Back To Radio

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The most recent Nielsen rates provide food for thought:

Album units overall fell 13.6 percent, with 100.3 million total sales. The compact disc continued to crumble, losing 11.6 percent and moving 50 million. Digital album sales fell to 43.8 million, from 53.7 million in the first half of last year. Vinyl sales continued to move up and to the right, growing 11.4 percent, to 6.2 million. New album releases have been most affected by the continued contraction, falling 20.2 percent overall, to 44.1 million units. Catalog albums fell “just” 7.7 percent, to 56.2 million.

Track sales also dropped, to 404.3 million units from 531.6 million units. Current track sales are leading the descent; songs released in the last 18 months saw sales fall nearly 40 percent. Catalog, again, saw a much smaller dip, down 6.4 percent to 236.6 million units.

Listeners streamed 208.9 billion songs (which translates to 139.2 million album units) between January and now (July 6), an increase of 58.7 percent.

This has vast implications, some of which are presented here as conjectural speculation.

A massive demographic shift has occurred: the musical die-hards are dropping out of the mainstream and shifting into vinyl and CD sales off of the internet entirely. Something about intangible ownership at the whim of an online service does not appeal to this audience.

The average person has also tuned out from the media machine and is instead using streaming services as people two generations ago used radio, probably based on recommendations through friends and respected voices in media.

Check out this separation:

Drake is also the year’s best-selling digital album, at 1.4 million units moved. David Bowie’s final record, Blackstar, sold nearly 57,000 LPs, making it the year’s best-selling vinyl album.

The mainstream audience has drifted further into the mashed-up hybrid of traditional African-American genres and the same pop sound that made pop country and indie pop landmarks on the charts.

Everyone else is seeking something more specific, but because they do not cluster in large groups, they are not showing up in these statistics. This most likely relates to cultural, class and social identity: niches, in the marketingspeak of the industry.

Mostly, Americans have abandoned music as a source of cultural leadership. People are no longer buying music but keeping it as a type of background soundtrack to their lives through streaming services, which means they feel no connection significant enough to any particular tracks or albums that they must own them. This means the artists have become interchangeable to them, which shows less interest in music generally.

Since the 1960s, the American ritual of life has involved teenagers buying albums as a source of social identity and a mark of maturation. This ritual has now ended, mainly because the music is so pop that it has become alien to them — it no longer has the rebellious feeling of a voice of dissident wisdom, but seems like scented soaps or television jingles or another consumer product. As a result, their attachment to it has lessened as its power has declined.

Keep in mind that when an album sells 1.4 million units, that means nearly 300 million people did not buy the album. What are the rest listening to? Podcasts are surging, as are streaming services. We have gone back to radio. Other than hipsters, the listening public wants to hear programs, not individual artists.

For metal, the implications of this are positive. The underground can return. Any band now that confines itself to CD or vinyl sales through brick & mortar and mail order will be entirely off the radar of normal listeners, which permits those to seek quality if they choose it. The NWN/FMP franchise — cloning classic bands and re-issuing ancient tomes — will collapse as it is absorbed by the mainstream, who are already oriented toward those bands and albums. As both mainstream and funderground fall away, there is an opportunity for a new underground to rise.

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19 thoughts on “Back To Radio”

  1. Ludvig B.B. (vOddy) says:

    “For metal, the implications of this are positive. The underground can return.”

    I want to believe these good tidings, but although this may indeed get rid of the sell-outs, I don’t believe that we shall be rid of the sell-ins so easily.
    Hopefully they will die in time.

    1. I agree that internalized entryism/assimilation is the far bigger problem.

  2. C.M. says:

    Can there be an underground in the Internet age? If not, how is that good or bad?

  3. John D. says:

    Really interesting, Brett. A refreshingly clear thinker, you’re an invigorating writer. I enjoyed your last Sadistic Metal Reviews too. These two last posts of yours make me reflect further on what Johan began in his analysis of folk and metal. I think metal actually shares with genuine folk something of the same ethos. The difference is that folk is more integrated with nature and tradition in its specific locations. Metal, on the other hand, is an alienated and rebellious spirit raging and expanding to encompass the universe. At its core it desires a return to roots, but its role and function is on the shadow-side of that ethos where it acts as an avenging fury to clear the way and to protect the roots. Its curse perhaps is that it shall forever be the guardian and protector. When it gives in and compromises, it loses the fire and grit and tooth and edge derived from exposure to threat and danger. Maybe it sometimes feels a need to take a break from itself; but in those down moments is when it may yield fatally to temptation. This would explain why certain metal artists might feel inclined to dig into that folk material for inspiration in the first place. But by doing so and being too obvious about it, only adopting certain aesthetic surface features – this is the irony – a process of “playing out” is set in motion, where down the line the original spirit and function of not one but both folk and metal are betrayed, packaged into cool and slick commodities which P.T. Barnum-style are then advertised as “completely new and original and never before seen on earth”, and then sent to the strip-malls and Walmarts and into the waiting arms of all the hipsters.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. It seems to me that, as in rock, in metal the aesthetic domain is too easily co-opted as you mention. This is why genres like jazz, folk and old country rise up above the herd, and why classical is fortunate to have relatively established boundaries. However, the idiots easily emulate that as well, so to my mind it seems like the root of the problem is this: there is no hierarchy of approval which then communicates to the fans. This is why old timers yearn for the day of zines and radio; there were gatekeepers on every corner, pushing down the garbage, and this made for an informed group at the very top of the fanbase that the others emulated. When information is not scarce, spam takes over. That is probably the lesson of the internet.

