The Year In International Music Biz: Our New (Interconnected) World Order
The Year In International Music Biz: Our New (Interconnected) World Order

Perhaps nothing speaks more to our increasingly interconnected globe then a look back at the year in international music business news. Here, flash mobs in Rio sing K-Pop songs; a spirited debate at a music conference in Singapore is re-tweeted in New York; the Chinese and Spanish governments' divergent approaches to music piracy are carefully studied; social media helps foment unimagineable uprisings from the Middle East to Wall Street; a tech icons' passing induces unprecedented global mourning and music streaming services launch in 130 countries. A new world order, indeed.

This year, much like last, began with music sales. Both 2010 and 2011 saw similar patterns: digital music sales grew apace, physical sales flagged and overall markets declined; except this year the U.S. music market showed modest growth (1.4%) for first time since 2006. Some of the increased sales can be attributed to a British artist you may have heard of named Adele. Her album "21" was a leviathan with global sales in excess of 17 million, according to XL. Her native country, however, didn't have quite as robust a year...

The many faces of Adele whose album "21" sold over 13 million worldwide.

In 2011 the UK slipped from the third largest music market, behind the U.S. and Japan, to the fourth behind Germany, according to the IFPI's annual global recording industry report as its recorded music market numbers declined 11% in 2010. A recent report by the Official Charts Company and BPI had 2011's recorded music dropping by 5.6%. As might be expected British music retail giant HMV Group battled bankruptcy and re-structuring amidst reports that Sony, Warner Music, Live Nation and AEG may be interested in purchasing the ailing retailer's live music business.

Across the planet, in statehouses, music conferences, universities and beyond, vigorous debates over such legislative initiatives like SOPA, Sinde, Hadopi and the UK's Hargreaves reform plan were continuous. These works progress attempted to achieve an elusive balance between curbing piracy, fostering technological innovation and civil liberties.

China last year underwent a significant turnaround on copyright infringement. The Chinese search engine Baidu, in March made the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) list of the worst copyright infringing sites just as piracy had become a major stumbling block to Sino-U.S trade relations. By summer, however, after a Chinese government clamp down Baidu signed licensing agreements with the major record labels. By year's end the site was off the USTR's notorious list.

Eminem's "Relapse" on China's Taobao site, which was listed on the USTR's piracy report in March, selling for as low as 8 Yuan (about $1.20 at the time).

In 2011 Bob Dylan performed in China without having to abide state censorship (contrary to erroneous reports). In global touring, U2's 360 Tour, with its iconic giant claw, set a touring record grossing more than $736 million with runs through Europe, South America, Africa, Australia on a tour that began in mid-2009 and ended last July in Moncton, N.B. Canada. Lady Gaga also set a record by earning the most ever for a debut world tour.

Nothing this year illustrated the "village" aspect of the international music community than the outpouring of generosity following the massive earthquake that struck off the northeast coast of Japan on March 11. The music industry's reaction to the quake and the subsequent tsunami that caused a radiation leak at Fukushima Nuclear plant, was swift and unwavering. Benefit albums, concerts, fundraisers showed the global music industry's best side. There were other acts of music industry kindness including benefit shows headlined by the Foo Fighters for the Queensland Australia flood and Christchurch New Zealand earthquake and MTV inititative to help to raise funds and draw attention to the East African drought crisis.

This outpouring of global philanthropy would not have been possible without the wild-fire-like dissemination of digital technologies, especially smartphones (thanks to Android OS, which by year end had captured half the global market). 2011 brought music and information farther and faster than ever before. Witness French streaming service Deezer's November launch in 130 countries, the unveiling of iTunes in Latin America or even the media spectacle that was Swedish streaming service Spotify planting its flag on U.S. soil. Music in 2011, no matter where you stood, could be bundled, paid for as you go, rained down from clouds or stored in lockers.

This technological proliferation and increased global interconnectivity may have reached its apotheosis in 2011 with Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring uprisings which used social media (and music and the music industy) in utterly new capacities. This was also seen in the unprecedented communal grieving following the passing of singer Amy Winehouse in July and tech icon Steve Jobs in October. Make shift shrines were built on the doorsteps of Apple Stores from Milan to Tokyo while social media sites lit up like Christmas trees as the world commiserated.

A Makeshift memorial to Steve Jobs outside the New York Apple Store.

Looking ahead to 2012, this inextricable march towards increased interconnectivity shows no sign of let up. With so much technology and recombinant culture new and exciting music hybrids piggy-backing on ever changing media platforms come at an increasing rate. MTV's Iggy, a multi-platform global pop music initiative, was a revelation in 2011. A pop singer from Malaysia and a dance rock band from Venezuela shared the stage with K-Pop band that sounded like nothing so much as the Black Eyed Peas as a young, multi-hued audience gave new meaning to the terms "global sensation."

In an age of dwindling news staffs, Billboard still manages to work with freelance writers on six continents making our international music business coverage second to none. Some shout-outs are in order: None of it would not be possible without outstanding work by Richard Smirke, Paul Sexton, Juliana Koranteng and Hazel Davis in the U.K.; the heroic Rob Schwartz in Tokyo; Lars Brandle in Australia; Patrica Meschino in New York (who lucky for us always seems to be in Jamaica); Wolfgang Spahr in Berlin, Munich and other German cities, towns and burgs; the equally intrepid Karen Bliss in Toronoto (and occasionally the frozen tundra); Aymeric Pichevin in Paris, Vladimir Kozlov in Moscow; Diane Coetzer in South Africa. Marc Maes in Brussels and most recently Andres Cala in Madrid.

A special thank you is also in order to Billboard's brilliant Latin music team: first and foremost Billboard's Executive Director of Content for Programming for Latin Music and Entertainment, Leila Cobo; Associate Editor of Latin and Special Features Justino Aguila and Billboard En Espanol Editor Judy Cantor-Navas all of whom help make Billboard's border-crossing Latin music news coverage unbeatable.