I have never heard British pop singer Adele, but am happy to celebrate her newest achievement as a major milestone in the music revolution on the Internet. The British pop singer has restricted her new album, “25” from streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, because she can carry it off as a singer with a crazy following. And thereby hangs a tale of how the Internet can be both an opportunity and a threat to musicians.
Adele’s latest album is, to start with, available only on iTunes, Apple’s music store. At the time of writing, “25” has sold 900,000 copies on the first day of release, and Billboard magazine, the industry watcher, is predicting it will sell 2.5 millions in the first week. Taylor Swift set the mood last year when she held back radio rights for her “1989” album.
I now take you back to 1998, when Canadian singer Alanis Morisette had to make a virtue out of necessity. Her song, “Uninvited” was released for US radio in March but Warner Brothers was forced to release the entire soundtrack to radio before the album CD hit the shops. That was the age of the CD, and MP3 music was just beginning. They were forced to do this because radio stations could be playing low-quality stuff downloaded from the Internet.
The US music industry tried to crack down on websites after fans uploaded the song after recording it from radio stations.
The industry faced a bigger challenge in 1999, when Napster.com was born, created by maverick teenage programmer Shawn Fanning. The peer-to-peer file-sharing service simply enabled illegal downloads and swapping of songs, putting the music industry in peril. After years of lawsuits, changing hands and much acrimony, in 2012, it became part of Rhapsody, the online music service.
While the Napster row raged, iTunes was born in 2001, as Steve Jobs came out with a service that made legal the kind of stuff Napster was doing recklessly. Apple’s iPod and iTunes brought a compromise between the download generation and the industry.
Later, as sophisticated streaming music services such as Pandora, Rdio, Rhapsody and Spotify grew (now supplemented by Apple Music and Google’s own Play Music), the fashion became increasingly the all-you-can-eat music format under which subscribers pay a fixed monthly fee that enables cheap but legal consumption of music from huge libraries.
Adele’s challenge last week was a milestone because it brought back the industry to a full circle -- because beween Ms. Morisett’e compulsion and Adele’s success, the proliferation of smartphones and on-the-go purchases makes things easier for bigger stars to find a golden mean between piracy and quick high-volume sales.
Meanwhile, there are independent musicians, many of them brilliant, languishing because they do not have the chutzpah or luck. Sites such as ReverbNation.com and Muslate.com help Indie artistes promote themselves and sell their songs (which can also be done on iTunes).
Hopefully, the industry will find a way to make lives better for offbeat talent the way it has made blockbuster singers such as Adele thrive. Not everybody can touch a chord with so many like she does.
Streaming radio sites wait for Adele’s latest album to be available legally. I wonder if they are getting the rights, er, for a song.