ABBA’s Failure In The Marketplace

They’d do boffo at the b.o., but the only people who were interested in a new ABBA album turned out to be in the media.

The media thrives on hype. And it prefers entertainers who already have mindshare. It’s a comeback story, there’s an arc, the reunion, the cutting of the album, the cataloging of their prior work, the character studies, and then the music itself, which no one wants to hear.

Of course people checked out “Voyage” just to see what it sounded like, to see if the magic was still there, but there was no way in hell “Voyage” could be a hit, NO WAY!

First and foremost ABBA is a singles band, and to sell an album they’ve got to have a hit, but it’s absolutely impossible for ABBA to have a hit today, the only way they can conquer the chart is by aligning with a hitmaker du jour, as Elton John has done. But their music is out of touch with today’s scene, youngsters aren’t aware of them and the avenues of mainstream exposure are more limited than ever before. Look at the Spotify Top 50, does ABBA belong there? OF COURSE NOT!

That’s the world we live in. To have a hit you’ve got to make hip-hop or beat-infused music, with the 808 king and melody oftentimes absent. And if this is not your forte, don’t even start, just build a body of work, and build your career on the road.

Yes, the paradigm has flipped. Music is now a live medium, not a recorded one. Of course there are records, but they mean less than ever before, hits reach fewer people than ever before, and no one expects hit music makers to last and they’re only as good as their last hit. Then again, in the modern marketplace you can have a few stiffs and it doesn’t matter, you can still have another hit, which was previously impossible. But today failure instantly disappears. As does greatness too frequently. Yes, you can record a great track and it can stiff. The era of cream rising to the top is over, it ended back in 2012 or so.

As for creating a new hit if you’re not already firmly in the marketplace, having had hits already, it’s going to be very damn SLOW! Think of it this way, hits are oceans, vast and broad. But rivers feed those oceans. And there are a zillion streams dripping into bigger rivers, gaining momentum until they hit the ocean. That journey takes time. Which is why if you’re not aligned with a hitmaker du jour, be prepared to slug it out. Of course there are overnight hits, like Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” but they’re extremely rare. And, Lil Nas X’s hit was the first big TikTok breakout, and that can only be done once. Which is why we only had “In Rainbows”/name your own price once. The first time it’s new, a novelty, a story, after that it’s de rigueur and almost instantly passé.

Acts are out of touch with the marketplace. But those on the other side of the glass understand it, not only the label employees, but the producers, like Max Martin. Max Martin’s career would be toast if he was the act, the market would not accept all his twists and turns, the different kinds of music he made with various different people. The market labels you and it’s nearly impossible to broaden your appeal, to change to do something different, you’re lucky if you’ve hit with what you’ve got.

And, the music is an accessory, promotion for the tour, whereas it used to be vice versa. Don’t think about making money from your recordings, but how you can use those as an element in your marketing plan for your tour. Either you’re in it for the long term or you’re rolling the dice, and the odds are long. It’s nearly impossible to crack the Spotify Top 50 for most genres of music, don’t complain, go the other way. The key is to bond the audience to you, to generate fans. Fans of the act, not fans of the track. People who like a track are not convinced the act is worth paying attention to. But if you have a body of work of a similar caliber, they’re interested.

This isn’t going to change. As for those complaining about the low payouts for recordings on streaming services, the truth is in between the old paradigm and the new, a whole hell of a lot of other product and diversions flooded the market. You used to compete against 5,000 other albums a year, now you compete against 60,000 new tracks a day, as well as the history of recorded music. So attention per product, per album, goes down. Look at TV ratings, they’re the same. And same at Netflix. They aren’t in the ratings business, they’re in the business of getting you to continue to cough up your subscription fee every month. This is how Disney+ faltered. Disney+ appealed to children and “Star Wars” fans, there are only so many of them, so signups this last quarter were anemic. Netflix appeals to EVERYBODY, and its subscription numbers went up beyond expectations. And Netflix not only has a broad swath of genres represented, it’s got a huge number of shows! And the truth is, it’s never clear what will resonate with the audience, which is why you must make a lot of product, no one could foresee “Squid Game” being an international monster. And speaking of international, all those Latin acts, like Bad Bunny, would have previously been ghettoized, they’d find it impossible to conquer the marketplace and sell out arenas and stadiums. But now their target market can be reached, and in addition new people who were unaware of the music previously can be exposed.

You’re alone out there. If you’re depending upon the machine to carry you, you’re delusional. The machine has endless choices, it doesn’t need any specific act, it just needs hit acts, and there are always enough of them.

So, ABBA put out an album to hype their virtual live show. Well, the word got out, but I’m not sure a new album was the way to go. It has now tarnished the act’s image a bit and taken the focus off the live project, where all the potential money is.

So, if you’re a heritage act, forget the Spotify Top 50 unless you tie up with an act with Spotify Top 50 success. And if you want to make money, create/jump on/be first in a new paradigm. The Eagles did this with Walmart, “Long Road Out of Eden” didn’t penetrate radio, it was a sales event that entered millions of the homes of boomers. And today the band rarely plays a track from the double album live. The audience doesn’t want it. And this is depressing, but it’s reality. So, make new music for yourself, to feed the hard core fans, because the hit marketplace is closed to you, CLOSED!

And then you had U2 and Apple. They got paid, although there was huge backlash, the music being driven down the throats of people who didn’t want it. There are people who don’t want to be forced to get vaccinated, and there are people who don’t want U2 on their computer or phone EVER!

But both of the above were sales games. How can you get people to actually listen to your new music?

Well, first don’t make a lot of it. You need to go track by track, trying to have a hit. And you need tie-ins with television and so many other outlets. Still, it’s hard to get anybody but a hard core fan to stream your new music again and again, if for no other reason than there’s so much in the marketplace, they’re fans of what you did, not what you’re doing.

And on one hand this sounds bad, but on the other it sounds good. The truth is there are more live shows than ever before. People are hungering for live music. And sure, there are huge productions set to hard drive that fill arenas, but there are many acts sans production who play live, who evidence humanity, who are doing endless business on the road, and the young acts’ business increases in proportion to the quality of their live show and their recorded music in concert. Which is why metal is thriving but it’s nowhere in the Spotify Top 50, and metal is not the only genre.

ABBA employed a twentieth century plan in a twenty first century world. Maybe you could come back in the aughts, but as far as new music, it had better be the early aughts, when music television still meant something, when VH1 could bang your track.

Now, if you’re a classic rocker planning your comeback/reunion tour, it’s too late, unless you’re a giant, like ABBA, which is not going on the road, or Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, who are not getting back together, they’re the biggest of the big. If you played the Fillmore and sold some records long ago, chances are it’s too expensive for you to tour today, the numbers don’t work. You can go play house concerts, solo, but the costs of production at a bigger building require high ticket prices from an audience that’s starting to stay home, with many on fixed budgets. Elvis’s merch is going down, BECAUSE HIS AUDIENCE IS DYING! And now it’s going to happen with the boomers, and classic rock acts. They were everything, and not long in the future they’ll be nothing.

It won’t go on like this forever, with only young acts in narrow genres owning spots in the Spotify Top 50. The decline of terrestrial radio will broaden acceptance of other genres. But the truth is, youngsters stream most. But as I said above, stream counts are not everything. It turns out if you give an honest show and change it up on a regular basis it doesn’t matter what kind of music you make, you can build an audience and grow. Can you become as rich as a techie or banker? No. But you have more power than they do, because you touch hearts and minds, never underestimate the power of music, because when done right it’s got SOUL!

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