Does gender impact results?
For this graphic, I separated bands and groups. Bands are defined as singers / songwriters / instruments players, a la Beatles and Pink Floyd. A group is a manufactured act like One Direction and N’Sync.
Results are striking. Females account for 20 of the 49 artists who peaked with their debut or their sophomore album. In the other side, there is more bands which peaked by their 5th album than by their first. As many as 5 groups out of 8 peaked with their debut.
After their 3rd album, only 37% of bands have peaked, but 60% of males, 74% of females and 100% of groups. Bands benefit from being less impacted by persona / image factors. They also enjoy creative inputs of several members instead of only one person. Males last longer because many of them are singer / songwriters while females are more short-lived. As for made-up groups, their appeal expires very fast.
During which era has it been the easiest to peak?
To analyze the impact of the era, we must first define these eras. It is tempting to go by decades, but they do not reflect market’s evolutions. We can distinguish 6 main period:
- Singles Era: from the earliest albums in our database to 1968. By then, singles were dominant and many artists were releasing albums and singles that were entirely independent.
- Albums Era: from 1969 to 1975. A short but buoyant period. LPs overtook singles. Major artists started to ignore in full the single format to sell exclusively albums.
- Blockbusters Era: from 1976 to 1987. Many more people had a record player. This increased dramatically the number of casual buyers and enabled the blockbusters phenomenon. Big albums from these years also got recycled in late 80s/early90s thanks to strong compilations.
- CD Era: from 1988 to 2002. The all-time peak period of the market. Albums from this era had one huge life, but most failed to transform into catalog strength due to the cherry-picking of iTunes.
- Digital Era: from 2003 to 2013. The iTunes era. Tracks are back in full force, easily dominating albums.
- Streaming Era: from 2014 to date. The general public translates fast from purchases to streaming subscriptions.
Now, let’s check how many artists peaked during each period.
The absolute number of artists who peaked during each era obviously depends on who we studied. For instance, we dogged into many stars from the digital age. What’s visible though is that during the CD era, artists peaked fairly fast. In the other end, it was possible to register career highs almost at any time during the blockbusters years.
Another conclusion is that 100% of artists which peaked in digital or streaming era did it with one of their first 6 albums. What does it mean? It means that artists pre-dating these periods, who then released already 7 albums or more, aren’t able to do that well anymore.
Back then, the fact that albums were so expensive gave importance to consumers on their 40s and higher. Teenagers have always been more concerned by music than older people, but they had less money. With iTunes, they made a larger impact. With streams, your money wealth barely matters anymore. Furthermore, the more time you listen to music, the more you are relevant as a music consumer. That boosts the impact of the younger generation on charts and ultimately limits the appeal of new albums from older acts.
Do current artists peak earlier than past glories?
Truly fascinating. The majority (64%) of acts who debuted during the 60s peaked with their 6th album or later. On average, they peaked with their 9,71th album. It perfectly summarizes the league-axed industry of these days. An act had to prove his selling skills in his city first, then on his country, then on English-speaking markets and then globally. It was a long, steady climb to the top.
The process was similar but at a faster pace for 70s acts. It took 2-3 promising efforts until a label started to bet strong on you. The 80s saw the explosion of MTV and the arrival of Madonna. The first carefully manufactured and marketed pop stars appeared, trying to reproduce her success.
Out of the 59 acts we studied who debuted in 1989 or later, no one peaked with his 6th album or later. You have a few more words to guess who peaked the deepest into her career… That’s Taylor Swift, who peaked with her 5th record on her 8th year, with her LP ironically titled 1989. Statistics about acts who debuted in the 10s are still too fresh, since most of them issued only 1-3 records. Still, the fact that 74% of artists who debuted during the 00s peaked with one of their first two albums is very telling. You got it, the youngest you are, the fastest you turn has-been.