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Adele’s Approach to Album Selling Shows Us What’s Wrong with the Streaming World

When Adele released her smash hit album earlier last year, titled 25, it broke all kinds of records. It had some of the largest album sales recorded in history and sold more albums in one week than Taylor Swift’s 1989 sold in a whole year. Adele’s refusal to allow streaming services to have her album, instead only selling physical or digital copies, was a savvy one. Having sold over 10 million copies and securing her diamond status, she became the top-selling artist of the century. Records aside however, Adele’s initial refusal to allow 25 to appear on services like Spotify shows us what’s wrong with the streaming service world.

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Adele’s 25 smashed dozens of records worldwide
XL Recordings / Via

Adele’s 25 smashed dozens of records worldwide

Why didn't Adele allow 25 on streaming services?

25 is now available on services such as Spotify or Apple Music, but it was released a whole seven months after the initial release of the album. She was extremely clear on her reasons for not releasing 25 to streaming services and her indifference to said platforms. She was quoted by Rolling Stone as saying:

"It probably is the future, but, eh."

Adele doesn't like streaming services, she feels that they are too disposable and not exciting enough. She went further so as to say that she doesn't want to pledge allegiance to a service which she is still unsure of, and that she wants music to be an event. 

Obviously, her gamble paid off, and it's proof that true fans, super fans if you will, will still make a trip down to a local store to buy a physical copy of an album if they like the artist enough, with millions of physical copies of 25 sold.

So what's wrong with streaming services?

Adele is not the first music artist to pull a stunt like this. She followed in the footsteps of another high-profile case when Taylor Swift pulled her catalogue from Spotify. They have both been very clear about this from the start; they don't believe that streaming services pay enough in royalties back to the artists.

Not everyone agreed with Adele's decision, including Apple, who refused to sell a physical copy of her album in Apple stores. You only need to look at the comments in that last link to see numerous people writing "who would buy physical CDs anyway?". Over 15 million sales of physical copies of 25 by January 2016 gives a sufficient answer. As well as an average of 122,000 physical copy sales per day in 2015 just in case you needed a little more evidence when thinking of an answer to that question.

Who's in the right? Is Adele throwing her toys out of the pram or are Apple being too stubborn? Considering that a music artist would need to sell 1,161 physical CDs at a cost of $9.99 to make the monthly minimum US wage of $1,160, as compared to having to have over 4 million streams on Spotify services, Adele clearly has a point.

This is alongside the fact that for every physical CD sold priced at $9.99, the artist would keep $1, while they would only keep $0.00029 for each stream on a streaming service like Spotify. Furthermore, artists actually make more off of vinyl sales than they do off of streaming services.

When staring at cold hard facts like these, it's clear to see that Adele's decision to not initially allow 25 onto streaming services wasn't even just a savvy business move; it seems like common sense.

Now, of course, Adele is an exception. She is one of the greatest music artists of our time, and there are few music artists in this day and age who would be able to command the same power that she has. The pure number of records that she broke are things that most music artists can only dream of.

But fans of Adele proved that if there were no other way to get her album, then they would buy a physical copy. This will remain the same for smaller time music artists and their group of super fans. Sure, they might not crack the same level of album sales as Adele, but it does show that music artists don't need services like Facebook or Spotify as much as we may think.

Of course, Adele's approach highlights another problem with the music world; the issue of album leaks. Her 25 album found its way online quite quickly after she'd said it wouldn't be released to streaming services, but this represents another large problem in the music industry that needs to be tackled.

Coming back to Adele specifically, it's not just her approach to streaming services that is different compared to other artists. She refuses to be bound by the changes in technology, instead sticking to her own path. She keeps tours much shorter than other artists to protect her vocal chords, and rarely engages with fans on social media.

She is proving that you don't always have to follow the 'current path', and is reinforcing the somewhat outdated notion that "if it sounds good, people will listen". It must be stressed again that this is Adele that we're talking about, and so she is a slightly odd case. But she has still proven that the Spotify's of this world are not the only way for music artists to get their names out onto the market.

How can new platforms like GigRev help to fix the problem?

We can't expect every artist to give up on platforms like Facebook, YouTube or Spotify, and just aim for album sales because this isn't realistic. Music artists do need these platforms, mainly due to the millions, or in Facebook's and YouTube's case billions, of people that use them every month.

They also offer great platforms to help artists reach out and connect with fans in an age where this must be done consistently, or you risk falling behind the competition. The trick for artists is to use Spotify, but not to make it the place they release their new material, as Adele showed with 25. If the Hollywood released everything to TV without initially releasing in cinemas, they would go bust very quickly.

New platforms have emerged on the market, such as GigRev and Disciple Media, who are looking to put the power back in the hands of the artists and allow for a staged release of material. First, they will release physically and digitally in their own white labelled platform and therefore capturing the revenue directly. Then, later, they can release to streaming services.

Many artists have to rely on having a second job, leaving them with less time to focus on their music and therefore a greater reliance on their second job. It's a vicious cycle, and it's something that the likes of Facebook and Spotify don't help.

Can a small-time artist really expect the 4 million monthly plays on a track to hit the minimum wage? Probably not. That's why new platforms like GigRev are desperately needed. They don't understate the importance of Facebook or Spotify because these are great platforms that the fans would not want to see topple. They don't try and take them down either, because who would really want to take on Facebook!

Instead, they talk of working alongside these services. They still give fans a place to stream music and socialise, but they can connect with the artists that they love on a much deeper level. These new platforms offer things like exclusive access to tracks, streaming from behind the scenes or live shows and the chance to meet the artists that are being supported. All the while, the platforms return as much as possible back to the music artists to ensure that they can keep on doing what they love most.

Is Adele the first of many?

The debate in the streaming world is raging, and it is by no means over. Adele may have now released 25 to Spotify, but Taylor Swift's catalogue still isn't there. This is alongside the fact that in 2015 YouTube paid $740 million in revenues back to music artists, which represents an increase of around 11% on the previous year. However, this is in comparison to the fact that the total views on music videos between the same period rose by 132%.

The streaming services simply haven't properly nailed the balance between fans and the music artists yet. Adele took the world by storm with her approach to the 25 release, but it also showed us plainly in black and white what is wrong with the streaming world. It's likely we'll continue to see cases like this until a change is made.

Image credits: XL Recordings and Thibault Trillet