Pandemic Artist Relief: Music in the Time of Covid​-​19

How Artists Are Helping Other Artists Stay Afloat During Quarantine

2020 has proven to be one of the strangest years in many of our lifetimes. With the pandemic spread of COVID-19, multiple facets of society, the economy, and our personal lives are in disarray, and most notably, the music industry is struggling. Due to social distancing measures and stay-at-home policies sanctioned by local, state, and federal government, live music events have been canceled from city to city. Record labels have been delaying upcoming albums from numerous major artists in light of this, considering an album’s performance can be widely impacted by its accompanying live tours.

But what about the little guys? Indie artists are like the small businesses of the music industry, and they’re struggling more than anyone else right now. Many independent artists find their music-related income in playing gigs, which also gives them publicity and the opportunity to be picked up by talent scouting agents. With the current lack of live shows and many people becoming unemployed, indie artists are relying on the internet more than ever right now.

But the music doesn’t stop. Etai Fuchs, an independent artist himself, started up Gardenhead Records and with help from Gabriel Loredo, a member of the band Unicorns At Heart, and Blue Salt Records, he set out to make a compilation project for small artists. The compilation consists of unreleased songs and covers exclusively available on the new collection. They describe the project as “a compilation to raise money for musicians who had shows cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic” and stated “all of the proceed are going to the artists!”

The compilation features the following artists: Checkmate, Rut, Strange Weekend, Bluish, Bunny Boy, Kicksie, Pictoria Vark, Etai, Equipment, Jordana, Firesites, Pen Palindrome, Shnayto, Swim Camp, Jackson Tarricone, Beach Freaks, Jungheim, Unicorns At Heart, Mexican Slum Rats, Joynoise, How I Became Invisible, Pinkshift, Lake Alden, Pretty Ugly Boy, Werner Von Der Heide, and Jeffrey Lewis. The compilation includes 26 exclusive tracks, all bundled together for the great price of $10. (You can give more if you’d like!)

Click here to check it out!

During these odd times in our society, projects like this are crucial in helping out independent musicians and shining a light of hope for those in rough situations.♠

How Music Artists Are Still Scoring Big Numbers in First-Week Album Sales

Ever wonder how an album could be certified gold a mere three days after its release? It happened in 2018 when Charlie Puth released his latest full-length Voicenotes. Ever wonder how artists are keeping up true album sales in a digital world dominated by online streaming? There are a handful of surefire tactics that labels are pushing to score those chart-topping numbers. So let’s dive in to some of those that seem to be working the best.

Tour Ticket Bundles

When an artist announces a new upcoming record, they tend to also announce a live tour to promote its release. And a growing trend seems to be including a digital download of the album or a physical CD with each ticket sale. It’s worth noting that most fans will probably purchase the album in one way or another on top of buying a ticket that includes a download or CD, which yes, counts as an album sale. Whether they already pre-ordered it on iTunes or pre-ordered a limited vinyl pressing, they’re still getting an album with the ticket no matter what.

Merch Bundles

The same sentiment applies here. A digital download is thrown in with a pre-ordered merch bundle, whether you want it or not. It might be a full box-set bundle with plenty of goodies or it might be just a singular t-shirt. This is also the case when purchasing physical copies of a record. 5 Seconds of Summer packaged a digital download with every CD or vinyl record or cassette sale of their newest album C A L M. If you’re someone like me who enjoys ripping a good old-fashioned CD onto their computer, or if you prefer on-demand streaming from services like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, etc., a digital download is practically obsolete. And yet the artists still get to count that bundled download as an additional album sale.

Prolonging the Longevity of Singles

It’s customary for artists to release at least one or two singles before an album debuts, unless it’s a surprise album drop (which have performed rather poorly on the charts in the past). These days, though, artists are releasing more and more tracks ahead of an album’s issuing and giving them more time to thrive. If you’re wondering how Charlie Puth managed to pull off a gold certification essentially upon release of his album Voicenotes, the singles leading up to the record were a main driving force. He released the first single “Attention” over an entire year before the album actually came out, allowing the single to rack up millions upon millions of streams. He also delayed the album and unleashed a couple more singles leading up to its postponed release. All the streams from these pre-release singles counted towards album sales during the first week of the LP’s release.

Releasing a Large Number of Singles

As I mentioned, many artists have been releasing more and more singles, both proper and promotional, before an album officially drops. For a standard 12- or 13-track album, a label or artist would typically release two to four singles before the full-length dropped. These days we see artists releasing sometimes more than half the album before it actually comes out, meaning more streams to count towards first-week sales. Panic! at the Disco (or, rather, The Brendon Urie Show) released 6 out of 11 tracks ahead of 2016’s Death of a Bachelor, which nearly spoiled the full album experience for listeners upon release. (Also, the lead single “Hallelujah” came out  8 months in advance of the record.) Halsey recently released her new LP Manic earlier in 2020, a 16-track album with a run-time just short of 48 minutes. And yet she dropped 6 singles before the release, accounting for nearly 20 minutes of the album. All Time Low released 5 singles ahead of their 2017 full-length Last Young Renegade, which was only 10 tracks long. Those 5 pre-released tunes accounted for roughly 18 minutes of a 36-minute record. Not only does releasing a heap of singles allow for more streams before the proper album release, but it also builds more hype and publicity, boosting pre-order sales and general interest.

