The music business was pummeled again in 2010, with sales tumbling nine percent globally.
Labels are struggling to keep pace with technological changes and say they are losing billions of dollars through illegal file sharing.
While they may have little direct control over piracy, record labels can seek to boost sales based on the strength of their release schedules. Below is a list of 12 key albums due out this year, collated from labels, music magazines and online surveys.
1. Lady Antebellum/(title to be announced)
- release date to be announced/EMI
- The country music group was one of the top-selling acts in the United States last year, their "Need You Now" shifting more than three million copies in that country alone.
The band has told Entertainment Weekly that they have returned to the studio to begin recording their third album.
2. Beady Eye/"Different Gear, Still Speeding"
- expected release date February 28/Beady Eye Records
- Is there life after Oasis? The answer may lie in Beady Eye's debut album, with Liam Gallagher, lead singer of the chart-topping 1990s group, parting ways with his songwriter brother Noel after an acrimonious split.
The record's reception is likely to be bigger news in Britain than elsewhere, however.
3. Coldplay/(title to be announced)
- release date to be announced/EMI
- Britain's Coldplay have been among the world's biggest acts in recent years, and they are working on their fifth studio album expected to be released in the first half of the year.
"We still don't believe we've delivered our masterpiece, so we're still trying to do it," lead singer Chris Martin told the NME recently. "As long as we feel like that and we're hungry ... that's all that matters."
4. Foo Fighters/(title to be announced)
- expected release date in spring/RCA Records (Sony)
- The U.S. band have released a short teaser from a new song online, and its next studio album is expected in the spring. Dave Grohl, formerly of Nirvana, cries out the line: "These are my famous last words!"
5. Lady Gaga/"Born This Way"
- expected release date May 23, 2011/Interscope Records (Universal)
- Arguably the most eagerly-awaited album of the year in terms of media hype and potential record sales, Born This Way is the follow-up to the flamboyant U.S. singer's "The Fame" (2008) and "The Fame Monster" (2009).
According to some listings, The Fame Monster was the world's top-selling album in 2010.
The 24-year-old is tipped to be one of the richest musicians of 2011 with earnings of around $100 million. The risk appears to be public fatigue at her attempts to remain in the headlines.
6. Avril Lavigne/Goodbye Lullaby
- expected release date March 8/RCA Records (Sony)
- The Canadian singer releases her fourth studio album this year, and first since 2007. Reports of long delays have surfaced, but the lead single, "What the Hell" finally hit the shelves earlier this month. Reviews were generally positive.
7. R.E.M./Collapse Into Now
- expected release date March 8/Warner Bros. Records
- The U.S. band's 15th album features guest appearances from Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Peaches and Eddie Vedder. Guitarist Peter Buck has been quoted as saying he believes "every song all the way through is great" and the album "sounds really classic."
8. Britney Spears/(title to be announced)
- expected release date March/Jive Records (Sony)
- Spears, 29, releases her seventh studio album in the spring, and some reports have pitted her against compatriot Lady Gaga in a battle for 2011 chart supremacy.
Comparisons may be overblown, however. Spears has staying power on her side -- she released her first album 12 years ago and has estimated global album sales of around 100 million. Industry experts would be surprised to see her top Lady Gaga in the near term, however.
9. The Strokes/Angles (provisional title)
- expected release date March 22/Rough Trade
- The New York rockers have not released an album since 2006's First Impressions of Earth, so there is plenty of pent up demand for their fourth. The members went their separate ways in the interim, although they never formally split.
Among The Strokes' cheerleaders is Britain's NME magazine, which calls them "one if the greatest indie bands of the last decade." If the new record bombs, it "could shatter the reputation of a band who, with 2001's classic 'Is This It' changed the face of modern rock music.'"
10. U2/Songs of Ascent (provisional title)
- possibly by late May/Mercury Records (Universal)
- The Irish rock band is one of the biggest around today, both in terms of record sales and live concert revenues, so any album release is an event.
Their last outing in 2009, "No Line on the Horizon," sold around five million copies, an impressive tally for most but modest for U2. Its 2004 predecessor "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" sold twice that number, according to The Irish Times.
11. Kanye West and Jay-Z/Watch the Throne
- release date to be announced/
- The hip-hop titans are collaborating on a venture that many doubted would result in a full album, but hopes have been raised by the release this month of their first single "H.A.M."
12. Amy Winehouse/(title to be announced)
- possible release date in 2011/Universal
- The on-again, off-again follow-up to Winehouse's seminal "Back to Black" album of 2006 could well be on again.
The last few years have been overshadowed by her well-publicized personal problems and battles with addiction, but recent sightings of the 27-year-old looking healthy after a trip to Brazil have raised hopes of a new release this year.
Following the release of Back to Black, Winehouse scooped five Grammy awards. It has sold more than 10 million copies, according to media estimates.