Charting A Combined Course: Singles And Album Sales by Artist

Like a giant cruise ship returning home from the party, the music industry is slow to alter its direction (or perceptions). For decades we have been judging weekly sales based upon album units. But fair-minded industry observers are beginning to feel the impact from digital singles. This effect is becoming more pronounced because while singles improve, album sales have fallen. A few years ago a No. 1 country debut album might expect to easily top 100,0000 units as it marched out of the box and into consumer’s hands. But now expectations are lower. Even 50k units can be enough to earn the No. 1 position on the Current country Top 75 album sales chart.

Country Albums: This week, for example, Sara Evans rules the roost with her Stronger debut posting sales of over 55k units. Jason Aldean is No. 2 with almost 23k units this week.

Country Tracks: Evans’ “A Little Bit Stronger” downloaded over 45k units for a No. 4 showing. Aldean, however, has five tracks showing on the Top 100 country digital chart. Including “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” his duet with Kelly Clarkson (47k units), he shows a total of almost 76k units.

Now let’s compare the retail value of the above examples plus a few more, derived the same way:

Evans
55k albums X $9.99=$550,000
45k singles X $1.29=$58,000

Aldean
23k albums X $9.99=$230,000
76k singles X $1.29=$98,000

Thompson Square
12k albums X $9.99=$120,000
54k singles X $1.29=$70,000

Taylor Swift
16k albums X $9.99=$160,000
63k singles X $1.29=$81,000

Lady Gaga
20k albums (various) X $9.99=$200,000
231k singles X $1.29= $298,000

Yes, album sales mostly outweigh single sales in dollar value, but the gap, which swings widest during debut album weeks (see Evans) is starting to close. This week Lady Gaga proves the point that single sales are gaining on album sales (see above numbers). Moving forward, a combined value chart would be especially prescient in revealing what is truly happening at music sales cash registers. The methodology, considering specially-priced packages and such could be a bit cumbersome, but even if the above basic retail values were used across all units, its value would be undeniable.

Factually Focused

For the week ended 3-13-11 country album sales are down 13.7% YTD. Digital album sales continue to grow however, now totaling 19.8% of total country album sales for 2011. (Last year they were about 15% YTD at this time.)

In addition to Sara Evans’ No. 1 debut, Kenny Rogers released a Cracker Barrel special that took No. 8 honors with over 12.5k units. The other Top 10 players remain the usual suspects. Aaron Lewis, who debuted last week at No. 1, has slipped back to No. 4 on the the chart and his unit sales dropped about 53% to below 18k—not a bad showing considering it is quite normal to fall back 50-63% in the second week.

The remainder of the Top Ten shapes up like this: Jason Aldean (No. 2, 22k+); Lady Antebellum (No. 3, 18k+); Rascal Flatts (No. 5, 16k+); Taylor Swift (No. 6, 16k+); Zac Brown Band (No. 7, 15k+); Thompson Square (No. 9, 12k+); and The Band Perry (No. 10, 9k+).

Upcoming country album releases are still light, no heavyweight product is scheduled through the end of April.

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About the Author

David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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