The 2010s decade is now dead and buried…forgotten…in the rearview mirror…last year’s news, yet the music industry still reverberate its grand effects. The yesterdecade witnessed the music business go through significant changes that left most of its stakeholders – record labels, music publishers, music creators, and even fans – scrambling to restore stability. Many would-be heroes from all walks of life rushed to the scene with all sorts of solutions they swore would save the music industry. In hindsight, there is no doubt that the most impactful of solutions involved technology. After all, it was its stubborn refusal to adopt technology that had almost brought the music industry to the brink of failure. When technology companies finally came along in the music business, they marked a new era. Who would have guessed that Sweden of all places would birth a solution – music streaming – to an epidemic that had almost brought the music industry to its knees: music piracy. In the process, Spotify went on to become the biggest hero (or heroine) of the modern music industry and earned over $20 billion in value since trading on NYSE in 2018. And then there were those music creators that saved the actual music itself if it needed any saving. I am sure you have a few names of your own to throw in the ring for that title.
When it comes to who saved the music industry in the 2010s decade, there are those names of people, companies or institutions that you are likely to hear in almost every conversation on the topic. But then there are also as many names that you probably would not hear in those conversations even though they had equal or perhaps even greater positive impact on the music industry in the last decade. With that being said, here is our list of heroes and heroines of the music industry in the 2010s decade.
- 1 1. PARTYNEXTDOOR
- 2 2. Taylor Swift
- 3 3. Pledge Music
- 4 4. Bob Boilen
- 5 5. Tidal
- 6 6. Sam Smith
- 7 7. No I.D
- 8 8. Frank Ocean
- 9 9. Bob Goodlatte, Orin Hatch and Members of Congress
- 10 10. Who is your unsung hero or heroin of the music industry in 2010s?
10 Unsung Heroes and Heroines of the Music Industry in the 2010s Decade
Don’t let the hate for Drake fool you. Ghostwriters are an integral, and many times underappreciated, part of the music-making process — and none this decade are quite as significant as PARTYNEXTDOOR. While the Toronto native has acquired some success as a headline artist, his crown achievements lie in his work behind-the-scenes, writing major hits for some of the industry’s premier superstars. Couldn’t stop repeating Rihanna’s addictive hook on the radio smash “Work” all throughout 2016? PARTY wrote that. Weren’t able to step on any dancefloor during the summer of 2017 without the intoxicating Latin rhythm of “Wild Thoughts” greeting your ears? PARTY wrote that. Transfixed by the star-studded DJ Khaled/Beyonce/Jay-Z collaboration “Shining”? PARTY wrote that one too. His personal material may not have resonated as massively in music culture, but you couldn’t tell the story of this decade’s chart-topping anthems without PARTY’s masterful pen. His talents as a songwriter are unquestioned amongst his peers, but the taboo nature of using a ghostwriter in this era has caused PARTY to become one of the many unsung heroes in the 2010s. Don’t be scared off by artists utilizing songwriters in their art — people like PARTY deserve praise too.
2. Taylor Swift
Somehow, the guitar industry weathered a decade where mainstream music shifted almost completely away from guitars. The biggest reason for this was probably because more women and girls than ever began buying guitars and, for the first time, began accounting for half of all guitar sales during the decade—a phenomenon dubbed the “Taylor Swift factor”. The decade didn’t give the world very many easily recognizable guitar hero(in)es, but by inspiring a generation of young girls to pick up guitars and channel their inner rockstars, T-Swift laid claim to her place as the decade’s biggest, and in doing so may have even kept rock ‘n’ roll alive. While Swift gets plenty of acclaim as a bankable popstar and businesswoman, it’s probably time for her to get some plaudits as a bonafide guitar heroine.
3. Pledge Music
I could almost see the confusion written all over your face when you saw PledgeMusic on this list. How can a company that ‘cheated’ a lot of musicians and fans out of millions of dollars be on a list of heroes of the music industry?
