Adele Is Back. Everything Has Changed Since She Ruled the Music Business.

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With a new single and her fourth album on the way, the best-selling artists of 2010 dive back into an industry transformed by streaming

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Music-industry analysts say the record will be one of the biggest concerts of the year. But for Adele — the best-selling artist of 2010, famous for the sheer volume of CDs and digital downloads — the stakes are high. Industry analysts are watching to see if she can maintain her numbers and cultural influence in a vastly different music market, one that favors streaming over traditional sales and where artists struggle to capture public attention. We do.

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According to the Recording Industry Association of America, streaming subscriptions today account for nearly two-thirds of US recorded-music revenue, up from less than 20% in 2015. Artists now release music more frequently, making it harder for a single act to dominate the public conversation for long periods of time.

“It’s easy for them to look like a failure,” says Mark Mulligan, a music-industry analyst at Media Research. “But equally, if she can succeed against the odds…

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Industry analysts and executives expect a steep drop in sales for the traditional album compared to their previous record. But they also see that her cultural prowess remains intact, betting that Adele’s new album will continue to dominate public discussion next year.

Adele’s record “25” came out in 2015, just as subscriptions to streaming services were gaining steam. The following year marked a turning point for the music industry, when streaming saw the first major jump in US recorded-music revenue since 1999.

At the time, some of the biggest music stars didn’t fully embrace streaming, which isn’t as lucrative as CDs and digital downloads. To maximize the sales of her album, Adele withheld “25” from streaming services for months; Spotify and Apple Music didn’t even initially know whether the album would appear on their platforms. According to Billboard, “25” became the second best-selling album of the 2010s in the US (second only to Adele’s own “21” from 2011), despite the speed of the streaming.

Adele recently suggested that her new album would be different from her previous work—notes that might also serve to manage expectations. “Hello isn’t a bombshell,” singer told Vogue magazine, referring to his megahit. “I don’t want another song like this,” she said. “That song took me to another level in fame that I don’t want to do that again.” Adele declined an interview request.

The biggest change is likely to be their traditional music sales. It would be challenging for Adele to match “25”, which moved a record-breaking 3.4 million copies in its first week in the US, with “25” racking up 9.6 million in US sales, including 6.7 million physical copies, MRC. Huh. called data.

For example, Dan Runcy, founder of music-business media company Trapital, expects Adele’s first-week US numbers to total more than 800,000 album-equivalent units—a measure that includes both traditional sales and streaming.

Unlike “25”, Adele plans to release her album on streaming immediately, according to her Vogue interview. This means fans have the option of not buying it. Her greater fan base, which skews older and female, could have been a streamer as well. Like many artists these days, Adele’s streams can be concentrated in a few hit songs.

Listening to music, meanwhile, has become more fragmented than ever. Shared cultural moments are rare because media institutions such as radio and late night TV have long lost their reach. Big stars can even fly under the radar for many people. And the music itself is losing the attention of young audiences to social-media platforms like TikTok.

“We’re in a post-album era,” says Mr. Mulligan. “Music fans churn through music more quickly… that’s what he’s up against.”

When it comes to Adele’s live-music career, her storied fan base could also stymie demand for the expected Las Vegas residency; Dave Brooks, Billboard’s senior director of live music and touring, says some fans may shy away from buying tickets because of concerns about COVID-19.

Still, Adele has overcome obstacles before. And superfans of artists like Taylor Swift and BTS are accustomed to touting physical and digital albums as merchandise.

Adele “transcends changes in the industry,” says Mr. Brooks. When Vocal Powerhouse posted a snippet According to music-analytics firm Chartmetric, “Easy on Me” had a tremendous impact on Instagram—including a surge in Facebook discussions and Twitter retweets. Searches on Wikipedia increased by almost 550% compared to a week ago. “People are excited,” says Sung Cho, founder and chief executive of Chartmetric. “Interested.”

Adele’s long break could turn her album into an even bigger cultural event. His team, which includes manager Jonathan Dickins and label Columbia Records, is expected to launch a massive marketing push involving traditional outlets such as magazines and television.

The difficulty that even extremely popular artists have to stand out in today’s landscape underscores how special it can be when few people manage to do so. And for Adele — one of the ultimate sales in a streaming-first world — maintaining its viewership over time may be a better barometer of success than the first week’s numbers, analysts and executives say.

“Their Billboard sales can’t compare to their previous album, but it tells more about Adele than it is about the industry,” says Mr. Runci.

Neil Shah at [email protected]

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