‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’ has been a go-to music biz adage since the ’70s. But, in truth, nowadays artists don’t need to do either.
Much has been made, quite rightly, of how hard it is for new artists to break through in the streaming age. Rather less has been said about how hard it is for established acts to completely drop off the radar when fans have easy access to their music for all eternity.
You can fall out with your label. Your new record can flop completely. But, unless you’ve done something truly heinous, the way your monthly listeners keep things ticking over means you’ve always got a chance of turning things around.
Now, more than ever, any artist is only three minutes away from changing their life. Come up with the right song at the right time and, if you have an established name and a still-vaguely-active fanbase, you’ve always got a shot at redemption.
So James Arthur is back starring on The X Factor final just a few years after parting ways with Team Syco. Craig David can return from years in the wilderness and be bigger than ever thanks to an almighty banger. And even a band like Pretty Vicious, chewed up once by the biz without ever coming close to fulfilling their potential, can return for another try (with Scott Borchetta's Big Machine/John Varvatos label, no less). Experience is something to be valued, as long as everyone concerned has learned from it.
Indeed, in the streaming age, two things give you vital leverage: catalogue and brand recognition. That’s why the major labels are arguably in better shape than ever: free from the tyranny of the release schedule by the rise of streaming, stable profitability is much more achievable. And, if you’re an artist, anything from a random playlist selection to a key sync can suddenly revive a career long thought to be over.
None of that helps the hungry new band trying to catch fire. But if you’re just looking for a slow burn into retirement, you’ve never had it so good.