Author’s Note: Since this post is about Gen Z and the impact it can make to songwriters when these young people discover evergreen songs, it seems apropos to point out that my title “Return of the Fleetwood Mac” is not a hack attempt at grammar, but is in fact a play on words of the 1996 hit, “Return of the Mack” by British R&B singer Mark Morrison (I feel ancient having to explain that). And if “Return of the Mack” hits the charts after this, someone better buy me a truck.
We’re well past the seven month mark of dealing with the fallout of COVID-19, and in that relatively short period of time, the community of skilled professionals responsible for creating live music and events have universally adopted an already oft repeated mission statement that would be cute if it weren’t so sad:
“the live music industry was the first to shut down and will be the last to re-open.”
When faced with the immediate stoppage of live events, music industry professionals have had to either come up with a pandemic plan to ride it out until the time that live entertainment returns at scale, or leave the industry altogether for a more certain and immediate career path, at least for now.
Despite a (mostly incorrect) perception of unshakeable wealth, artists and musicians have also taken a financial hit. Touring and concerts are the major source of income for most professional full time musicians, particularly over the last 20 years when the titans of the music industry put all the eggs into the live touring basket exactly one millisecond after Napster devalued forever the sale and price of recorded music. A year of touring wiped off the books represents a substantial impact to touring musicians and creates a ripple effect for all of those involved in the operation of the business of music on behalf of an artist or band.
For the touring artist who is also a songwriter however, a catalogue of songwriting credits for which royalties are earned could be the differentiator between making it through to the other side of the pandemic or not. Despite the wide availability of “free” music, legislation is beginning to catch up to digital streaming providers (DSPs) to appropriately compensate songwriters, and digital units as well as physical copies continue to be purchased by loyal fans, especially during the vinyl revival Millennials have spearheaded (hey, thanks for that!). The wild west of digital music technology is behind us and instead of threatening the saleability of recorded music by virtue of its existence, YouTube and DSPs have led to a more widely available and instant global audience for developing artists.
In that vein, I was tickled when @DrewFrogger posted the now viral (and maybe eye roll-provoking at this late stage in the viral timeline) TikTok video on Twitter on September 25th of Nathan Apodaca aka 420dogface208 rolling on by with his cran-tastic lip sync of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit "Dreams". I’ll admit I cackled like a Looney Tunes character with money signs for eyes when I thought about Stevie Nicks calling up her publisher to get ready for that juicy royalty money after the inevitable happened: Gen Z discovered “Dreams” via TikTok - a song released almost 45 years ago and 20 years before any of them were even born - and Stevie rakes in the dough as the songwriter.
Last week, Warner Music Group reported that Dreams has been heard an astounding 230 million times across streaming platforms, social media, and U.S. radio over the subsequent two week period since Mr. Apodaca’s video went viral. Warner details what are incredible performance numbers for a song in general, let alone one that debuted four decades ago: 36 million streams, downloads of the song up 1188%, a No. 1 position on the iTunes charts, and Rumours re-entering the Billboard Top 200 and climbing into the Top 10 for the first time since that album’s initial release. Billboard joyfully crowed that the album is now “basking in the glow of sales and streaming increases spurred on by publicity generated from a viral TikTok video set to the album’s song ‘Dreams.’”
I'll spare you the BuzzFeed-style list of celebrities across all social media platforms who have since taken the “Dreams Challenge” as it's called, but I do want to point out that each of Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks paid homage to the moment by posting their own videos: Fleetwood doing his own version of the original, including hoisting what is now the official drink of 2020, Cran-Raspberry Ocean Spray and giving off a chill The Dude vibe; and Nicks being fabulous sitting at her grand piano while lacing up roller skates and riffing on top of her own canned vocals coming from a turntable sitting on the floor. It’s bizarre and delightful when you think of how we got to this moment. After they each got in on the fun, “Dreams” took off with over 1 million streams per day and, as of this week, became the oldest non-holiday song to reach the Top 10 on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart, surpassing Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
Here are two people with arguably equal notoriety and esteem due to their membership in, and contributions to, the same band, both participating in an online viral moment they find themselves at the center of due to their recording. But only one of them wrote the song, the work. Yes, both will share in royalties related to the band’s recording and will bask in the renewed spotlight of a timeless album that already has spent a record number of weeks on the Billboard charts, however Stevie Nicks will ultimately reap the most financial benefit from this as the singer as well as songwriter, and so she should.
Mick Fleetwood encapsulated the spirit of my prevailing thoughts regarding this phenomenon in a recent interview with Rolling Stone: “Stevie wrote the song. She must be celebrating right now. And I think it’s great. It’s great to be connected unexpectedly. That’s what I think is so cool about this. It’s not all super planned and super anything. It’s just like, why not?” He goes on: “It’s all about just people having an instant way of expressing [themselves]. And it just seems right across the board very, very much tied into free expression and having fun with it, which God knows we all need right now. We did it, not really knowing the end result, but supporting him.”
You get the feeling that, for Fleetwood, this is just a nice thing to have happened and be a part of in 2020 when we are all, in global harmony, so very much craving human connection and, well… goodness. When TikTok allows us a peek into our neighbors’ lives, Uncle Nathan’s longboard ride to work feels real and regular when we’re exhausted by contrived phony content. This just makes you smile.
And for Stevie Nicks - a technophobe who was so perfectly ironically quoted ten years ago as saying “I believe that computers have taken over the world. I believe that they have in many ways ruined our children” - this may represent a turning point in evaluating the impact and domino effect that social media platforms have on evergreen songs and the songwriters behind them. An entirely new generation of listeners are discovering Fleetwood Mac, as Warner reports not only the obvious monster number of new daily streams of “Dreams” from 18-27 year olds, but more interestingly the discovery of the band’s back catalogue with “The Chain” and “Landslide” hitting the Spotify U.S. chart. The catalogue as a whole was up 68% across all streaming platforms, representing 128.7 million streams over two weeks.
Inevitably, platforms like Songfluencer are already trading on the value of pairing songs with social media content, and no doubt there will be more iterations of this to come as creativity continues to flourish in home offices from the focused minds of furloughed professionals. And if that generates new income for songwriters via streaming and discovery of back catalogue while supporting entrepreneurs, then that feels like a win-win for all. But I also hope that we as a global audience can continue to discern and truly connect over the genuine moments like this one amongst the noise of advertising. Perhaps we’ll see that the organic nature of how this video and song reached hearts across the world can’t be fabricated and packaged up in the marketing machine; that only the most authentic content has the power to ripple through like this. Wouldn’t that be nice.
Speaking of royalties, remember concerts? The team at Muzooka does too, which is why we’ve been working with publishers and Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) across the world during the pandemic to retroactively get songwriters paid for past concert royalties, including performances of cover songs. We’re also preparing for that glorious time when live shows return and are asking songwriters, artists, and managers to prepare with us: sign up at Muzooka to update your current image, bio, and social media links; select the PRO you are a member of and enter your ID number; and check if you have any past setlists to report directly to your PRO with a click of a button. As a core business principle, Muzooka is free of charge for artists and managers to use to organize official artist assets and to report setlists for live performance royalty distribution.