Keith Harris: Why Are Catalogue Albums Outselling New Releases?

28 Jan 2016

Credits: Unsplash@pixabay

I read this week that in America last year, catalogue albums outsold new releases.  This could be as a result of any one or a number of different things:

  1. Recent albums have not been of the quality of the albums of yesteryear, possibly due to reduced investment by record companies, on both the A&R process and the studio recording process.  This will have been exacerbated by the fact that many older albums have been re-mastered, improving the sound quality and bringing them in line with newer recordings;
  2. The record industry has gone through its golden era; its best days are now firmly behind it.  As a result, the age of record buyers is creeping ever upward, therefore the new demographic of people buying records points towards consumers buying older albums by older artists.  Re-mastering probably has a role to play here too;
  3. The world of streaming has opened up a new world to a younger audience who are now discovering the wealth of music available from days gone by – the success of 6 Music with its heavy leaning towards classics of rock history, would tend to lend some support to this theory;
  4. New artists and albums are finding it very hard to make an impact on the public consciousness.  The demise of much of the music press and the narrowness of particularly commercial radio playlists would generally endorse this view;
  5. It might also be that faced with the sheer number of new recordings available, many people have given up on music discovery because of a lack of time.  Many of the traditional gate-keepers have also been disappearing, with the decline of the music press, and the fragmentation of the radio audiences for new material, due to customised radio services;
  6. It could just be that we have now moved to a generation, which has grown accustomed to turning to YouTube as a destination of first choice for acquiring new music.

Whichever one of these turns out to be true, I think that the industry would do well to spend some money to find out the reasons for this slightly worrying development.

The trend over the last several years towards assuming that just because music is new, that it is good and chiming with a younger audience.  The evidence from the live music market place with hugely successful tours from so called Heritage acts, would indicate that older music is very popular with young audiences.

It certainly strikes me that this is an early warning; that many traditional assumptions about the future of the recorded music industry are being challenged.

I’m not sure whether that means taking a good look at the age profile of the record company executives or the age profile of those in the media who are responsible for bringing us the best of the modern music output, but it would seem that the status quo is not necessarily a good idea.

For the sake of the current generation of musicians let’s not just shrug our shoulders and move on.

Keith Harris – Chair, MusicTank

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