On Friday 20th July, Now that’s what I call Music! 100 is unleashed to the public.
That’s 100 albums, selling 120m copies, featuring 2,100 artists, which would take more than 250 hours to listen to back to back.
We all remember our first Now album don’t we? For me (as I’m old) it was Now that’s what I call Music! 3 back in 1984. It had all the hits I knew and loved from Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper and Nik Kershaw – and sounded much better than the tapes we all made from the radio chart rundowns with starts missed and random half sentences of whichever Radio 1 DJ did the charts that week, depending how good you were on the pause button.
But it also introduced me to tracks I had never heard, or had ignored up to now – like David Sylvian’s Red Guitar – which led to my buying everything he’s ever recorded to this day.
A question of format
I bought Now 3 on tape. My elder brother had Now 1 on vinyl. My twin had a couple of the later Nows on CD. But in the age of Spotify, Apple and Amazon music, Deezer and even Tidal, aren’t such albums now entirely surplus to requirements?
Well the 3.2 million people who bought a Now! album last year (more than Ed Sheeran’s Divide shifted) would suggest not. And that’s in spite of the albums not getting the publicity they used to since being bumped out of the main album charts nearly 20 years ago.
So why on earth could that be? After all, it’s never been easier to make a playlist and share it with your mates, containing all the songs you want them to hear. A few clicks and your own version of a Now! compilation is available worldwide.
Well I think there are two main reasons – each of which provides valuable lessons well beyond the music industry.
Finding the New
The first is that David Sylvian example I gave earlier. I’d sort of heard of him and was sort of aware of his stuff before I heard Red Guitar – but I certainly wouldn’t have saved up my pocket money to buy an album of his, or been at all interested in his next release. But put that single that I didn’t really want to hear in the middle of a load of tracks I really did, and I was hooked. The lesson? Especially in marketing don’t always assume the customer knows exactly what they want. Be experimental, and always look to wrap something new and exciting in something comfortable and familiar.
Now that's what I call curation!
The second is a question of curation. As I said, compiling and sharing playlists has never been easier. But do we always want just to share with a narrow circle of friends? Of course you can always subscribe to a stranger’s playlist – but how do we know they really share our tastes and interests? It’s all entirely random, and if we don’t like what we hear, a new track is only a click away.
But somehow a playlist or compliation album we think has been created by music lovers like ourselves (as it’s got a load of tracks we like on it) and has the official Now! stamp of approval still has some real (and valuable) cachet. The Now! brand was oddly prescient of the online future – where we don’t really want albums, just the singles we like in one easy package, preferably chosen and arranged by somebody else.
It proves if a brand creates the right content, and places it on the right platform surrounded by other similar offerings, there’s still a huge market out there – even when it’s easier to do it yourself.