TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Welcome to the “New Industry Normal.”

Excerpted from PJ Lifestyle — to read the entire article, click here— I highlight the best of new album and DVD / Blu-Ray releases, as well as interesting tech finds. It’s my weekly column, “Tuesday New Releases,” every week at PJ Lifestyle.

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As if one needed further proof of a downward-trending music industry, Adele’s 21 became the first album of the Soundscan era to lead all album sales two years running. In other words, nothing released during all of 2012 could unseat an album released in the first month of 2011. All that with Adele sidelined by vocal-chord issues and her pending pregnancy.

Taylor Swift tried and failed to block that path, with Red falling 1.3 million from 21 despite having four top ten hits, none of which ranked inside the year’s top ten overall. The year’s big winners — Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and Fun — dominated single sales with their first Hot 100 releases. No one knew their names when the year began, and it remains questionable whether either can follow it up.

With the fresh start a new year brings, we need to face facts: LPs no longer draw long-term interest from fans, who prefer the instant gratification of a viral hit single. And no matter how many singles get parceled out to radio stations month after month, an artist lives or dies by the success of the last one.

Singles don’t drive album sales — they simply drive demand for more singles.

Having sacrificed the long-term stability inherent in developing artists over the long term, labels must now watch as newcomers either instantly dominate or free-fall. Veteran acts, meanwhile, either find ways to continually churn out successful singles to dying radio while courting fickle audiences online or they cling to the hope that their next album will prove different. Just ask Aerosmith how that worked for them.

Welcome to the new industry normal. Observing which bands find ways to use these trends to their advantage will provide the real fun of chart-watching in 2013.


Why I Love Music

I was watching Mr. Holland’s Opus tonight for what has to be at least the fiftieth time since I first saw it the weekend it was released (no, I’m not exaggerating). And I was reminded, via the above scene, what it was like to discover the magic of music for the first time. The scene above comes after Cole, Mr. Holland’s son, is insulted when his father assumes that (as a deaf child) he can’t possibly understand what music means to the hearing world.

The lengths his father then goes to in order to make amends and teach his son the same way he would teach other students, is touching (as is the performance of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”). But what really rocked me out of my orbit tonight was seeing the scene after the concert, [after the 5:09 mark in the above video] when Cole is at home, raiding his father’s record collection, literally sitting on top of the hi-fi speakers so he can feel the vibrations of Ray Charles’ voice performing “I’ve Got A Woman.” The records are scattered all over the floor, as Cole sits there, grinning, as if to say “I get it! This is why you care so much about all this music!” And you can tell his father understands as well, just how much Cole was missing out because he was afraid to let him into that world.

It reminded me of being a teenager and going through that discovery process like we all go through. It’s why I spend so much of my spare time listening to anything I can get my hands on, then spending even more of that time writing about it so I can tell all of you out there what you haven’t heard — but what you should hear. Music is about exploration, and the moment you forget about that, you’re lost.

So it’s good to get a little reminder of what makes it so worthwhile.

It’s about the music.

Who says music has to be dumbed down for kids?

A Boy and His Guitar ...

"The nephew" knows good music when he hears it. Photo by my sister, Stephanie Decker.

My nephew finally got himself an mp3 player for Christmas. And already the adventurous music listener (and a voracious one too!) he asked me to play “cool uncle” and fill it up with music for him for New Years.

Yes, he wants the usual stuff everyone his age is listening to on the radio … or as his mother puts it: “anything that sounds rebellious.” But he’s also a huge Lindsey Buckingham junkie. He’s memorized most of the libretto to Anais Mitchell’s Americana opera Hadestown (my top pick for album of the year in 2010). And he helped pick out The White Album by the Beatles and the BBC Sessions from Led Zeppelin for my father for Christmas along with his parents.

Did I mention he’s in first grade?

I’ve noticed people tend to have low opinions of young people and their musical taste. Disney markets Hannah Montana to kids and they lap it up because it’s what they hear — and their parents buy it for them because the music’s safe and inoffensive (just don’t let the kiddies watch “Can’t Be Tamed” if that’s your theory!) But kids aren’t stupid. They want to hear music that sounds good, and if they could hear bands like Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Regina Spektor or Only Son playing on top 40 radio, they’d lap those bands’ albums up too.

[It’d be nice if the music industry could pick up that kind of idea and run with it, the idea of getting kids when they’re young and teaching them to love music, to want to explore it. These are our children, they’re not just another marketing tool.]

Anyway, I just had a ton of fun filling his mp3 player up with both the music I know he already enjoys, along with the music I think he will enjoy when he gets a chance to hear it on shuffle. And I’m not going to make assumptions about what might or might not be over his head … aside from keeping things clean (he’s seven, so no major profanity) I think it’s best to let him set the limits of what works.

I can’t wait to hear what he winds up latching onto … 😉