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Can Adele Save the Music Industry?

Adele performs on stage at Paradiso on April 8, 2011 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Paul Bergen | Redfern | Getty Images
Adele performs on stage at Paradiso on April 8, 2011 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The most successful recording artist right now isn't Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or Justin Bieber. It's Adele, a twenty-two year-old British pop star with a deep bluesy voice. Her appeal stretches from teenagers to baby boomers, who find her soulful sound classic and timeless. And that wide demographic appeal is translating into huge chart-topping numbers.

Adele's second album, '21,'has sold more than one million copies in the U.S. in just seven weeks, and it still sits atop the charts. In contrast most albums fall out of the top spot after just one or two weeks. And not only is Adele selling digital singles like most artists, she's also convincing fans to buy more full albums than usual. The fact that her fans are paying up for far more than a 99 cent download — and opting not to pirate — has pushed Adele atop the charts not just in the US, but in 9 other countries as well.

A single artist can't halt the precipitous decline of a struggling industry. But Adele is playing a key role in the music business — she's helping to stabilize its free fall. Thanks to hits like Adele's US music sales are down just about one and a half percent this year, compared to last year's roughly nine percent decline, according to Nielsen Entertainment.

Indie British music label, XL Recordings, discovered Adele's deep bluesy voice after she posted a three song demo on MySpace, and released her first album '19,' named after her age in 2008. Adele grew her fan base with appearances on the UK's X-Factor and Saturday Night Live. Since '21' launched earlier this year, her new songs 'Rolling in the Deep' and 'Someone Like You,' have drawn critical raves and been shared across social networks and YouTube. Sony is participating in this album's success; it's Columbia Records is a partner on the album.

Adele's success is a testament to the fact that the right artist will convince people to buy digital albums. It helps if her appeal is broad-ranging. But considering where Adele started, it's worth noting the role that MySpace and social media played — enabling record labels and fans to discover and spread news about her songs. It seems tools like these make it easier for stars like Adele to rise. We'll see if that means more artists can follow Adele's trajectory.

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