Two years ago for The Reader’s Year in Review wrap-up article, I said that it was the beginning of the end, that there had become a universal recognition that the best days for those who make a living making music were very likely behind them.
That was in the year 2009 B.S. – Before Spotify.
Now it’s 2011 and nothing has changed, not really. Except for one thing: There used to be a glimmer of hope that a talented band with good songs could maybe land a record deal with some small independent label. That glimmer of hope continues to fade, and not just for young bands like local heroes So-So Sailors, who in any other year would have had labels like Saddle Creek or Merge clamoring to release their debut album. No, even established acts like Morrissey have been left out in the cold. Last week, after a successful national tour that included a live performance on Conan, Morrissey announced, “I now no longer expect to live long enough to experience an offer to record for a grownup label….The world, I expect, will somehow endure, even as the follow-up to Years of Refusal grows less and less likely.”
Left with the choice of either going the self-release route (like So-So Sailors) or never getting his music heard, Morrissey, it seems, has chosen the latter. How many other bands or songwriters are choosing a similar path? Sure, online digital services like Spotify now give us access to all the music all the time, but with virtually no way to generate money, fewer labels are releasing fewer “albums.”
And yet… bands persevere. Music continues to be made. Live performances are only getting better (see my “best live shows” list, pg.__) and fantastic albums continue to be released. And to prove it, here’s the list of my top-10 favorite albums in 2011 (in no particular order):
— Eleanor Freidberger, Last Summer (Merge)
– So-So Sailors, Young Hearts (self-release)
— The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (Rough Trade)
– Destroyer, Kaputt (Merge)
— The Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 (Parlophone)
— Future Islands, On the Water (Thrill Jockey)
— Stephen Malkmus, Mirror Traffic (Matador)
– M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)
— EMA, Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)
– Big Harp, White Hat (Saddle Creek)