Music Industry Trends to Look for in 2021
Every decade represents a shift in the music industry, from the way we’re able to listen to music to the evolving genre of sounds. Music industry trends like boomboxes, cassette tapes, and the New Wave and pop hits mark the ‘80’s era, while CDs and Apple iTunes playing boy and girl band phenomenons and catchy one-hit wonders were part of the trend of the ‘90s and into the early 2000s.
As we set to enter 2021, there’s one thing this year has taught us about the future of music in the digital age: nothing is for certain. With the Covid-19 pandemic putting a halt on live music and concert tours, musical artists have had to get creative in how they continue to reach their fans and put out new music. If anything, the slowdown of the music business in 2020 may have given us a peek into some of the trends taking us into the future, from social media livestreams and genre crossovers to the introduction of the modern record player and the rise of the indie artist.
Social Media Livestreams
For years, fans have waited for their favorite artists to drop their latest album and wait for the announcement of a multi-city tour. With large-crowd venues still up in the air as a possibility going into 2021, social media’s popularity, like platforms with video streaming and sharing capabilities, has provided the opportunity for musicians and their fans to connect in real-time through livestreams.
Whether the streaming media includes short, raw performances hinting at future music or full-fledged online concert events, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other streaming social media channels allow millions of people to come together digitally. Advances in social media can greatly lend to how technology has changed music as fans of today look to connect with musicians on a personal level in addition to a musical one through a variety of platforms. The ability of artists who can do both plays a significant part in their success.
Rise of the Indie Artist
As a strategic way to ride the social media wave, independent artists are finding innovative ways to get in front of larger audiences through various channels. In the age of “going viral,” all it takes is one hit song, signature dance move, or other popular sweeps across trending topics to get people interested. Once interested, indie artists can continue sharing music via a YouTube channel, TikTok entertainment, and creative ways that grow their fanbase. It’s a two-part endeavor, getting people to watch and enticing people to stay.
In some ways, it’s more difficult for indie musicians due to the music business’s increasingly competitive landscape. However, in others, they have the advantage of giving people what they want from their listening experiences today: curated playlists, fresh, interesting sounds, and underground finds of musicians not yet well known. It feels like a treasure stumbling upon a potential next great star, which makes listeners today feel like part of the discovery process, which in its own way, has also shaped the global music market.
Visual Albums and Music Documentaries
Music industry trends that capture an intimate look at the music-making journey with background information and personal insight from the artist themselves will continue to be a popular avenue into 2021 as concerts and live music continues to be limited or canceled.
Beyonce’s Lemonade album, which debuted in 2016, is one of the most recent and notable albums to be accompanied by a visual film for viewers to see the lyrics being played out on screen. It introduces another avenue of storytelling to create a greater connection with fans, plus it captures audiences already on popular music streaming services.
Musical artists are also documenting behind-the-scenes looks of their albums to put more context to their inspiration, process, and production. Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Harry Styles, and Shawn Mendes are only a few of the many that have released these types of projects on Netflix, YouTube, and other video streaming services.
Algorithm-Based Music Recommendations
In today’s world, we’re able to get digital music on-demand through all of our electronic devices. For every music app, audio streaming service, and online search we engage with, data is collected and we’re recommended new options based on our listening history. For the 100 million devices with Amazon Alexa already built-in (as of 2019), you can instruct the artificial intelligence device to play you a song, album, or playlist according to your mood, time of day, or determined by other artists you’ve listened to before.
The same type of algorithmic formula plays out on popular audio streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. It’s a way to continually feed you fresh content as these sources “predict” what you’ll be interested in. The goal is to increase how long you stream music, the variety of artists you’re interested in, and your reliance on these platforms to help you find what you’re looking for in the future.
Alternative Revenue Streams for Musicians
With live concerts currently on the back burner and streaming subscription services on the upswing, paying for actual albums has become less of the standard way to generate revenue streams for musicians and music labels. It takes creative thinking outside of the box and listening to fans’ feedback to truly hit the type of content and merchandise they want to receive.
