As its core audience is made up of early adopters, dance music is over-indexing on streaming services. However, dance artists from Europe could find themselves seriously disadvantaged as US acts and US playlists ossify as the new dominant class in the genre.
That’s according to Bart Cools, EVP global, marketing and A&R for dance music at Warner Music Group, speaking at the Paris Electronic Week conference, where he explained how streaming is simultaneously a big opportunity, but also a risk for non-US dance acts.
“In streaming at the moment, dance and urban/hip-hop are over-represented because of the early adoption by people who listen to dance and hip-hop on streaming services,” he said. “But that will normalise and more and more people get into streaming services.”
Cools argued that playlists are becoming more powerful as a way to break new acts but there could be a cultural dominance driven out of the US that pushes international acts further and further down the pecking order.
At the moment, Europeans hold the whip hand (with Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Avicii, Tiësto, Afrojack among the highest paid dance acts globally), but Cools warned that Americans could dominate in the next wave of new acts coming through.
“With the adaption to streaming in the US happening at the moment, it feels to me like the US and the US-controlled playlists are getting more and more power; they are becoming more powerful by the month,” he argued.
“That means that pushing a track out of Europe and into the US is becoming more and more difficult without the help of a US label or US radio. That is where it’s moving to. It doesn’t make me particularly happy as I still think we should be looking for talent everywhere and trying to break it anywhere.”
(This is becoming something of a corporate mantra for Warner Music Group, and its success in breaking Danish band Lukas Graham globally may at least offer hope to emerging dance artists too, even in their different genre.)
Cools also spoke of the need to break the logjam in the charts in markets like the UK where streaming means that tracks are hanging around longer, to the point where certain weeks see no new entries in the top 40 at all.
The market has moved from a situation two decades ago where the chart was moving too fast (singles entering at #1 and falling out of the top 10 the next week) to a state of affairs characterised by inertia.
“It slows the chart down to a degree,” said Cools. “It makes the big hits bigger and longer-lasting. It complicates getting new blood into the upper reaches of the chart for sure. So there is the debate in the UK around if we need to change the chart rules and not lose our ability to refresh – which is what this business is about.”
This sparks questions not just about new blood coming into the chart but also how sustainable the new granular revenue model it is for new acts – in dance as well as in other genres. Cools suggested that rather than have one track impacting at a time, a dominant class of artists have multiple tracks all being worked simultaneously.
“It is bit too early to say if careers are sustainable, but [you] see stacked releases now where people release so much more than they used to. Obviously that still needs to be quality, it still needs to be good – otherwise people won’t take it. If you look at the streaming charts at the moment, there are a lot of people in there with two, three or four tracks in the top 50 or top 100,” he said.
“So you see that intensity of the need to keep releasing fresh tracks. For the people who have the creative stamina to do that – and to do that for years – obviously they will have careers. I don’t know yet what is going to happen when the first of the big [names] on streaming platforms now – Calvin Harris, David Guetta, The Chainsmokers – drop the ball a couple of times.”
With the high level of choice open to consumers, are they going to be less loyal and less forgiving to an act? Is one dud single enough to kill a career and see fans defect to the next act?
“[Fans] are less forgiving in the sense that they could move on – but they can also come back,” he proposed. “If it’s a hit, they will be back there. It’s not like, ‘Oh, God, they made a shitty track – I’ll never listen to anything by them again!’ I don’t think so.”
This focus on a chain of simultaneous hits is also affecting the notion of the album in dance music. Calvin Harris was rumoured recently to be planning on moving away from album-centric campaigns and focusing instead on single releases.
Cools has already been involved in reshaping what an “album” is in dance music for a number of years, most notably on David Guetta’s last two albums (2014’s Listen and 2011’s Nothing But The Beat).
Ahead of the album, Guetta would release a mix of singles aimed at radio and other, heavier, tracks aimed at the clubs (some, but not all, of which could be parlayed into radio hits), followed by an album and then a series of remixed and reworked tracks that would appear on an expanded album later in the cycle.
“If you have something to say that requires 14 tracks and is a story, then by all means do it,” Cools said about the future of the album. “That’s the beauty of it – there are no limits to what you can do. If you are in the business of trying to have hit after hit after hit, we tend to still put those on albums to create a focal point for our promotional and marketing efforts. That’s [for] another breed of artist. We need to find the best way to release [a series of] tracks or an album – whatever works in each genre.”
The net effect for acts like Guetta is that marketing campaigns can now run for upwards to 30 months rather than the old model of an 18-month campaign that held sway since the 1980s. “In the old system, you might have three hits on an album,” he says. “These albums have eight, nine or ten hits on them.”
(Main image: courtesy of NonOmnisMoriar)