1. Adele Is the Exception to Every Rule
How can the record business survive? “Put good records out,” said Richard Russell, head of British label XL. “That’s it.” Adele, the star of his label, took this advice to heart in late November, selling a mind-blowing 3.38 million copies of her album 25 in its first week — the most since ‘NSync’s No Strings Attached sold 2.4 million in a much healthier era.
It was a reminder of how much clout sheer talent and star power still hold — but beyond that, not really a blueprint for the rest of the industry. “It’s not going to save everything,” says Ish Cuebas of Trans World Entertainment, one of the few surviving record-store chains. “But it helps.”
Adele’s sales were likely boosted by her refusal to release 25 to on-demand streaming services, just as Taylor Swift temporarily did with 1989. But that’s an option that only a handful of superstars can consider — one of many reasons that it’s hard to draw lessons from Adele’s success. “A lot of people might not know you’ve got a record out,” says Cliff Burnstein, who manages Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “You’ve got tickets to sell, so you kind of have to be on the service, just to let people know. But not if you’re Adele or Taylor.” And Adele’s success with physical CDs is far more likely to be one of that medium’s last gasps than a sign of an incipient revival. “Clearly we’re not going backward,” says Tyler Goldman, of streaming service Deezer. “In three or four years, it won’t be beneficial for Taylor Swift or Adele to avoid streaming.” That may be true. But in 2015, it was enough for Adele to just put out a great record. S.K.
2. But Everyone Else Is Following Drake to the Post-LP Age
And if you’re not Adele? Other artists were taking notes from Drake, who did it all in 2015 — platinum sales, heavy radio rotation, social-media supertrends — without releasing a studio album. The Toronto superstar has mastered a new pop game: What counts is flooding the market with fresh material as often as possible, the less advance word the better, so fans feel like they’re part of the coolest club in the universe. “We drop content whenever we get the urge,” says Anthony Saleh, manager of Future, who collaborated with Drake on the chart-topping mixtape What a Time to Be Alive. Artists from Rihanna to Silentó sprayed out singles that were only peripherally connected to albums. And while major labels were once resistant to this approach — “We hated it,” recalls former Universal exec Jim Urie — they’ve come around. Not that they have a lot of choice: Drake has a potentially multimillion-dollar deal with Apple to fund his various projects. “When an artist gets to be as big as Drake,” adds Urie, “it’s tough to tell them what to do.” S.K.