According to a report by Citigroup in 2018, the majority (88%) of the revenue generated by the music industry goes to record labels, streaming platforms, and publishing companies, leaving the actual music creators with only 12%. For that reason, music creators have always been looking for ways to escape the middlemen-infested infrastructure of the music industry. When social media arrived in the early 2000s, it gave artists a way to access and build relationships directly with their fans, circumventing the middlemen-controlled radio and conventional media of the time. However, music creators still had to rely on record labels and other middlemen companies to facilitate the commerce of music. In 2009, what seemed to be a solution arrived in the form of PledgeMusic. According to Benji Rogers, founder “the way PledgeMusic puts out music is what the future of the release of an album looks like.” The new platform seemed to give music creators an infrastructure to source production costs directly from fans and control the sales/revenue of their music, enabling them to avoid paying the exorbitant costs of advance loans from record labels and keep most of the profits for themselves. The idea was promising enough that it received investments from several firms. With the lure to offer their fans a more personal experience, even famous artists started running campaigns on the platform. Around 2013, campaigns on PledgeMusic were exceeding their internal goals 86% of the time and the average amount raised was 30% over target. It was exciting for both fans and music creators!
Although a faulty revenue model and inability to scale led to an implosion that eventually took the company under in 2019, we cannot dismiss the fact that Rogers’ platform demonstrated that music creators and fans can do business directly without the need for record labels. Despite its unfairly fateful demise, PledgeMusic had a noble goal and proved that it is possible for music creators to rid themselves of the parasitic record labels to enable themselves to keep the majority of the profits from their music careers. As Napster was to Spotify, the experiment of PledgeMusic prepared the way for a sustainable sequel that’s inevitably coming.
4. Bob Boilen
Bob Boilen’s non-descript cubicle at NPR’s headquarters in Washington D.C. is visited monthly by more than 7.5 million viewers. Boilen “Tiny Desk” venue strips down major and emerging artists to provide an unprecedented intimacy. He uses the platform to boost the awareness of lesser-known artists and genres and pull the curtain on megastars like Taylor Swift. The idea came to him when NPR music writer Stephen Thompson had trouble hearing Laura Gibson over bar patrons during SXSW 2008. Thompson joked with Gibson that she’d have been better off performing at Boilen’s desk. Boilen thought it was more than just a joke — within a matter of weeks Gibson was seated across from Boilen, playing a small acoustic set. He says he wants to be “the eyes of you if you were in the room” — a very small room around a very tiny desk.
Boilen hosts a yearly contest for unsigned musicians to perform a Tiny Desk set. This year NPR received more than 6,000 entries. The winner, Quinn Christopherson, landed not only a spot around the desk but also an opening gig with one of the contest’s judges, Lucy Dacus. Tiny Desk Concerts provide a regular venue where artists get visibility from millions of eyes who wouldn’t have otherwise known their name. People keep tuning in — not just to see someone they recognize, but because Boilen and his production team curate a supply of predictably interesting acts that appeal across genre lines.
Tidal is a somewhat controversial music streaming service, currently owned by Jay-Z with a number of other musician bakers. The service promote hi-fi sound with an enormous catalog of music and videos to sort through. It’s controversial because a membership costs a lot, but the flip side is that the musicians get paid more. Tidal promotes its commitment to independent artists who don’t necessary have a large platform to stand on alone. They even have an entire breakdown of where streaming fees go within the company where the majority of the money goes to the artists themselves.
6. Sam Smith
Sam Smith propelled an age of music without gender or stereotypical roles for a man or woman. They sang from a place of truth and the world was captivated. Their song “ Stay With Me,” from the album In The Lonely Hour in 2015, touched multiple people. The album In The Lonely Hour changed the way music was heard for the rest of the time. Love songs are usually sung through the lens of a man or a woman, which can cause a disconnect with the audience. With Sam, you feel connected to their message and history not as a man or a woman, but as a human being.
Sam’s lyrical articulation cuts out the stereotypical norms of having to address a person and instead addresses the heart. Sam Smith is a human being seeking love, self-growth, and accepts like everyone. Even in the 2017 album, The Thrill of It All, with their smooth, lush, and brazen vocals sing a message of growth, love, and accepts of oneself. Sam is not ashamed to live their truth and they are a role model for others to not be afraid to live theirs.
