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The Album: Alive and Well

With Spotify now valued at $16bn, I’ve seen the future, brother to quote the late Leonard Cohen- the charts are irreperably broken and music is now all about curation, personalisation, playlists and single tracks- isn’t it?

Not quite, actually- reports of the album’s death may have been greatly exaggerated.

Speaking at the Reeperbahn festival and conference in Hamburg recently, Warner Music Group’s Chief Digital Officer and EVP of Business Development, Ole Obermann set out to bust some myths- one of which was that the album is dead.

As documented on Music Business Worldwide, Obermann used a sample breakdown of revenue for a global superstar album sales (physical and download), single sales (physical and download), and streaming to illustrate that the album is still crucially important even in today’s streaming world.

Obermann demonstrated that the artist had pulled in 50% of total recorded music income from full (ie. not equivalent) album sales.

Some other recent examples- American group The National recently celebrated their first UK Number One album with ‘Sleep Well Beast’. 18 years and seven albums into their career, it’s a huge milestone and one that is propelling the band to do serious live business, with four nights at Hammersmith Apollo selling out swiftly. The band played the penultimate slot on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury this year, with a set focused on the as yet unreleased album that went down a storm.

Elsewhere, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (pictured) recently completed a five-date UK arena tour, whose set lists comprised largely of the stark and uncompromising 2016 album Skeleton Tree. The concerts were acclaimed as the best of the band’s lengthy career, with Cave building a connection with audiences that transcended the huge and rather soulless spaces he was playing. At The 02 Arena in London, the whole experience felt strangely like an intimate yet huge sounding club show.

For such artists, the album as a core body of work is their lifeblood and can be used to develop connections to fans on numerous levels- teaser tracks on streaming sites, pre-orders bundled with pre-sale links to gigs, live performances of tracks in advance to build momentum, special and varied vinyl releases and more.

Both examples also lay waste to the idea that the industry is not creating new ‘legacy’ acts that can pack out the big sheds and headline large festivals- the prevailing logic is that with the demise of Cohen, Bowie, Petty and many more, there are no more heroes as the old song goes. It is nonsense and the album remains the anchor around which such legacies develop.

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