14 Predictions for Music in 2012

What sort of things can we expect in 2012?  Here are some assorted predictions ranging from the obvious to the goofy.

1.  Indie music’s impact will be bigger than ever.  

Unlike the alt-rock explosion of the early 1990s, this revolution is happening in slow motion.  The music needs of the Internet Generation is giving the entire recording industry a makeover via independent record labels of varying size.  The majors will continue down the path of marketing and developing only acts with significant mass appeal.  More and more of their energy will go into creating new Top 40 superstars, the only sort of act that can offer the kind of return their masters and shareholders demand.

The Internet has really levelled the playing field for indie labels.  With more and more people buying downloads, trading in free and legal MP3s and using streaming music services, these labels don’t need massive marketing and distribution infrastructures.  They have no trouble getting their music to fans and less trouble than ever paying their artists.

In some ways, we’re returning to the 1950s, an era dominated by several large labels–RCA, Decca, Columbia and a few others–and a huge ocean of nimble indies which were able to jump on trends, nuture new acts and superserve a dedicated clientele.


2.  The Return of the Curator

It’s not all unicorns and chocolate for indies.  Because more music is being made than at any time in human history, the choice is infinite.  Infinite choice can be confusing or downright paralyzing for music fans.

Back in the heyday of radio, the curator was the DJ on your local radio station that you trusted the most. He/she told you what songs were worth listening to, what bands were cool and what albums were worth buying.  The radio also taught you about fashion, slang, trends, fads–everything you needed to know to be a complete music fan. This system was far from perfect, but at least it gave you a place to start any kind of musical journey.

By the time Napster came along in 1999, many people were sick and tired of what radio, video channels and record labels were pushing on them.  P2P file trading opened up a whole new universe of a la carte choices.  This free-for-all was really, really cool.  Until it got confusing and paralyzing.  

We slowly reached the point where we were spending all our time searching and researching music, tagging files, making playlists, transferring music to multiple devices, torrenting, seeding–everything but savouring music.

Now we’re back to a situation where we’re looking for some people (or robots) help us sort through must.  What’s worth listening to?  What’s not?  Can you introduce me to something new?  Can you show me someone who has tastes just like me?


3.  The gap between what’s on the radio and what the kids are listening to online will continue to widen.

Anyone with a 14 year-old knows that he/she is into music that hasn’t shown up on commercial radio. Want an example?  Lana Del Rey.  All the kinds know about here, but how many times has she been played on the radio?  Almost zip.

Radio, like the record labels, will have to concentrate on being mass appeal.  This doesn’t bode well for certain formats like rock and hip-hop.  In fact, there are some who predict that music-based radio will soon be a losing proposition for all but the most mass appeal acts.  All the cool kids are getting all their music online.


4.  And when it comes to the subject of getting music online…

YouTube is huge for music discovery.  Rdio and Slacker are already in Canada.  Spotify is coming.  HMV will launch a streaming music service in March.  Apple has put your iTunes collection in the cloud for access on your iOS device.  Google has done the same thing.  So has Amazon.  The march towards music access instead of music possession cannot be stopped.  As we reach the tipping point where everyone has smartphones, this year will be when music streaming services really take off.


5.  But CDs will still be around in twelve months…

Don’t believe anyone of those stupid predictions than labels will abandoned the compact disc later this year.  These things still sell by the hundreds of millions.


6.  …and record stores will continue to exist.

Their numbers will continue to shrink and more floorspace will be turned over to music lifestyle items, but the record store will not die.  Not in 2012, anyway.  Hell, I’d be far more worried if any part of my business had to do with renting DVDs.


7.  Back to the major labels for a second.  They will continue to push heritage performers.  

One advantage the majors have is the rights to decades of catalogue material.  There are warehouses all across the planet filled with material that has yet to be released.  That means lots of opportunities to package this stuff up and sell it as high-margin deluxe sets or special reissues.  Watch for the Tragically Hip to get the deluxe reissue treatment in 2012.


8.  There’s still lots of money to be made in reunions.

It used to be that if you had a hit album back in the day, it was the equivalent of an annuity.  You could retire from the business knowing that the fat royalty cheques would keep coming in year after year.  But now that CD sales are in a death spiral, those royalty cheques are getting smaller and smaller.  What to do?

Get back to work, that’s what.  Get the band back together and stage a reunion tour so you can top up the pension plan.  Besides, your best fans–older, greyer, fatter, balder–will pay good money to relive their youth one more time at one of your shows.  And promoters will love you because you can fill those huge venues with people willing to pay for parking, beer and t-shirts.  (Remember that the venue always gets a cut of swag sales.)

If all goes well, you’re top up your pension plan and leave something for the kids and grandkids.  Let’s not kid ourselves:  estate planning often works itself into these reunion discussions.

So far this year, we’ve seen the return of the Cranberries (new album called Roses due February 14th), the Stone Roses (the lure of big $$$ finally triumphed over hate) and the classic Black Sabbath lineup (WAY too much money to leave on the table).  

The reunion parade won’t be stopping anytime soon.  Trust me.


9.  Speaking of heritage artists…

Madonna and the Rolling Stones will be battle it out for the tour of the year.  Madge has a new album coming in March (her first under a new deal with Interscope; it’s also part of a massive ten-year deal she has with Live Nation) and the tour that will follow will have to be bigger and more outrageous than anything Lady Gaga has mounted recently.  Madge will want her crown back.  

