A couple of days ago Ultimate Classic Rock published a short article called ‘Are the Beatles Declining in Popularity?‘ and it really got me thinking about the recording industry and how much that has changed for many different reasons.
The gist of the article:
The article discusses Google Trends and search results and how The Beatles have declined according to those metrics. Apparently the highest interest in the past 13 years coincided with the release of Beatles Rock Band back in 2009.
I took a supplementary lecture offered by my journalism course about Google Trends and data journalism earlier this year. I’m a numbers and statistics geek and I love graphs and charts, even though I don’t like maths. In fact, I failed grade nine maths twice.
I remember when Beatles Rock Band came out and it was huge; there was a display in the Best Buy near me where you could play a few songs. The Beatles were also starting to somewhat become cool to people again, but not really, my classmates made fun of me for my love of The Beatles. It makes sense that people would search for them because something new about them has just come out, there’s relevancy to it. Rock Band is a popular video game and people look forward to all the new releases.
Another interesting thing I noticed on search trends was that The Beatles were most searched for in Latin America. A lot of people stereotype Latin Americans as not being into rock music, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Take a look at my post about Hispanics in classic rock.
Seriously though, it’s racist to assume because I’m Hispanic I only listen to salsa, merengue, reggaeton, etc. Nope! Let’s not erase all the non-white/mixed rockers who shaped the various genres of classic rock.
Latin American rock fans are always excited when their favourite band come to town because they may not come there anytime soon (because Europe and North America are more profitable and that’s where the popular bands are usually from), or worse, ever again. When major rock bands do play in Latin America, they usually play in huge venues, even larger than the North American and European ones.
Latinos are some of the most passionate rock fans I know, hell, I’m one of them. I have many family members who love Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Peter Frampton, the list goes on. A lot of people in the classic rock fan community I know are Latin American (including diaspora). Latin America is known for being very lively and we love music!
The article also mentions that on YouTube there was a mass takedown of unauthorised uploads of Beatles songs on YouTube sometime in 2009 or 2010. There was this one channel called LennMcHarriStarr64 (or something like that) that uploaded all the songs from every Beatles album. This channel was terminated during the mass takedown. I remember seeing comments from users young and old saying “thank you” and “reminds me of my childhood”.
While it lasted LennMcHarriStarr64 was incredible and introduced me to so much of their music, and therefore got me into other classic rock bands, but that’s another story for another time.
YouTube has this content ID option where ads were placed on the video and the record label could still make money off of it. Not sure why The Beatles’ record label didn’t go for that. If anything, I think not having the music available for streaming is a bad idea because the “try before you buy” method is a great way of piquing interest in listeners. People find what they like and they want to listen to it away from the computer and on demand. It’s like when you go to an ice cream shop and you’re not sure what flavour to pick, you ask for a taste. Also, haven’t The Beatles made enough money by now? Paul, Ringo, and John and George’s families aren’t exactly starving.
My theories on why searches are down:
I don’t think there’s a need to panic about The Beatles going down in searches on Google or YouTube. The fact that The Beatles continue to be talked about to this day is incredible. There’s a reason for it. There were thousands of bands in the 60s and only a few are still talked about.
It’s a shame so many are forgotten, but The Beatles will never ever be forgotten about. I see Beatles merch being sold everywhere; people wearing Beatles shirts all the time; and I hear their music a lot in restaurants, bars, and shops. Relax! It’s just analytics of two websites, although they are two of the most popular sites. The Beatles have millions of listeners on Spotify, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Theory 1: Habits of older internet users
A lot of older people aren’t on the internet and like to do things the old fashioned way, but many of them who are on the internet have Beatles vinyl/cassette/8 tracks/CDs already.
It’s not just older people. Many of my friends in the classic rock fandom don’t use Spotify and will listen to records and CDs instead.
Maybe it’s the satisfaction of having a physical copy and how Instagrammable it is to play it on your turntable. To me, vinyl is an experience and isn’t your mundane “I’m listening to music”, it changes the routine.
I’ve also noticed that older people do keep up with new music trends, especially if they have children or grandchildren. Maybe it’s because they are open minded or they want to feel younger, I don’t know. I’m 23, so I’ll figure it out when I’m older.
My dad knows a lot more than I do about new music because my brother listens to top 40. I’ve caught my uncle listening to Pitbull and it’s a not-so-guilty pleasure for him.
Theory 2: Music listeners’ horizons are broadening and it’s easier to find new things
The Beatles are my favourite band of all time, don’t get me wrong. They ultimately got me interested in all the classic rock bands I listen to. I love how The Beatles didn’t have two albums that sounded exactly the same.
You can’t listen to one band all the time because that gets BORING. Thanks to apps like Spotify and Pandora you can find similar musicians easily and create radio stations based on musicians and songs you like and you can further customise it by giving a thumps up or down to the songs that play. I’ve also discovered some great music thanks to the related videos on YouTube. Spontaneity on the internet has led me to discover some great bands and songs.
