After 2016, All We Know About Music is That We Have No Idea What’s Next
Secret releases, silent promotion, 2016 has been a weird one for new music. What will 2017 bring?This article originally appeared on Quartz
Amid a mess of spiny trees, starlight, and early hints of an intermittent drizzle, Justin Vernon stepped on stage and plowed through a dozen songs no one in the crowd of thousands had ever heard before.
“That’s the end of side A,” Vernon—the bearded, soft-spoken one-man founder of indie folk sensation Bon Iver—announced, halfway into the live release of 22, A Million. And added, sounding pleased: “It feels super cool playing it live for the first time.”
His audience, myself included, remained quiet throughout his hour-long set at Eaux Claires, a woodland fairytale of a music festival set up by Vernon and a few other indie artists in rural Wisconsin this August. No one knew Bon Iver would be releasing its first album in five years, there—not until the news came out mere days before the campgrounds opened. Song titles were announced in real-time, via an app designed specifically for the festival.
Yet the lack of promotion was, in and of itself, a stunning promotion.
Music in 2016 has gone through a dizzying amount of change. One of its biggest revolutions? The death of the album. As the era of physical records and digital downloads fades from view, and streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music take over as dominant modes of consumption, people are finding fewer reasons to listen to entire albums all at once—making it all the more vital for artists to present them in attention-jolting, unexpected ways.
By the end of 2017, it’s likely the once-traditional album drop (feat. pre-release hype, bonus tracks, and everything else one used to expect) will be a thing of the past entirely.