And althought the Rolling Stones have been coy about their plans for a 50th anniversary tour, there’s no way that they’re going to pass up on the opportunity to make half a billion dollars.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman make appearances on the tour.  And my guess is that instead of travelling from city to city, the Stones will set up shop for multiple dates in select cities.  The fans will have to come to them–and they will.


10.  This is going to be a big year for Amazon.

When it comes to getting music and music-related material, there’s Apple, Google and Amazon.  I have a feeling that of those three, Amazon is going to rock the house the most this year.  Google seems a little scattered and confused.  Apple is in good shape, but without Steve Jobs, things could get weird.  And although I’m pretty sure Apple will launch a TV this year, I don’t think it’s going to be a success.


11.  This is going to be a big year for Coldplay.

With many of the big acts going off-cycle (U2, Foo Figthers) and with other big bands (Offspring, Green Day, Soundgarden) not due to release albums until later in the year, Coldplay’s only real competition in the arena rock field for the first six months of 2012 is the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Watch for things to really kick in for Coldplay when their world tour starts in Edmonton on April 17.


12.  Canada will still find ways to screw up innovation in music in the digital age.

If you want to stream music in Europe, there’s a statutory rate the streamer has to pay. It’s a set fee that applies to everyone.  Pay it and you’re golden.

In Canada, though, the streamer has to strike agreements with each individual copyright holder.  That means what we can stream online is severely, severely hampered.  It’s a major reason we don’t have Pandora, why Spotify isn’t here yet and why so many songs/artists coming up “not available” on services like Rdio and Slacker.  

It’s an example of how people desperate to the hang on to the status quo are holding us back in this country.


13.  This is going to be a big year for music in the car.

Watch for all kinds of manufacturers to demonstrate infotainment awesomeness at the Consumer Electronics Show this month.  By the time you’re ready to buy your next new car, the entertainment options in the dashboard are going to be science fiction-esque.  These new systems will make the old AM/FM/CD unit look like something from a 1954 Buick.

On a related note, what for a huge pushback from regulators who will yell louder and louder about the dangers of distracted driving.  They’ll win, of course, which will just lead to new infotainment systems with heads-up displays.  Cool!


14.  There will be another glut of Christmas albums in eleven months.

For the past couple of years, Christmas albums from the likes of Michael Buble, Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle and Josh Grobin have saved the music industry’s ass in the fourth quarter.  There’s a lot of money to be made in these sorts of albums.  The trend will repeat in 2012.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

16 thoughts on “14 Predictions for Music in 2012

  • January 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Im a huge John Mayer fan and wasn't aware he even has a christmas album

  • January 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Great post, Alan.

    I agree wholeheartedly, especially with the point about the return of the curator. In fact, that's what excites me most about the industry revolution: a higher value is going to be placed on people with taste, and the smart ones will be able to monetize.

    These are definitely exciting times.

    Scott Honsberger
    President, Toronto Music Industry Association

  • January 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Whoops. Sorry about the John Mayer reference. I meant Josh Grobin and his 2007 album, Noel. Thanks for the heads-up.

  • January 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Its nice to read an article about the future of music that doesn't make me want to take my own life. Good news for the Indie lovers 😀

  • January 1, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    As for "all the cool kids getting their music online", it doesn't even need to be current. After going through all the Best Of The Year lists and not being impressed with anything (no offense, but wispy and expansive or revivalist with a digitized twist doesn't do anything for me) after much searching, I had to go back to 1990 to find an album I actually liked.

  • January 2, 2012 at 12:46 am

    Music has become even more a-temporal. Seekers can access music from almost any time from almost any where in the world. I wouldn't be surprised to see an old song (say, something from the 50s) get new life and generate buzz mainly online.

    As a result, we may see more covers than ever before to focus on the performer/perfoprmance rather than the song.

  • January 2, 2012 at 3:06 am

    Excited about the Hip Deluxe Reissues…hoping vinyl is involved with some demos, outtakes and vault shows (a la Pearl Jam). Any more info about these?

  • January 2, 2012 at 4:09 am

    About the car audio systems…they're already there. Everything new can play mp3s, wmas, satellite radio…you name it.

  • January 2, 2012 at 5:01 am

    Agree on most of the list. But I cant believe it'll be a bigger year for Coldplay. They make vanilla ice cream look exciting, and I can't see people forking over to see that in a stadium, especially when the last album had such a short shelf life.

  • January 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Interesting article, thanks Alan.

  • January 3, 2012 at 1:26 pm


    I am a music journalist student writing a predictions feature explaing how the music events of 2012 will engender the end of the world predicted by the mayas and illustrated by Emmerich's movie, 2012.

    And so, I need to base my writing and opinion on facts and experts point of view. That's why, I would like to know if I could quote some of your predictions in my article.

    Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you


  • November 9, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Well, unfortunately the bit about the Tragically Hip was as wrong as could be…

  • November 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    My girlfriend has already bought two new Christmas albums >_<

    Aside, the relatively-new "Comments" feature in the right column is a great addition to the site. Would be nice if there was a page that went back even further… on the other hand this ensures I check the site daily instead of just reading through RSS.


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