Our annual countdown of the people, music, ideas, and news that impacted the year, including
By Paul Marszalek
#4 Andrea Paschal / Executive Director: Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS)
Left for dead a decade ago, mom & pop music retailers were scrambling. Labels were walking away from physical sales as consumers changed preferences – first in favor of digital downloads, later streaming.
Piling on, the small number of physical units that remained in the pipeline was impacted by a FUBAR distribution system, meager manufacturing capacity, and two years of COVID.
Taken together, what happened to physical product in 2021 was improbable, if not unimaginable: Physical sales of music continued to soar.
Last year, 41.7 million vinyl albums were sold in the U.S. — 20 million more than in 2020. Further, CD sales, and this could be a fluke, held steady for the first time after years of decline.
Combined physical sales of music in the U.S. will crack $1 billion in 2021.
The reawakening of the physical market started with 2011’s Record Store Day — literally a cry for help from mom & pop retailers, organized by the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS).
Heavy hitting artists lent support: U2, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Metallica, and so many more creating exciting, collectible content. CIMS and RSD must be credited with (re)creating the market for physical music.
Physical sales remain a fraction of the overall business. Yet growth is far from over. Big box retailers are once again dipping their toes — at least with regard to megastars. Adele’s 30 got the Target CD treatment — three extra bonus songs — and the set sold 378,000 copies in its first week. Just one week before, Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version), sold nearly 150,000 CDs.
It is estimated that the global demand for vinyl is more than 300 million units, but manufacturing capacity is roughly 180 million. Further, so many releases never even create physical versions. Fans can’t get enough – there’s a lot of money being left on the table.
#3 John Farneda / WXRT
John Farneda, Music Director and the secret sauce of the WXRT programming department for four decades, passed away in March from cancer.
While the listening public might not have known John as much as the beloved and legendary XRT airstaff, so much of what Chicagoans heard on XRT was John’s work.
Said longtime XRT collegue Lin Brehmer,
“Few people are blessed with the clarity John Farneda had for his future. He loved music and he wanted to work in radio. More than that, he wanted to work at WXRT. At Columbia College, he told his favorite teacher, Terri Hemmert, that one way or another he had to work at WXRT. That was over 40 years ago. His single-minded vision and tenacity led him to produce Terri Hemmert’s morning show.
He became a crucial part of the station’s programming department in the 1980’s. He worked as the assistant Music Director and then the Music Director where he established himself as one of the most trusted and beloved radio professionals in the entire music business. He committed his life to radio because he loved the music. He might find himself entertaining Patti Smith or Tina Turner in his office before they would go in the studio for an interview. He was never interested in the spotlight. He never wanted a radio show.
He just wanted to share the gifts of the music he valued.”
During an October lull in the pandemic, friends and co-workers were able to gather in Chicago to celebrate John’s life and work.