For the first time in over a decade, old music outsold new music by 4 million albums in 2016. We recently entered a new year and surprisingly enough, new music is still expected to fall behind in sales at the hand of catalog albums. What is this abrupt phenomenon that’s causing listeners to explore the old instead of embrace the new? On one end of the spectrum, we’d like to believe that the millennials and younger generations have finally come to their sense and understand that, in fact, classic music is better than the stuff radio stations and record labels are promoting today. However, if we choose to exert a strong sense of self-control and harness the condescension that comes with making such an assumption, then we need to look at the other end of the spectrum; which is, there must be a scientific or logical explanation for the resurgence of the musical blast from the past.
Logically speaking, it might be fair to claim that the recent heartache brought on by some of the most major deaths in the music industry over the past 10 years have caused an influx of old school album sales. In 2016 alone, we lost David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and of course, George Michael. Further more, over the course of the last decade, we also lost Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, James Brown, and many more greats. Posthumous album releases may have offset the rediscovery of original catalogs by artists such as Bowie and Jackson, artists whom already had a place in history as iconic and influential, no matter the age or genre today’s youth enjoys. The art of remastered albums has seen an upheaval in recent years, as well. Classic rock bands have released updated studio versions of their greatest hits and most successful albums, which undoubtedly contributed to the increase of old music purchases. Bands who have reunited and attempted to reclaim their glory days have also reintroduced and reinvented themselves over the past 10 years. For example, take the Backstreet Boys – with every release of a new album came the opportunity to reminisce about the good ol’ days. This led to a timeless reinstatement of ‘Backstreet’s Back’ and ‘I Want It That Way’ in everyone’s music library, regardless of where you store it.
It would be foolish to overlook the nostalgia effect that old music has on the older and middle generations, and sometimes, even the younger ones, too. Any single, playlist, or album set that was written and released over 18 months ago, falls under the category of “old music.” Therefore, today’s 21-year-olds are still shamelessly listening to Jessica Simpson’s cover of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” like it’s the original. We’re a little bit older so obviously, we know the Nancy Sinatra version is actually the only version worth listening to still. Regardless, a nostalgic emotion is enough to make anyone repurchase the classics over the stuff we hear on the radio today. From a scientific (and psychological) standpoint, it makes complete sense. The human brain is systematically triggered by a feeling of familiarity. When it comes to music, this familiarity is commonly associated with a positive emotion and in correlation, people refer to their old school tunes to continue this state of euphoria. It’s like watching my mom dance to The Who’s “The Kids Are All Right;” she gets a feel-good vibe by something she’s got a long history with. Plus, The Who really are talented artists.
Now to be fair, we can’t dispute the fact that live streaming and illegal torrent downloads negatively affect the stats of contemporary artists’ album sales. It’s easier to purchase (and more fun to place value) on a Rolling Stones record that once shattered entertainment boundaries as opposed to the current jams of Harry Styles and whoever else remains a part of One Direction. It doesn’t mean One Direction isn’t insanely popular (clearly, they are) and that their fans aren’t downloading their music… they’re just doing it for free. It’s slightly more difficult in the 2000’s era to gather accurate data on the most wanted and sought after music when the entire world has the ability to take it without payment with the use of their fingertips. All in all, 2017 is still bound to turn triumphant for artists like Black Sabbath, Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, and so on. Is that really a bad thing, though?
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