While The Beatles recorded a lot of music, there were so many other bands that were together for longer and there’s so much more to the 60s than the big British Invasion bands. You don’t truly know the 60s music scene until you hear the deep cuts, and I’m not saying that in a pretentious hipster way. Some of the music that wasn’t popular until after the fact started off as underground and underground music is more influential than you think.
Because of the internet, it’s easier to discover lesser known bands today than ever before. I’ve impressed family and family friends who grew up in that time period with how many bands I know.
A lot of hardcore classic rock fans like to find the deep cuts because they’ve heard all the popular stuff before and want to hear something a little different and share it with their friends.
Theory 3: “The times they are a-changin'”
The Beatles aren’t doing anything new and with half the band dead, there’s no rumoured reunions or anything (like there are with Led Zeppelin).
Paul’s still touring and releasing new albums, but a lot of Beatles fans don’t care as much about the new material and just want to listen to the old songs. A lot of people who go to Paul McCartney concerts complain about how Paul plays a lot of Wings material. I seriously don’t get that because Wings were pretty awesome too, Band on the Run anyone? You’re missing out if you don’t listen to Wings.
I don’t pay as much attention to Ringo, but he tours too and he released a new single this year for his 77th birthday (What? Ringo’s nearing 80?!).
New bands come out and that will get more attention. The news will cover what’s new, not what’s old, unless you’re reading some niche website, like yours truly. Two of the seven news values are timeliness and currency. No one wants to hear about older albums because it’s been written about before, unless you’re providing new insight or it’s a milestone anniversary or there’s something new coming out about . If I see a news story about an old album for no reason, my reaction is “What are you, Austin Powers? Have you been cryogenically frozen for 50 years?”
Top 40 music is going in a different direction, the music sounds more simple, there’s fewer instruments and more computers and you don’t hear as many rock influences, maybe the token rock hit once a year if that. Music now is more hip hop and electronic. With other trends like in fashion, 80s and 90s throwbacks are popular, not the 60s and 70s. The 60s and 70s are too far back for a lot of people to relate to now, even though there are so many things that are timeless about that era, for the better or worse.
If you want to hear rock music, you only have a handful of radio stations to pick from and not every area has them. We don’t really have a proper classic rock station in Ireland.
As mentioned in the last point, people are turning to the internet to get their music fix. You don’t have to deal with egotistical DJs who like the sound of their voice, as many ads, and poor signal. Most importantly you are the boss when you listen to music online. No one is telling you what to listen to. You can play the same song on repeat all day if you want, you can shuffle a concept album if you want.
The industry is changing and the way of measuring success as a musician has changed from the traditional album sales and concert sales metrics.
Music sales used to be physical only because there were no PCs or smartphones. You couldn’t choose what songs you wanted to buy. You bought the full album or selected singles. Did you like one obscure song on the album? Too bad. In the 70s there was a focus on making the albums a package worth buying, hence why there were so many concept albums and albums that you could listen to from start to finish. Today, it’s hard to find albums that are not a few good songs with a lot of filler. There was a good mix of quality and quantity in those days. Record labels took more chances then, but today a lot of music sounds so “samey”. There were not as many talent search shows. Bands had to hustle and bust their butts to make it.
Now you have the internet and there’s more competition than before, but there are a lot of positives. Music recording technology is more accessible than ever. You can record albums in your bedroom. Back in the 60s, it wasn’t possible. You have software like Garage Band or Audacity. You can more easily self-release your work and promote it for free using social media. With the internet, you may be lucky enough to go viral. If you’re in a small town, you can reach fans thousands of miles away without having to travel.
I’m not going to be a luddite and say that the internet ruined music. It didn’t at all. There are positives and negatives. It’s hard to find the good music within all the mediocrity, but the internet is an equaliser, it’s “the information super highway” (or perhaps not anymore thanks to net neutrality being axed).
Now there are so many more ways to enjoy your favourite music: pay per view concerts, livestreams, social media follows… How do we measure who is the most successful? It’s not so easy anymore. Will the fame last with these musicians who established themselves in the age of social media? Only time will tell. There are so many musicians from the MySpace era who are obscure and don’t get attention anymore. Does anyone care about Lily Allen or Sean Kingston anymore?
I’ll end this blog post with a couple of thought-provoking videos related to this topic of the music industry. The first one is about album certifications and it’s by Company Man, a really informative YouTube channel that talks a lot about corporations and histories of them. The second one is about the changes in music and why today’s music doesn’t sound as good as older music. It’s by Thoughty2. He explains it in better terms than I can, more scientific and more music theory (which are not my strengths, I’m a writer, not a scientist or musician).
I hope you have enjoyed my blog post and I hope you enjoy these two videos. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Thank you!