What we’ve heard of “Easy On Me” so far sounds much like the Adele that the world fell in love with a decade-plus ago. But even if the sound of her new music is in line with her earlier blockbusters, the music industry has evolved at a rapid pace since 2015. Her continued streak of hits is close to a foregone conclusion, but what success looks like in 2021 is slipperier and harder to define by the old metrics. Here are five ways that the music industry has changed since we last heard from Adele.  

Streaming windows have gone out of style

Back in the mid-2010s, streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music had already begun reshaping music consumption and driving down traditional sales even further from the decline previously brought about by filesharing at the turn of the century. But A-list artists like Adele and Taylor Swift were still focused on selling their albums, whether on physical formats like CD and vinyl or digitally on iTunes, to the point that their new albums would be initially withheld from streaming formats. For a time, the “no-streaming window” looked like it could become an industry standard, much like major films that only reach DVD and on-demand services after a few months in theaters. 

Adele’s 25 wasn’t on streaming services at all (besides the lead single “Hello”) until June 2016, over seven months after the album became available for purchase. On a smaller scale, Taylor Swift — who had kept her music off streaming services entirely for three years starting in 2014 — withheld 2017’s Reputation from streaming until 3 weeks after the album’s release. And for a time, Tidal was scoring exclusive rights to stream albums by the likes of Kanye West and Rihanna upon their initial release. 

In recent years, however, streaming windows have largely disappeared, and most major releases have been available for purchase or streaming simultaneously on all platforms. What’s more, it feels like even superstars like Adele or Swift would be sacrificing far too much in terms of first-week numbers and cultural relevance if they continued to “paywall” albums, so to speak, for a few weeks or months. If anybody still has the clout to try it, it’s Adele, who sold 9.5 million copies of 25 for over three quarters of the album’s total — but it feels highly unlikely she’ll go against the prevailing headwinds on streaming for 30. 

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