Year in review 2014: Keeping in tune with new music trends

Technological change and new methods of distribution will continue to dominate music in 2015.
Beyonce's latest album was released without any advance notice and took the music industry by surprise. Robin Harper / Invision for Parkwood Entertainment / AP Images
Beyonce's latest album was released without any advance notice and took the music industry by surprise. Robin Harper / Invision for Parkwood Entertainment / AP Images

It can be dispiriting how much musical conversation these days is dominated by matters of business and industry, but it is worth wondering how our collective relationship to music will change as modes of distribution continue to evolve in the coming year.

The big stories of 2015 will follow on from the big ones of 2014: the success of Beyoncé’s surprise blockbuster album with no advance notice at all, the oppressive move by U2 to force a new opus on anyone with an open iTunes account, an experiment by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to release a solo record via BitTorrent, a forthright play by Taylor Swift to go to battle against the seemingly unstoppable streaming-music service Spotify.

All of those are logistical stories, in part. But then they are aesthetic ones too, for all they suggest about shifting habits and tastes among artists and listeners alike. What stands to happen when the notion of albums and songs – and even recordings themselves – grows even more ephemeral? How will musicians attract attention with new limits and predicaments but also new means at their disposal?

See all our Year in Review coverage

Whatever the mode of delivery, recent months marked by dramatic resurrections (Prince! Aphex Twin!) will give way in the new year to promises of more in the manner of big returns.

Björk has announced plans for a new album, perhaps in time for a forthcoming retrospective of her multidisciplinary career at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this spring. After mounting a full-band reunion tour for the first time in decades, Fleetwood Mac have talked of recording new songs. The rapper Kanye West has reportedly stocked more than 20 tracks for a prospective follow-up to his brash, bracing classic Yeezus.

Radiohead have hinted at a new release, in the cryptic manner that has become their custom. Madonna, never one to avoid attention for too long, is primed to follow her 2012 album MDNA.

Still more pop promises abound from the likes of Adele, No Doubt and Avicii.

While we’re mentioning Avicii, a big question for 2015 is how much the current craze for EDM (electronic dance music) represents a bubble about to burst or else the long-in-the-making arrival of a movement here to stay.

Much of the craze, in terms of audience size and the numbers of zeros at the end of artists’ pay cheques, owes to its new popularity in the United States, which has been slower than many other countries to catch on to electronic music’s many rushes and thrills.

Across the world, however, the scale of it has swelled and swelled some more. It goes to show that, even if sales dwindle and financial returns decline, there will always be a market for a kind of spectacle that only music can induce.

Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM

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