J. Cole - "A Lot"
Best Rap Album - Tyler, The CreatorIgor
Best R&B Album - Anderson .Paak - Ventura
Best Country Song - Tanya Tucker - "Bring My Flowers Now"
Best Country Album - Tanya Tucker - While I'm Livin'
Best Rock Song - Gary Clark Jr. - "This Land"
Best Rock Album - Cage The Elephant - Social Cues
Best Dance/Electronic Album - The Chemical Brothers - No Geography
Best Alternative Music Album - Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album - Rosalia - El Mar Querer

iHeartRadio Begins Massive Layoffs

The radio industry's biggest chain with over 850 stations, iHeartMedia, announced in a January 14, 2020 press release organizational restructuring that will result in employee dislocation and layoffs. Part of the reason for restructuring, according to iHeart, is to "take advantage of the significant investments it has made in technology and artificial intelligence." In other words, look for more automation and less live talent. The company says it has 12,500 employees, but there's been no announcement so far as to how many jobs will be cut. According to radio/music trade publication All Access, iHeartMedia's radio division iHeartRadio has removed all personal blogs and bios of on-air staff from its websites.

Rush Drummer Neil Peart Dies at 67

Known as one of the world's all time greatest rock drummers, Neil Peart of the Canadian band Rush died at the age of 67 on January 7, 2020. Peart was also a lyricist for the band that has been on the music scene since 1974. He died in Santa Monica, California of brain cancer, as reported by Rolling Stone. Peart wrote several books starting in 1996. The band completed its final album Clockwork Angels in 2012 and its final tour in August 2015.

Music Industry Report Reveals Annual and Decade Data

Nielsen issued a report in January 2020 on music industry sales and other data for 2019 and the past decade. The report updated earlier yearend stats that said streaming jumped to 80% of music revenue for recorded music. The latest report puts the figure at 85%, reaching 1.1 trillion streams and included much deeper data. Streaming made up for losses in direct sales. Here are some 2019 highlights:

- Total Album Consumption grew 13.5% from 701M in 2018 to 795.9M in 2019
- Total Song Consumption grew 21.2% from 5.8B in 2018 to 7.0B in 2019
- Song Sales fell 26.3% from 401.1M in 2018 to 295.1M in 2019
- Album Sales fell 23.2% from 121.2M in 2018 to 93.0M in 2019
- Sales fell for digital and physical albums, while vinyl sales were up 10.5% from 9.7M to 10.7M.
- Top album was Hollywood's Bleeding by Post Malone with 2.7 million album consumption units
- Post Malone's 6.7B on-demand streams were the most of any artist for the year.
- In albums sales, Post Malone's Hollywood's Bleeding was number one for the year at 2.0M.

Streaming Jumps to 80% of Music Revenue

Music streaming continues to bury album sales year after year as the playlist has become the defining medium of recording artist marketing. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reports that streaming from online music services such as Spotify and Apple Music now account for 80% of revenue. That's a 7% increase from 74% in 2018 and an enormous rise from 2010 when streaming only accounted for 7% of recorded music revenue.

Paid streaming subscriptions rose from 1.5 million to 611 million from 2010 to 2019, which translated into revenue growth from $50 million to near $450 million. By contrast, physical sales fell from 52% to 9% from 2010 to 2019, while digital downloads dropped from 38% to 9%.

Indie Artists Want Deeper Info on Spotify Playlists

Spotify has become a primary focus to not only major labels for building artist stories, but also the much more massive world of indie musicians. The music streaming giant's playlists have been the launching grounds for new artists. Even radio programmers and music executives say it's where song data starts. Even so, most of the top of the Billboard and Rolling Stone charts is dominated by major label acts. Indie artists want to know how they can get a piece of that same action.

Interest has grown for deeper insights on Apple Music curators as well. Playlist Research will spend more time exploring these areas of concern among music industry professionals in 2020. Here are some key takeaways to know about Spotify and getting on its playlists. Keep in mind that although Spotify has the larger subscriber base worldwide, Apple has rivaled its Swedish competitor in North America.

1. Submitting songs to Spotify can be done directly through its site or a distribution digital service such as DistroKid. First you'll need to login to Spotify For Artists and start a profile.

2. There are no guarantees that submitting songs to Spotify directly or through any service will result in placement on playlists.

3. It's best to submit your music to a curator that specializes in your genre.

4. Examples of Spotify's top playlists include Wrapped, Discover Weekly and Release Radar.

5. There are literally millions of Spotify playlists to choose from including Luna Sea, QRTR, Island Beats, Planet Music and Sidekick Music.

6. The most popular playlists tend to be from curators who work for Spotify. However, anyone (artists or fans) who opens an account with the service can publish their playlists for the world to hear.

7. For playlist curators, Spotify recommends starting with 25 songs, along with an image and text. Avoid making the list over 100 songs.

8. Many playlists are based on moods or lyrical themes.

9. Check into various other services to get your music heard by audiences. For getting paid and played in retail outlets, hotels and stores look into Sound-Machine.

See 2019 Music News

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