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Tune deaf

Music | The new year doesn't look to be a new one for music

Issue: "2010 The Year Ahead," Jan. 16, 2010

Music fans whose New Year's resolution is not to be cynical about the recording industry in 2010 will have their work cut out for them. Not only are none of the dozens of projected new releases the work of artists known for recently setting the world on fire, but most of them are probably by musicians who, because they believe in an imminent eco-catastrophe resulting from man-made global warming, wouldn't set the world on fire even if they could.

Not that 2009 was a music-industry barn burner. Were it not for Susan Boyle's out-of-nowhere YouTube success and Michael Jackson's only somewhat less-shocking death (he had not, after all, been the picture of health for some time), neither of the two biggest headline-­generating albums of the last quarter-Boyle's I Dreamed a Dream and Jackson's This Is It, both of which have sold approximately 2 million copies-would have likely generated either the headlines or the revenue that it did.

But as the odds of another Susan Boyle's emerging in 2010 are almost as long as Michael Jackson's dying again, the second decade of the millennium looks set to begin with a musical whimper.

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Take January's scheduled releases from big names, for instance. Although both Courtney Love and Jennifer Lopez have earned platinum status before, the former did so 16 years ago in the wake of the interest generated by the suicide of her husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, and the latter hasn't had a hit album since 2005 (unless Brave's going double platinum in Russia three years ago counts). So the odds that either Lopez (whose new album is called Love?) or Love (whose new album is not called Lopez?) will help revive the economy are rather long.

No, were January's album-release schedule a horse race, the smart money would have to be on Barry Manilow's The Greatest Love Songs of All Time, what with QVC's proven ability to gin up sales and Manilow's proven willingness to use it.

As grim as that prospect is, the prospect of rapper Lil Wayne's selling millions of copies of his rock-music debut Rebirth (Feb. 1) is even grimmer. Not so much "long anticipated" as "long dreaded," the album will nevertheless benefit from Lil Wayne's massive popularity, a popularity that future historians could be forgiven for using to question the intelligence of 21st-century man.

Further evidence will arrive in May with the release of the latest (and as-yet-untitled) album by Britney Spears, with the release of Shakurspeare, the sixth posthumous release by the rap star Tupac Shakur, to follow one month later. Those who think that the 14 years since Shakur's death must surely have taken a commercial toll on his marketability overlook the fact that during that time his posthumous recordings alone have sold over 10 million copies.

That's 1 million more, incidentally, than the combined releases of the Beastie Boys, Peter Gabriel, Kings of Leon, John Mellencamp, and Switchfoot-each of whom also has 2010 releases planned-during that same period.

Ironically, as the profits to be made from pre-recorded-music sales continue to decline, the amount of pre-recorded music continues to grow, resulting in a shrinking of the pie and in the size of each slice (if not in the flakiness of the crust).

Once, when there were only a handful of record companies functioning like the "big three" television networks in the days before the cable explosion, it was as possible to keep up with music as it was to keep up with TV.

Now doing so is more or less as difficult as it is unrewarding.


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