There was a time when if a music superstar had a hit, everyone heard it, knew its name, or was at least aware of the artist. This occurred not only in the United States but around the world as well. I can remember walking down the streets in Paris and Bangkok and hearing the same hits that I just left back in the States pouring out of the various shops. That just doesn’t happen much anymore though, as superstars and their hits don’t have nearly the traction of even a decade ago.
The music industry is well aware of this, by the way, as illustrated by outgoing Warner Music CEO Steve Cooper’s recent comment on an earnings call. According to Cooper, “A decade ago, our Top 5 artists generated over 15% of our recorded music physical and digital revenue. In 2022, they generated just over 5%.”
Cooper went on to say, “What we’ve done over the last number of years is reduce our [financial] dependency on superstars. Reducing that dependency has allowed us to continue to reinforce our approach to A&R, which is long-term artist development.”
This makes it sound as if this was a conscious decision on the label’s part to spend more money on B-level artists and their development, but the reality is that today’s A-list artists just don’t have the same level of visibility and success that music superstars of the past have. To illustrate the point, can you hum or even name a Bad Bunny song? Where you aware that Beyonce has a new album out? Even if you were, how many of your friends fall into that category?
The point is that music has become niche driven more than ever. An artist has a core following that may be deep, but doesn’t go wide, unlike superstars of the past.
The reasons for this has to do more with the evolution of technology than the music itself (you can argue which one changed first).
- There used to be fewer distributors of music and information. You got your news from TV, the radio, newspapers or magazines. Your music came primarily from the radio. If a song or artist made it to those distributors, it was everywhere and everyone know about it. Today, there are so many places to get news and music that there’s rarely a consensus favorite that permeates them all, and as a result, into the minds of consumers as well.
- There are so many choices today. When you have a catalog of 100 million songs to choose from, it’s likely that you’re probably not going to choose something that’s either high on chart unless you’re familiar with the artist, or one that’s bubbling under the chart, because you can listen to something that you know you like already.
- Superstars have more competition. Every country now has their own local superstars, and that’s decreased the level of success that even a major music superstar can now achieve.
None of the above is bad, by the way. Choice is the new gatekeeper, only it’s in the hands of the consumer, and it’s something that you’ll probably exercise many times by the end of the today. For once, the consumer is the middleman.