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2007 a Tumultuous Year for Pop Music

2007 saw musicians abandon their record labels, publicly clash with their bosses, and offer their music to the public - for free. VOA's Ray McDonald offers a look at the tumultuous year in pop music.

The record industry had been nervously watching the signs for years, but on October 10, it seemed the dam had finally broken. Internationally-renowned British rock act Radiohead - without a label affiliation since 2004 - was offering its new album In Rainbows as a download … for whatever price consumers wished to pay. If they chose to grab it for free, so be it. The experiment lasted two months, with uncertain results. While Radiohead's management released no official sales figures, bandleader Thom Yorke said the resulting digital income was substantial. Radiohead has since signed with new labels, and is issuing the album in physical form. The trend is unmistakable, however. Musicians have more options - and power - than ever before.

Where broadcast media, record stores, and concert stages once formed an all-conquering commercial triumvirate, the Internet now points the way. In September 2006, Colbie Caillat was just another struggling musician when a friend posted her song "Bubbly" on the website. Garnering 10 million plays, Colbie became the web site's number one unsigned artist for four months. While later signing with the gigantic Universal Music Group, Colbie remarked that her pre-existing fan base discouraged the company from changing her music.

Media tracker Nielsen SoundScan says U.S. album sales dropped 15 percent from 2006 - a trend that's continued for eight consecutive years. In such an atmosphere, artists are finding it easier to flex their muscles. Kelly Clarkson, who sold 11 million copies of her radio-friendly Breakaway album, publicly feuded with her label boss, the legendary Clive Davis, over her latest effort, My December. While the edgy album quickly fell from the best-seller charts, Kelly's public act of rebellion would have been rare in the pre-Internet era.

Not all the news was dire. Rapper Kanye West scored the year's best opening sales week in September, moving nearly 957,000 copies of his third album, Graduation. In a move echoing promotional schemes of old, his arch-rival 50 Cent said he'd retire if Kanye bested his latest album, Curtis. Kanye emerged victorious - in North America. 50 Cent did better in several international markets, presumably saving his career.

On October 16, Madonna further undermined the old regime by signing a groundbreaking 10-year deal with LiveNation, believed to be worth $120 million. It's the largest so-called "360 deal" in history, encompassing not only records but also tours, merchandising, film and TV projects, DVD releases, and music licensing agreements. It ends Madonna's 25-year relationship with Warner Music Group, to which she owes one more studio album and a Greatest Hits collection.

Madonna ended the year by being nominated to that monument to the enduring power of pop: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Joining her are rocker John Mellencamp; Canadian poet-cum-singer Leonard Cohen; British invasion favorites the Dave Clark Five; and 1960's instrumental rockers, The Ventures. Artists are eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first single or album. The induction ceremony will take place March 10 in New York City.