Church Enjoys Heavenly Sales

Capitol Chieftain Mike Dungan and his flock of the Capitol faithful have created a revival of sorts. First and foremost they receive a righteous shout out for launching Eric Church into the No. 1 spot on both the Top 200 and Country album charts with sales of almost 145,000 units. Secondly, their efforts have had the devout effect of raising country’s YTD album sales increase into heavenly territory above that of overall sales. According to Nielsen SoundScan, country album sales YTD are now up 2.9% while overall album sales are only up 1.8%.

And let’s not “pew pew” Church’s digital sales. The Chief album was downloaded over 51,000 times or 35% of total album sales. This is a lofty number which shows that country fans are rapidly jumping over the country chasm, aka—digital divide.

The congregation is still out on how this might have happened. Typically album sales are radio driven. Yet Church’s current single “Homeboy” is outside the Top 10 on mainstream radio charts and the single shows up this week at a lackluster No. 17 on the country tracks chart, hardly divine positions. (“Homeboy” has gone Gold however, in less than 21 weeks.)  And yet Chief is the second highest country debut of the year (behind Brad Paisley), outselling others this year that hit debut weeks with “perfect” textbook setups. So what has made the difference?  Could it be the artist’s strong touring schedule? Social networking?

“Is Eric the new Hank Jr.?” asks sales veteran Neal Spielberg. “There’s hits and then there are polarizing records that touch people and create rabid fans. Church has done a great job of converting people into solid fans.”

Church’s manager John Peets from Q Prime South has a pretty strong theory. “Yes it feels like a sea change of sorts for the country music industry,” he says. “The story here is that Eric didn’t get the traditional exposure that you would expect to be necessary to reach these levels. It wasn’t there for him, although we’re grateful for everything we did get. But what it tells me is that the new power is in the hands of the people. That is to say, the magic is created by great records with a point of view. And that’s what Eric has done with three great albums. It’s like we’ve reached a tipping point of sorts. We are just blown away and encouraged by this. It’s like Eric’s music represents something even bigger than him.”

“We have always put everything we have into making the best records possible,” explains Church. “Complete, individual pieces of work that strive to be as different and innovative as they are creative and artistic. It is a journey that at times has led us down the road less traveled. It is very humbling and rewarding to learn that a lot of people decided to follow us down this path. I can’t thank my fans enough and look forward to where this trip takes us next.”

Are we writing a new page in the country music sales handbook? Is social networking and digital word of mouth gaining critical mass? That would be great, since the existing book hasn’t delivered stellar results over the past few years. Please comment below…

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

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