Backtracking: Old Music Eclipses New in 2015

by Audrey Avril ’19

Maybe we were busy last year. We had Horn shows to see, Sports albums to fawn over, and shrines to build to our lord and savior, Adele. Whatever the case, when we turned back and looked at 2015 honestly, we realized something. For all the great new music we got, there wasn’t that much going on where sales were concerned. Even more startling, we realized after climbing out from under our indie rocks (get it? Because we were so underground… under rocks… rock… it’s been a long first week, you guys), was that older releases were topping charts once again. For the first time recorded, old albums outsold new releases.

According to Nielsen, a research group who have been tracking US music sales since 1991, the sales of catalogue albums (those that were released more than 18 months prior) outsold new releases. But what does this change in the market of music mean? Does it just say something mean about 2015? Or something more profound about the music we listen to, or even who is listening to what, and how? Are our parent’s golden oldies coming back from the beyond the grave to haunt our music charts once more? Scarier thought; has dad finally learned how to use the internet?

Before you start prophesying the death of new music, relax. 2015 could just have been a particularly uneventful year. Critics noted that there weren’t that many releases from hard-hitting artists, like Kanye or Beyoncé, and maybe we were all still just reeling from some really kick-butt stuff from 2013 and 2014. Many artists seemed to be taking a (well-deserved?) rest in 2015, but this may have left the year’s picks lacking for many music fans. Let’s be honest, Adele and Taylor Swift were carrying the team.

Others note that a big increase in streaming might have something to do with the lack of new music sales. It goes back to an old internet proverb: why buy when you can pirate? Or, nowadays, why buy when you can use Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube? I know I at least give a new album a good three listens over to see if it is worth adding to my collection.

However, what is bad news for new music is giving old music a boost. I mean, the good oldies never went away, but they are back in full force this year. Nielson points to a combination of new streaming capabilities (the Beatles recently became available Spotify), a steady lead above new music when it comes to physical sales, and the revival of vinyl (darn them hipsters), as having brought old music back from the beyond (or like, three years ago).

Maybe a more socially intriguing proposition, though, is that we are moving back to the oldies not just at the expense of newer music. Maybe 2015 was a nostalgic year for older music fans, or fans of older music rediscovering old goodies. Last year I made the return to Simon and Garfunkel, and Queen reigned supreme in my car. I have been listening to “Space Oddity” on a near-continuous loop all week. Maybe within the long, quiet weeks of 2015, newer music fans have begun diving back into the past, whether months or decades, for new sounds.

Whatever the case, this data suggests that we are in an age hungry for good music, wherever and whenever we may find it.

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