7. No I.D
No I.D. is a man of many skills. The Chicago legend is mostly celebrated for his work as an award-winning producer, high-profile disc jockey and well-respected musical mentor — but perhaps his most impactful contribution to the industry in the 2010s was his role as an A&R representative. After being appointed Executive Vice President of A&R for Def Jam Recordings in 2011, No I.D. began scouring the music landscape for the next big, breakout artists to hit the scene. What he found over the last nine years was a goldmine of talent and endless potential. The goal of a gifted A&R is not only seeking out these elusive gems, but nurturing their careers from humble beginnings to popular powerhouses. Looking down the list of signees, it’s impossible not to respect No I.D.’s near-flawless track record. He jumpstarted Jhene Aiko’s current fame by producing the majority of her 2013 debut EP Sail Out and claiming the California crooner as the “future” of Def Jam. Vince Staples, after signing to Def Jam in 2016, used his critically-acclaimed project Summertime 06, executively-produced by No I.D. himself, to catapult to the forefront of hip hop’s new school. Even his earlier signing of Snoh Aalegra back in 2013 is starting to reap rewards after the overwhelmingly positive responses to her 2019 album Ugh, Those Feels Again. No I.D. may be one of the most recognizable names on this list, but it’s his achievement elevating bold, new acts that makes him one of the unsung heroes of the decade.
8. Frank Ocean
The onset of the 2010s decade saw found the newly birthed Frank Ocean signing a major label contract with Def Jam. Almost immediately, Frank was convinced that Def Jam had no intentions of providing the resources he needed to create a studio debut album and market it. Unfortunately for Def Jam, they had no idea who they were dealing with. Frank Ocean is a true Scorpio: brave, resourceful, shrewd, patient, perseverant, and vengeful. The next chain of events became a manifestation of all those personality traits at once.
Instead of shrinking and sinking into the abyss of the powerful machinations of the music industry, Ocean launched a rebellion. First, he successfully demanded a budget of $1 million and complete creative control over his next project, “Channel Orange”. That was only his first win and in the brutal style of a true Scorpio, a war is not won until the enemy is dead and buried.
After releasing “Channel Orange”, he retreated and vanished, not to be heard from for the next four whole years. To us mere mortals, it seemed that maybe the forces of the music industry had finally consumed him and spit him back into the abyss like it did many others before him. And then it happened. On August 19, 2016; he released “Endless”. For the most part, it was an uninspired visual album. Unknown to Def Jam, “Endless” was the “check” before the “checkmate.” It freed Ocean from the contract with Def Jam. For most people, this freedom would have been enough to revel in and just move on, but not for Ocean. In style of a true Scorpio, he had to decapitate the enemy. That final blow came in less than 48 hours later; Frank Ocean released “Blonde” independently under his own label, Boys Don’t Cry. “Blonde” debuted at No. 1 immediately rendering “Endless” obsolete. To make Ocean’s victory even sweeter, the release of “Blonde” in combination with the fact that “Endless” could not be bought or streamed due to the ill-advised exclusive deal with Apple Music, cost Def Jam millions of dollars. Also, during that “seven-year chess game”, Frank Ocean somehow managed to buy back all his master recordings.
If that not an inspirational hero, much like that of David and Goliath, then I don’t know what is.
9. Bob Goodlatte, Orin Hatch and Members of Congress
Courage, sacrifice, selflessness, and noble qualities are words that we can hardly use to describe most of the zombies men and women roaming the halls of Capitol Hill nowadays. Wait a minute…that has absolutely nothing to do with the matter in point. My apologies, I just couldn’t resist after seeing that photo above. Now, back to the subject at hand, although not perfect, a historic piece of legislation was signed into law that day.
With the extremely partisan cloud consuming Capitol Hill since the ascendancy of a certain Donald to POTUS, it seems politicians in Congress are more concerned about in-fighting than actually doing the jobs they were elected to do. So it came as a surprise when those men and women actually worked together to pass the Music Modernization Act into law.
The Music Modernization Act righted a sin that the streaming platforms have been committing against the music creators since the inception of streaming itself. For that, the music industry should be thankful to especially Rep. Bob Goodlatte & Sen. Orrin Hatch for sponsoring, introducing and fighting to get the H.R. 5447 into the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively until it became the law of the land despite the threats, bullying and misinformation from Spotify, publishing companies and their cohorts. The legislation ensures a fair payment of royalties to music creators and provides a judicial infrastructure to settle disputes pertaining to conflicts over such matters. In other words, The Hatch–Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act is an important piece of legislation that gives an enforceable platform on which music creators can fight back the streaming platforms’ unfair compensation practices. If I were a musician, I would have written an ode to these courageous souls that rose above party politics and corporate greed to fight for the little guy for once. But then again, no one should be worshipped for doing their job, especially if that job is a public office.