A decade of decadence? Why the music biz should expect the unexpected in the Roaring '20s

Daniel Ek

Welcome to the Roaring, Soaring '20s! As executives slowly eases themselves back into work and a new decade, it’s worth contemplating how far we’ve come since the biz edged, much more tentatively into the 2010s.

Back then, the recorded music industry was still locked in a slump than would carry on for another half decade while perhaps its ultimate saviour, Spotify (founder Daniel Ek, pictured), had only just launched in the UK.

It took less than a decade for Spotify to transform itself from small-scale Swedish start-up to market-leading public company so perhaps the ultimate lesson from the music industry’s recent history is that no one really knows what’s coming next. We enter this new era on the back of a sustained, streaming-fuelled five-year growth cycle – see the hugely encouraging market figures both here in the UK and across the pond in the US – that certainly doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon.

But they'd have said that in the '90s. So, what if the streaming bubble bursts? What if a new format or a new form of piracy emerges? What if all the new money currently washing through the biz and funding mega-publishing deals and huge A&R investment finds an even more attractive, even higher yield business to invest in?

The ultimate lesson from the music industry's recent history is that no one really knows what's coming next

Mark Sutherland

True, it’s clear the industry is more cautious about the current boom than it was during the ‘90s. And many companies are sensibly investing in the diversification and forward-planning that should futureproof their businesses.

But it’s also worth remembering the spirit of the slump years. Back then, you knew everyone involved in the business of music was there for the right reasons and there was relative freedom to balance the art with the commerce. And, while the biz’s recovery has been remarkable, it’s been based on equal parts commercial and musical innovation.

So, while – in this business, more than any other business – none of us necessarily know what will actually happen in the next 10 minutes, let alone the next 10 years, one thing’s for sure: look after the music, and the money should take care of itself.

* For Music Week's guide to the essential albums and tours of 2020, see our new issue, out today. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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