Releasing Multiple Videos on YouTube

It’s expected that most non-promotional singles will receive the usual music video treatment. In recent years, Billboard has begun counting YouTube views toward sale numbers, only when the video is an official upload from the artist or label. So, as a result, many artists are learning to game this as well by releasing a music video, an official audio video/visualizer, a lyric video, a live performance video, an acoustic rendition video, an alternate music video, and more, on top of the default video for YouTube Music’s streaming. In 2018, 5SOS released a total of 8 videos for their hit single “Youngblood,” ranging from remixes to acoustic versions to a couple of music videos. It hasn’t been proven if all these remixes and live performances count towards numbers for Billboard, but releasing two music videos and an official audio video can certainly reel in some massive viewcounts.

Producing Different Variants of Physical Copies

I’m a huge vinyl and cassette collector, and I have quite a CD collection going, too. I grew up on tapes and eventually CDs, and then everything seemed to go digital. But in the past several years, vinyl records and cassette tapes have made an alarming comeback. Tapes originally seemed to be a cool novelty thing in more underground scenes, primarily among independent hip-hop or electronic artists. Vinyl records were relatively reserved for the most die-hard fans, with limited releases and rather expensive 180 gram pressings. But the “vinyl revival” evolved and consumed the mainstream as well; it’s almost strange these days to see an artist release an album without having a vinyl record available. Tapes have also slowly crept their way into the mainstream—big-name artists like Shawn Mendes, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Ariana Grande have all released best-selling albums and singles on cassette, just to name a few. (Which leads me to wonder how many of their fans actually own a tape deck to play the cassette…)

For collectors like me, it’s instinctual to purchase one copy on vinyl and a cassette copy as well, totaling at least two sales. (As I talked about earlier, these usually come with additional digital downloads, so it’s more than likely four album sales.) But what about all those exclusive colored vinyl variants? You know, the limited edition ones from Urban Outfitters or HMV or Target or FYE? Or when the artist announces another special edition pressing? I usually only go for one record, but it’s undeniable that some fans will go out of their way to purchase all the different pressings. Not to mention releasing 7″ or cassette singles to bait the fans and collectors even more!

Selling Signed or Limited Edition CDs Right After Initial Release

I haven’t seen too many artists trying this one out, but it’s probably the one that gets on my nerves the most. In 2018, 5 Seconds of Summer was slated to score their third consecutive #1 on the Billboard 200 with the release of Youngblood, being the only Australian band to do so. But on release day, Beyoncé and Jay-Z dropped a surprise album, shaking up the Aussie band’s chart predictions. Shortly thereafter, 5SOS announced they would be selling limited signed copies of their deluxe CD, counting as first-week album sales even if the CD itself didn’t ship out to customers for a few weeks. Fans quickly scrambled to purchase a signed copy, including myself who had already bought the vinyl record, cassette tape, and Target-exclusive CD. When the charts were published, 5SOS sure enough scored their third #1 on the Billboard 200. Did the shock-drop signed copies help boost those first-week numbers? Maybe not by much, but it definitely added some to the pile.

In 2020, we witnessed a similar situation. 5SOS anticipated their fourth #1 album with C A L M being released on March 27th. There was little to no competition for that release week—Pearl Jam seemed to be the only worthy contestant with Gigaton, but it was a longshot considering 5SOS’s current relevance and popularity, especially among younger listeners. But a mere week before their album dropped, Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, expected to release on April 3rd, was leaked and the label decided to move her album’s release date a week earlier to the 27th. With Dua Lipa’s gargantuan streaming numbers from the album’s singles, Future Nostalgia definitely put up a fight with 5SOS’s C A L M. A day after C A L M was officially released, 5SOS pulled the same move they did in 2018 by putting signed CDs up for sale online. This time it was even more enticing: not only was the CD signed, it also contained an exclusive bonus track not available anywhere else. (And, you guessed it, it also came with an additional digital download.) Now I had already bought the deluxe CD (which did not include that exclusive bonus track), two vinyl records, and a cassette tape. Many fans were in the same position with multiple copies of the album already on their hands, and yet they still flocked to purchase the signed CD, riding the hype of a fresh LP. Again, will this truly boost their first-week sales? We’ll have to see.

Update: On March 30th, it was revealed that unfortunately due to a shipping error, around 10,000 copies of 5SOS’s album were sent to customers early, causing it to debut on the Billboard charts a week before their anticipated debut week. Three days after the album released, it entered the Billboard 200 at #62, meaning the album essentially charted before its intended release. It was predicted to debut in the top 10 and is still expected to rise to the top 10 the following week.

