2020: it’s been a year. We’ve gone from music festivals to online concerts, and consistent album releases to a borderline hiatus. Artists are learning to navigate this new, digital music world, and I think they’ve set up 2021 for what could be some impressive options. As always, these potential feats come with their risks, but I don’t think this newfound digital music world is going to go away anytime soon.
Here are my predictions for music in 2021:
Music in Digital Fitness Will Continue Its Growth, Despite A COVID Vaccine, and Instructors Have Adopted Their Role As the New Radio DJs
Since the closing of gyms due to the pandemic, people have found their own ways to workout at home. People are taking more walks than they ever have; trying a Zoom group workout; and, quite especially, gravitating towards the flood of fitness apps right at their fingertips.
During the pandemic alone, the number of health and fitness app downloads has globally increased by 46%, as has the number of daily active users. Some in-person fitness programs have added alternative options for their users. ClassPass, a company that gives members the ability to take fitness classes from different venues, began offering livestream and on-demand classes during the pandemic. 81% of members participated in these online classes.
Beyond that, instructors are becoming DJs. Instructors curate their classes towards their clients, and offer introduction to new song releases and remixes, even during a digital age when the music production world has slowed down a bit. Labels are paying attention and have considered fitness as the new music distribution channel for years.
So, do I think digital fitness will cease or slow after a vaccine? No, I don’t. People will likely think twice about going to a gym. There was a time we wiped sweat and grime off equipment, well, because it was gross. Now, we will do it so we don’t get sick and infect others. A survey by Mindbody reported that participants said they will still take virtual classes, even after gyms reopen. Feed.fm’s own research also supports that 70% of respondents are working out more at home post-COVID than pre-COVID. It’s been a pretty revolutionary year for the digital fitness world. Peloton is now even rumored to be one of the top music players and actually eating some market share from Spotify, Apple and the other top music streaming services.
Live Streaming Is Here to Stay
It goes without saying that this year, live music took a brutal hit. Concerts were cancelled, and we really weren’t certain when live music would return. But artists found alternatives, making concerts more accessible for even more people. Livestream music has let listeners turn their own homes into personal concert venues. Friends can connect virtually and stream concerts together.
Artists have been able to collaborate more easily, and have even been able to interact directly with fans through Q&As, storytelling, and virtual meet-and-greets. Some virtual concerts even feature songs that have yet to be released. Artists have been able to give back through these events, donating proceeds of earnings to charities from educational programs to COVID-19 relief efforts.
Digital live music has given artists the opportunity to connect with audiences that haven’t previously been in the venue. In doing so, they’ve pushed their reach even further. I think this is just the beginning for digital live music. Direct-to-fan engagement through digital channels will become the norm for artists’ marketing strategies, with or without a label.
Live Music Will Come Back, But It Will Be Different
We’ve already seen live music come back, but it’s not going to be crowds of people spilling their beer all over each other. Concerts have already restarted, in forms of drive-in concerts from your car, and pop-up shows featured on roofs.
There have to be precautions taken, but I think these events are doable. People can drive into an outdoor venue, socially-distance their cars, and listen to live music comfortably. Musicians are curating their spaces towards what concerts look like during a pandemic–– and it’s working.
Yes, eventually people forget even the worst of times. The vaccine will succeed and memories of the pandemic will fade. People will eventually come back to venues to watch live music in droves – but the question is when will that happen? My guess is that it things will come back during festival season in 2022 and fans will go bonkers. Perhaps it will be the Roaring 20s all over again, but this time the Roaring 2020s. In the interim, let’s hope venues can figure out a way to make ends meet while audiences remain at home.
An Increase in the Sale of Publishing Catalogs
In an attempt to pull in more money, musicians have begun selling their song catalogs. When their catalogs are sold, they typically lose their ongoing income and royalty rights to each song. One particularly notable catalog sale was that of The Beatles when Michael Jackson outbid Paul McCartney. Fortunately, in 2017 after a 50 year fight, McCartney was able to reclaim ownership rights in a private transaction with Sony ATV.
Right now, the value of catalog sales are higher than ever they’ve been, which is mostly due to low interest rates and a strong market of bidders. Because of these low interest rates, buyers are able to find cheap debt financing to buy catalogs. However, that has driven prices up prompting some notable sales. Bob Dylan recently sold his entire catalog to Universal for between $300 to $400 million. Stevie Nicks sold 80% of her rights, as well.
As musicians find it more difficult to make money (especially, it seems, those later in their careers), they’re turning to catalog sales. I think we’ll continue to see an increase in these sales from private equity and other buyers who can use leverage to make large acquisitions.
Artists Have Either Disappeared, Or Used Quarantine to Their Advantage
It seems that artists have gone either one way or the other during the pandemic: heads in the sand, or intensely focused on songwriting and figuring out ways to make it out of the pandemic successfully, as an artist.
Some artists have really felt the hit of the pandemic due to their inability to perform live , in-person concerts, while others (most notably Taylor Swift) have really used this quarantined time to their advantage. Swift published two albums during the pandemic, folklore and evermore, turning her home into a music studio. She worked with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner over FaceTime, and went on to record a special with them for Disney+. Both albums resulted in enormous success, with folklore spending six weeks as #1 on the Billboard 200.
It’s promising and inspiring to see how artists can tackle both songwriting and the digital music world amidst a pandemic. But it does involve a surge of productivity, and a commitment to it, at that. Let’s hope that musicians that have given up on their artistic careers to get through COVID will be able to return to doing what they and their fans love.
Most of us agree that 2020 was a year that we want to forget. But it did pave the way for new digital communication from the comforts of one’s home. This may be a revolutionary first we’ve seen of music in a digital age, but it isn’t the last. Artists have leveled up their innovation, and recognized that not everyone is going to be comfortable with going back to in-person events, even in a vaccinated world. 2020 has laid the groundwork for future digital music revolution, and 2021 will hopefully lead us back to normalcy, perhaps a new normalcy.