Music Never Rests -
The Music Industry During the Pandemic
Words By Karlo De La Cruz
Art by Peppi Escasa
The COVID-19 pandemic has caught everyone off guard. Most of us are at home, with classes and work either canceled or done from our screens. We have adjusted our daily lives to fit these confines with varying results. Some of us have taken to binge-watching on Netflix, while some are catching up on hobbies like reading, drawing, painting, and more. Others are actively speaking up on the injustices occurring all over the world either on social media or back on the streets.
The music industry is also adapting to the current situation. Some artists were fortunate enough to anticipate album rollouts before the pandemic. Albums such as Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, for instance, were planned, recorded and ready before many parts of the globe were put on quarantine. Despite the adjustments, both of these albums were released, and gained critical and commercial success.
In Dua Lipa’s case, Future Nostalgia’s initial release date was scheduled on April 3 rd , but it was pushed back by a week. On Instagram Live, Lipa stated that she wanted to share a body of work that would help bring happiness amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Upon its release on March 27, the album received universal acclaim from critics and fans. Future Nostalgia also became Dua Lipa’s highest first week sales in numerous countries, reaching #4 in the US and #2 in the UK.
Photo: Rolling Stone Magazine / Jeiroh
Photo: Iris Van Herpen / Norbert Schoerner.
Unlike Lipa, Lady Gaga decided to release her album Chromatica later than expected. Initially set to release on April 10th , Gaga expressed her discomfort in releasing and promoting a dance album amidst a pandemic. Instead, she announced a partnership with the United Nations and Global Citizen to set up a virtual fundraising concert which raised over $127 million for various organizations and charities. Following this, Gaga released Chromatica on May 29. Upon its arrival, the album became Gaga’s 6 th consecutive #1 in the US. The album also reached #1 in 14 countries, and received widespread acclaim.
Meanwhile, Fiona Apple released her album Fetch the Bolt Cutters earlier than intended. Apple moved up the album from its October release date to April 17, believing that due to the quarantine, some people stuck inside their homes may experience domestic abuse. Fetch the Bolt Cutters talks about heavy subject matter, and Apple believes that people could identify with the self-empowerment themes within the album.
However, not every artist and musician is lucky enough to gain traction amidst the ongoing pandemic. Release dates are crucial for album sales and many artists have experienced a slump in sales when they decide to delay their album. This is usually due to the project being leaked before the new release date, or due to fans losing interest because of the rollout. That’s why record labels are trying their best to stick with the initial release date to avoid those instances.
Also, labels and artists have become creative in adapting their rollouts to the new normal through unorthodox ways to promote upcoming projects and releases. These include pushing promotional singles, multiple music videos, Zoom interviews, and releasing teaser EPs to keep fans interested. Based on fan reception, the new unorthodox ways of promoting are working, slowly becoming a blueprint for strategic promotion of audio material.
It is also worth noting that considering the high usage of streaming platforms. According to Forbes, Spotify gained 6 million paid subscribers during the pandemic. The streaming service company also experienced an uptick of 31% in active monthly users, rising from 217 million to 286 million active users. That’s why it is no wonder that artists and labels are using online platforms to further promote their music in very creative ways.
Most notable in this case is Charli XCX, who recorded and released how i’m feeling now from her home in less than a month. With the help of the video conferencing application Zoom, she was able to involve her fans in the recording process. Everything from the songs to cover art were created during quarantine, and was accomplished during a very narrow timeframe.
The result is impressive—the album was released on May 15 after being announced on April 6. Despite its mode of production, The songs sound just as polished as previous XCX releases, and were accompanied with homemade videos. She even managed to produce some sort of album rollout, with three singles being released before the album. The first one, “forever”, was released just three days after the initial album announcement. Other well-known artists have since been able to release homemade content. Ellie Goulding’s latest music video was shot entirely in her house. Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande released a charity single recorded from their homes. Katy Perry promoted her lead single “Daisies” through pre-recorded performances using a green screen. Grimes also promoted her latest single “You’ll miss me when I’m not around” with an interactive, green screen-heavy music video. Fans uploaded a wide range of concepts, from post-apocalyptic to Animal Crossing-inspired.
For some artists, self-quarantine is a time to produce more music. There is also less pressure from their labels. After all, self-isolation has produced some great works before. Bon Iver wrote his classic For Emma, Forever Ago, while on self-isolation in the woods after a breakup. The legendary rock band Radiohead wrote and recorded OK Computer in an almost empty mansion. This allowed them to brainstorm and write without external pressure from their label and fans. OK Computer received universal acclaim upon its release, and many from the music press consider it one of the best 90’s albums.
Many artists are using the quarantine to be creative, and listeners might experience a streak of great albums. There is a ton of inspiration that they can use for their next recording cycle. Right now, they might be writing new songs or chopping an instrumental sample for their next album. However, looking at the big picture, music never stops. Artists can definitely write, produce, and promote their work despite the circumstances. For us listeners, we shall continue to support our favorites virtually, through the power of streaming and digital sales.
JULY 25, 2020