For example, Taylor Swift switched gears in 2020 and debuted a produced-in-the-pandemic album strayed from her usual pop-country sound. Since the original release of Folklore, she’s already introduced a special album with bonus tracks, brand merchandise to accompany the album’s themes, and most recently, an intimate concert film on Disney+ that revisited the making of the album.
It shows music industry trends in 2021 have to be just as adaptable and in tune with their audience, as this is what fans have come to expect. With as much content people consume every day, there’s a difference between being a flash-in-the-pan for someone who is temporarily trending on Twitter to parlaying growing popularity into something that’s truly long-lasting.
Movie and TV Soundtrack Breakout Artists
If you’ve ever been watching an original movie or show on Netflix and wondered, “Who plays that song?” that’s intentional. There’s a special team behind casting and curating playlists of mainstream and indie artists that fit well with these shows’ scenes and have the sound that’ll resonate with audiences.
Music that captures the attention or conjures up a certain feeling can resurrect old songs and make them mainstream again or push breakout artists front and center as a tipping point for their career. Case in point: Lizzo’s popular “Truth Hurts” record was two years old before finding new life on the Hot 100 list following its placement on the Netflix movie Someone Great before becoming a regular rotation for Spotify audiences and radio airwaves.
Music Genre Crossover
Music collaborations have always been areas where artists can tow the line between genres, particularly with country and pop. However, the door is open wider than ever for performers to pair up with other musicians or slowly dip into a genre they’re not primarily known for. Music industry trends over the years are similar. People want familiarity to the sounds or artists they already enjoy, but also crave the novelty of what’s to come.
Lil Nas X showed how easily people could adapt to the music genre crossover with his 2019 hit “Old Town Road,” when he managed to hit Billboard’s Hot Country chart while being touted a hip hop/country song. From there, the recording artist managed to deliver multiple remixes and accumulate instant support from fans online. This is only one example of the diversity people want from their music and how they listen to it. Everyone is always looking for a way to be entertained and pleasantly surprised.
Due to the fluidity of music genre crossovers and audiences continuously on the lookout for the next big thing, music streaming services like Spotify have come up with playlists less focused on genre and more attuned to lifestyle and cultural preferences and tendencies.
Spotify’s Pollen concept is a way to feature music from a mix of mainstream and underground musicians that share a similar aesthetic. This concept focuses on curating for the mood of the moment. Whether that’s gathering sounds that spark creativity, soothing music that lets you relax, or party playlists to get hyped up, setting the mood is the focus over choosing one specific genre.
The interest in genre-less playlists speaks to most people who enjoy different types of music but are drawn to artists with similarities in style, lyrics, and/or sound. It also paves a path for the undiscovered, independent artists and promotes diversity among lesser-seen genres and groups in the music market.
Return to Live Music
After a definitive halt to live music events in 2020, fans will be itching to see their favorite musicians live, surrounded by the ambiance that only an in-person concert experience can provide. How live music events will change to introduce this opportunity again remains to be seen, but with multiple avenues available now, the music industry doesn’t have to stick with one specific way to tour. Drive-in concert events, intimate at-home live streams, and other adaptations to the concert experience give performers ways to ease into the live music scene again.
As with the music genre crossover and the mood-setting aesthetic that people crave, there’ll also be an increase in festival gatherings. Various artists will come together and provide a multi-faceted experience that will introduce fans to music in the same way genre-less playlists and algorithms aim to with technological innovation.
Fans drive music industry trends. With more people having a first-hand platform to share their thoughts, preferences and dislikes directly with artists and execs at major record labels, it makes gathering data easier to make smart decisions that benefit all. As with any music trends that’ve been popular in the past, it requires leading the pack in what’s popular in the moment and then learning how to capitalize on it for the long-term.