Including More Songs on an Album

This is probably one of the most obvious ones. Many artists have expanded their albums’ tracklistings in order to gain more streams, and sometimes these songs have shorter runtimes. Lauv’s latest album ~how i’m feeling~ offered up 21 tunes, and Migos’ 2018 Culture II had a whopping 24 tracks. This is because more tracks equals more streams, plain and simple, even if it means sacrificing quality. An album with 20 tracks is going to score higher streaming numbers than an album with 9 tracks, simply by the principle of quantity.

So there you have it, just a few ways artists are continuing to garner huge first-week album sales. The music industry has become a game of strategy between streaming, radio, and hard copies, and labels are starting to play rather dirty by exploiting fans and finding loopholes to justify another album sale. (i.e. tour tickets, merch bundles, etc.) Is it ethical? Wrong? Understandable? Let us know what you think down in the comments below, and be sure to share any other tactics artists are utilizing!♠

Best Albums of 2019

While 2019 offered up a multitude of mediocre and disappointing albums, a few gems shone through the rough. Here are our best albums of 2019!

Honorable Mentions

  • Harry Styles – Fine Line
  • blink-182 – NINE
  • The Dangerous Summer – Mother Nature
  • The Maine – You Are OK
  • Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
  • Grayscale – Nella Vita
  • Emarosa – Peach Club
  • Maggie Rogers – Heard It In A Past Life
  • FRENSHIP – Vacation
  • Wallows – Nothing Happens

Let’s get into it…

3. Local Natives – Violet Street

Image result for local natives violet streetLocal Natives is one of my top three favorite bands of all time, so of course I might be a bit biased here. The California band has yet to disappoint me; all of their albums have a special spot on my shelf and I love each one so, so dearly. Their previous record Sunlit Youth, released in 2016, displayed a more experimental approach to their indie rock orientation by introducing synths and programmed percussion, as well as some politically-charged lyricism. For some fans, this style was a turn-off, but for me, I enjoyed the hell out of that LP. So how does Violet Street shape up? Local Natives dial their tone back to a more organic sound, fairly reminiscent of their debut album Gorilla Manor. Piano melodies, lively drumming, and twangy guitars constitute Violet Street, strengthening the authenticity of the album’s libretto. Heartstring-tugging subjects and impassioned vocal performances (those harmonies!) show no mercy for a weathered soul—the band never fails to deliver a captivating, affective listening experience. Violet Street is without a doubt another home run in Local Natives’ discography.

Favorite tracks: “Café Amarillo,” “Someday Now,” “Gulf Shores,” “Vogue,” “When Am I Gonna Lose You”

2. Bastille – Doom Days

Trust me, I’m as surprised as you are. Back in 2016, I named Bastille’s Wild World one of the most overrated albums of the year. Since gaining mainstream success back in 2013 with their debut Bad Blood, Bastille had yet to impress me in any way. There weren’t many songs on that debut that left me in awe, and their sophomore effort didn’t fulfill me either. But with their latest release Doom Days, I don’t hate it. In fact, I think it’s pretty darn good. I’m not sure if this is because I’m shocked that Bastille is actually winning me over for once or because it’s genuinely decent, but either way, Doom Days is a welcomed improvement in their discography. Lead singer Dan Smith has greatly refined his vocals, although there is a handful of moments on this record where the vocals feel a bit overproduced. The production overall, however, is certainly superior to the album’s predecessors, and the instrumentation sounds fresh and lively. The lyrical content displays recurring motifs of late night adventures and sober contemplation, and the tunes themselves are relatively catchy. The band described Doom Days as a concept record and I’m on board with that idea. Doom Days gets the stamp of approval from yours truly, and that really says something considering my negative history with Bastille.

Favorite tracks: “Quarter Past Midnight,” “Joy,” “Bad Decisions,” “Nocturnal Creatures,” “The Waves”

1. Greyson Chance – portraits

Greyson Chance recrudesces with his real debut album, portraits. After gaining popularity back in 2010 from YouTube and Ellen, Greyson was shoved into the industry spotlight at a young age and released his original debut album in 2011. However, since Greyson has grown over the years, he’s dubbing portraits as his genuine artist debut. And genuine it is indeed. Greyson’s lyrical writing is emotive and captivating—he wears his heart on his sleeve. But while the subject matter may be pensive and thoughtful, he doesn’t hold back the fun you would expect from a pop record. From the bouncy single “shut up” to the booming percussion of “west texas,” from the exuberant vocal harmonies of “white roses” to the spirited synths of “lakeshore,” portraits is a refreshing listen from start to finish, coupling heartfelt emotion with upbeat musicality and charismatic vocal delivery. You don’t want to miss this outstanding LP. While you may not consider this alternative, I couldn’t keep it off this list considering I haven’t been able to keep it off my mind and stereo.

Favorite tracks: “west texas,” “yours,” “lakeshore,” “timekeeper,” “black on black”

Let us know your favorite albums of the year in the comments below!