  4. Extreme burning sensation says:

    The funderground is here to stay, once you contracted HIV, there is no turning back.

  5. HH says:

    Music is no longer a source of social identity precisely because of the proliferation of streaming services which gives every dork on the planet easy access to just about every album in existence.

  6. Steve says:

    Current writers have never made the personal sacrifices necessary to metal to where they have a decent perspective on being an artist . Thinking its their job to trash the underground artists who sacrifice their time and effort to bring you free listening material is counterproductive. These sadistic metal review articles are pure negative garbage in general and reflect poorly on the authors who penned them .
    The sadistic metal reviews are also very poorly written and their authors lack the experience and authority to even have the right to judge these releases.

  7. Erik The Red says:


    What are *your* qualifications ?

    If the authors lack the “right” to judge these releases, who then possesses such a right??

    1. John D. says:

      I get where Steve is coming from. It’s harder to produce than to sit on the sidelines. There is, after all, a real difference between actual artists, or at least those who aspire to be, and fans and all the trolls. Sometimes it does appear that many on the sidelines expect a catering to them. They talk as if they know better and have tried their hand at art themselves. Anyone who has actually tried to make art, in time, grows into having some modesty, realizing how difficult it can be and that there is still so much to learn. On the other hand, everything in the public realm is free game. Anyone has their right to put in their two cents. They can even smear and talk shit. To some extent I believe in a karmic principle. If something has real value it will weather storms.

        1. John D. says:

          I wouldn’t even discount a conversation about this that you posted, as dismally pathetic and pretentious as it is, but you must offer more to show where your thinking is. One could post a link to a song by Britney Spears and it would be just as pointless. Your response is a non-response. It’s as void of meaning as what you posted. Maybe that chick is your soul-mate. She can wear a t-shirt with a large “AN” printed on the front, you with a large “A”, and both of you can stand on a street corner holding up together a big sign which says “ARTIST”. Don’t worry, I’m a generous guy. Walking by I’d pitch some spare change into your cup.

          P.S. Seriously, in the link you posted, what the fuck is that? My favorite part is at the end at 5:54 – the look on that guy’s face who’s holding the camera. Ha ha. Priceless. One might use this as an angle into general discussion about the education system. To think that tuition is being paid and this is what’s being done. In another way, this also could be directed into a discussion about lack of direction and purpose, a real lostness, and its disturbing behavioral manifestations, which to a great extent afflicts the metal world too.
          One might redirect all this back to the forecast Brett Stevens originally made and guardedly feels hopeful for in this post. To get back to quality metal one has to unplug from the big fucking system and know how to carry oneself and express oneself clearly and intelligently and forcefully as a free and alienated being.

          I consider a majority of trolls and what they do as really no better than this so-called performance artist. They do their little thing in their little nasty way, and everyone around them, not unlike those in the video you posted, stand back and react in tension-filled bemusement with some snickers and guffaws and a rolling of the eyes and a pattering of applause just because everyone else is doing it.

          Personally, I’m not even against trolling itself. It might be used effectively in certain circumstances. But for crying out loud, when one is in the presence of intelligent persons with whom there’s a genuine shared passion, I don’t see what the point is. It’s like pinching hard or spitting on your own brother or sister.

        2. C. M. says:

          LMAO, this one brings me back. So painfully awkward from the moment that hipster in the corner clumsily knocks over his empty hard cider glass, to the incredibly forced display of admiration from the crowd at the end of the “performance”. A bona fide classic.

      1. It’s harder to produce than to sit on the sidelines.

        This also applies to writers. Some put a lot of effort into it where others, like the “everything is great” herd from the mainstream sites or the “nothing is great” people from death metal codger boards, are either approving or dismissing without investing the energy in analysis and understanding that is required to separate gold from feces. The “everything is great” people simply eat the feces, and then when they defecate gold, assume they are geniuses; the “nothing is great” people fling the feces over the fence and in twenty years will dig it up, scream “there’s gold in them hills!!!” and then make a fortune selling shovels.

        1. OliveFox says:

          Where is this hill and when can we go public with this Gold Finding Shovel business you propose?

  8. canadaspaceman says:


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