Music Industry

Adele is the Biggest-Selling Artist on Earth. Now What?

Adele’s recent success is completely unprecedented in the history of the music industry. asks a simple question: “Now what?” The might be “Woman’s [finally] got the power.”

Unless you fell into a post-holiday food coma, you know that Adele’s album25 just sold more copies in its first week than any album, ever. The average human being had been conditioned to believe this was not possible in 2015. Remember that narrative? Napster destroyed the music business, the iPod stopped the bleeding, digital and streaming services are still nascent, and a Google search can find anything for free, so the good old days of multi-platinum records are pretty much gone. On the heels of her first single Hello, Adele waved goodbye to that doomsday line of thinking, crushing decades-old sales records by such a distance that, if she were an Olympic athlete, we’d immediately assume she healed her damaged vocal chords with PEDs. Putting aside certain idiosyncrasies of Adele’s album buyers (it turns out old people still buy CDs!), getting more than 3 million Americans and 800,000 Britons to do anything in the same week is a triumphant feat. The ripple effect of Adele’s astonishing sales figure is already visible. This past week, Rihanna and her management made a last minute decision to postpone the release of her new album Anti, at the apex of the heaviest consumer spending moment of the year. It turns out the shadow of Adele is the one umbrella Ri-Ri won’t stand under.

And who can blame her? Between Adele’s album sales and Taylor Swift’s cultural and touring dominance (FYI: she played to a stadium full of 76,000 people in Sydney last weekend), it’s tough to stand out at the moment, even for Rihanna, one of Forbes’ top 10 grossing female artists. Despite working in a music industry with a dearth of women in meaningful executive positions, the strength and power of female artists has never been more profound. And unlike Hollywood — where thanks to the North Korean email hack of Sony and a courageous Jennifer Lawrence, we now understand the starkness of the gender pay gap — female musical artists get paid on par with their male counterparts. In music, the entire ecosystem earns a sizable percentage of whatever the artist makes; record labels make a percentage of album sales, promoters make a percentage of ticket sales, merchandisers make a percentage of t-shirts sold, and so forth. Which means we are at a unique moment in history where A-list women hold much of the real power in the music business.

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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.

Alan Cross has 38343 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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