Trends of an Over-Saturated Market

At this moment 17,916,086  artists are streaming songs on myspace. Let that sink in for a moment.  There are nearly 18 MILLION artists available for you to listen to online. 

Each week, the music director at Shine.FM in Chicago receives as many as 60 new singles that can potentially be played.  Out of that number, 2-3 are chosen.  Working in radio and as a writer, I estimate that each year I receive 100 solicitations from independent artists.  Assuming that each album is an hour long, it would take me two and a half weeks of doing nothing but listening, and emailing the bands to follow up on each one of them. 

After several attempts at trying to research how many albums were released in the last year, I finally gave up.  The major labels released not hundreds, but thousands of new albums.  Online indie-music provider emusic.com boasts a catalog of more than two million songs from independent artists. 

Currently, there are 7 days of music in the iTunes program on my laptop, and roughly that same amount on my work computer, totaling about 5,000 songs.  The new 160GB iPod holds 30,000 songs.  If you filled it, you could listen to music for six consecutive weeks before you repeated a song. 

To say that music production, creation, and distribution has exploded is the understatement of the new millennium. Discussing music is now almost as mind-boggling as trying to discuss the distance between galaxies or the number of plant species in a rainforest.  And with this almost unfathomably large stream of sound flooding the market comes several new trends and rules that affect the way we discover, buy, and consume music. 

The Decline of the Superstar and the sold-out show: In 2000, NSYNC sold 1 million units of their “Pop” album in a single day.  Just eight years later, it’s very possible that we will never see a phenomenon like that again.  The age of the “superstar” who releases an album and moves millions of albums within the first few weeks is fast coming to an end.  While many music industry insiders want to blame piracy, it’s much more likely that the decline is a result of the fact that there are so many artists. In addition to this, I’ve witnessed first hand the decline of people at concerts across the board.  Sunday night, I was at the Relient K show at the House of Blues in Chicago, and I was shocked to find out it was sold out.  Never before have I seen so many tours come through Chicago in a single fall season.  Because of the flooded market, it’s becoming very rare to see a concert sell out. This applies to both the Christian and mainstream music worlds.  As a radio station, we can’t even staff the number of Christian concerts in our area in order to have a booth at each one. Granted, we are in the third largest city in America, but there are often 2-3 Christian concerts each week from known artists on at least mid-sized labels.  

Increased “musical intelligence” of consumers: This idea that a label can “conceptualize” an artist in a boardroom, “make” their sound in the studio, and then sell a thrown together album to the unthinking masses just can’t happen anymore.  Fans now have easy access to find out where an album was recorded, who the producer was, what was going on in the life of the artist to influence the songs, and a wide variety of other information.  To be blunt, today’s music fans have a “B.S.” meter that can spot fakeness a mile away.

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Rise of the super fans: As the market continues to fragment into smaller pieces, and less people are at any given live event, artists are going to become increasingly dependent on the super fans: the ones who will buy every album, come back each year to the show, wear the t-shirt, and tell 10 friends about the band.  The artists that flourish in this new market will be the ones who find innovative new ways continually communicate, and include fans in the creation of the art.

The reign of the mavens: When I was in high school in the early 2000’s,  a “big review” in a music magazine like Rolling Stone was a reason to check an album out.  This year, there isn’t one album I’ve picked up simply because I saw it in a music magazine.  There are, however, at least five I’ve purchased after reading positive feedback by bloggers. As a music fan, I put a lot more stock in the opinion of my friend Dylan’s blogs than I do in the opinion of a major rock critic (by the way, thanks for introducing me to The Cool Kids). In the past, the power to take an artist form unknown status household name lay almost solely in the hands of MTV, corporate radio, and Rolling Stone. In the new music market, the early adopters have more power to “break a new band” than ever before. 

tower, 25, can be heard on 89.7 Shine.FM in Chicago and 101.7 FUSE FM in Saginaw, Michigan. 

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