And Now, let's have rock

Now That's What I Call Rock features bona fide pop acts, including Walk The Moon, comprising Nicholas Petricca (far left) and Kevin Ray.
Now That's What I Call Rock features bona fide pop acts, including Walk The Moon, comprising Nicholas Petricca (far left) and Kevin Ray.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

After churning out 56 volumes, Now That's What I Call Music!, has released its first album dedicated to contemporary rock

NEW YORK • For nearly two decades, Now That's What I Call Music! has churned out what passive pop consumers want to hear - compilations of hit songs of the moment.

In the United States, there have been 56 volumes, plus spin-off Latino versions, Christmas collections and more than a dozen country albums.

But of the total 97 million albums sold, not one in the US series was dedicated to contemporary rock until last week, when the first Now That's What I Call Rock was released.

It may seem like a less than ideal moment - CD sales continue to plummet and the Now series still does most of its business on discs, while modern rock's cultural footprint has been light in recent years.

No album in that genre cracked the Top 10 in overall sales last year, although rock still dominates in vinyl.

"It's interesting that they didn't do this sooner," said Mr Keith Caulfield, Billboard's co-director of charts. "Current rock music is less impactful, so it makes less obvious sense to do a contemporary rock compilation."

Even the word "compilation" has gone out of fashion. Today, they are called playlists, which tend to be streamed free online.

Yet the creators of the new disc saw an opening.

Mr Jeff Moskow, who has been compiling Now, a joint venture of Sony and Universal, since 2000 - the series originated in Britain in 1983 and spread to other countries - said that while rock is not "really crossing over to the mainstream, it overlays nicely with our audience".

Now listeners are increasingly male, mostly over the age of 25 and buy CDs at big stores such as Target and Walmart. "On their telephone or at the workplace, they may choose to listen on Spotify," Mr Moskow said. "But some people, when they get into their cars, still enjoy popping in a CD."

He is also counting on trends to turn around. "It was just our sense that rock was on the ascension."

To provide the most entry points, the rock version of Now takes a big-tent approach to the genre, featuring bona fide pop acts with rock roots, such as Fall Out Boy, Walk The Moon and Florence And The Machine; heavier bands including Seether and Breaking Benjamin; and aspiring arena groups Bring Me The Horizon and X Ambassadors.

"Most music listeners are pretty open and almost agnostic," said Mr Cliff Chenfeld, co-owner of the label Razor & Tie and a consultant for Now That's What I Call Rock.

For those with a more nuanced affinity for subgenres including indie or metal, "it's probably not going to work for you", he said.

Rock fans also make up a sort of silent majority of music buyers.

Despite its relative lack of recent chart impact, rock was the best- selling genre last year, accounting for about 33 per cent of all album sales, compared with 14 per cent for pop and 15 per cent for hip- hop/R&B, according to Nielsen Music. Rock's perennial best-selling back catalogues - The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac - do not hurt.

Streaming audiences, on the other hand, are far more likely to seek out pop and rap.

"We've been hearing the 'rock is dead' chorus since 1978. That's a constant refrain," said Mr Chenfeld. "However, if you look at the metrics" - ticket sales, rock-radio play - "it's actually in a pretty vibrant situation".

Mr Moskow said he expected the inaugural Now That's What I Call Rock would be the first of many, with sales below those for the flagship pop compilations, but on a par with the country versions.

Given the state of Top 40, with barely a guitar in sight, Mr Chenfeld added: "It's almost counterprogramming."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline 'And Now, let's have rock'. Print Edition | Subscribe