Solo stars ending era of the band, sales figures show

Duos  - once a staple of the 80s synth pop scene with the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and Eurythmics - are also struggling

Adam Sherwin
Media Correspondent
Tuesday 16 February 2016 18:15
Ed Sheeran receives the gong for Best Pop Solo Performance, for "Thinking Out Loud," at the Grammys on Monday night
Ed Sheeran receives the gong for Best Pop Solo Performance, for "Thinking Out Loud," at the Grammys on Monday night

Is the great British rock group becoming an endangered species? Solo stars, led by Adele and Ed Sheeran, now account for 60 per cent of sales, crowding out the musical collective from the charts.

A decade ago, bands including Kaiser Chiefs, Snow Patrol, Razorlight, Arctic Monkeys and Oasis enjoyed multi-platinum sales as UK Rock enjoyed a revival.

Gorillaz and Faithless represented Dance music whilst Westlife flew the flag for pop groups among the best-sellers.

Today the situation is reversed. New analysis of the top 1,000 selling artist albums of 2015 by industry body BPI found that the market share for solo artists has soared to 60 per cent.

Coldplay’s A Head Full Of Dreams was the only non-solo artist title to feature in the top ten best-sellers of 2015 with Elvis Presley and Justin Bieber joining Adele, Sheeran and Sam Smith in an all solo top five.

Duos - once a staple of the 80s synth pop scene with the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and Eurythmics - are also struggling.

The trend has continued into 2016 - solo albums dominate with just Coldplay and Little Mix enjoying group status in this week’s Top 20.

The trend for solo best-sellers has coincided with the decline of Rock. The genre accounted for 40 per cent of album sales in the guitar-heavy years between 2005 and 2008, whilst Pop languished with just 20 per cent. Last year Pop soared to a 34.5 per cent market share of UK album sales, surpassing rock music’s 33.2 per cent.

The BPI warned that the widespread closure of small venues that gave bands like Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys their first break was hindering the opportunities for new groups to develop.

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In London, 40 per cent of small music venues have shut in the last decade. City centre venues including Sheffield Boardwalk, the Princess Charlotte in Leicester and the Cockpit in Leeds have also shut their doors.

Geoff Taylor, BPI chief executive, said: “It is too early to say that the recent strong performance by Pop is more than cyclical variation. The BPI is concerned however that the recent trend may be exacerbated by the worrying decline in the number of small venues that groups in particular rely on to learn their craft and build their fanbases, as highlighted recently by Independent Venues Week.”

Grammys 2016 highlights

The BPI is working with the Music Venues Trust on its campaign to protect grassroots venues from licensing restrictions, rising rents and threats from property developers.

The BPI preferred to celebrate the global success of British solo artists like the Grammy-winning Sheeran and Mark Ronson. Taylor said: “There may be any number of reasons why solo stars are currently outperforming groups, but certainly over the last few years Pop has enjoyed a particularly fertile period, which has tended to coincide with a strong performance from solo acts.

“Some may speculate that the reach of TV talent shows and the rapid growth of streaming are promoting the dominance of Pop. Others suggest that the internet has spawned a whole new generation of ‘bedroom DJs’ and performers who are more likely to create music alone.”

The Best British Group category at next week’s Brits awards features One Direction, Foals and Years & Years, who have made a mark on the charts. Without a reliable income from record sales, as music fans turn to streaming, aspiring bands are reliant on touring to subsist, with little profit to be shared out once travel costs are taken into account. Solo artists are also often easier for record companies to market. A BPI spokesman said: “Everything is cyclical. It just needs one band to excite everyone and that creates a new trend.”

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