Country YTD album sales are up 5.8% this year, which compares nicely with the overall industry’s not-so-pretty deficit of -2.9%. Could country’s energetic showing be connected with a change in the speed of songs traveling up and down the radio charts?
During country’s early ‘90s hey day, the genre’s charts bustled with songs moving up and down in rapid fire fashion as opposed to the congestion we have seen more recently. Artists could release three and sometimes four singles in one year. During those golden years, country radio played a higher percentage of current songs vs. older or recurrent titles, creating added airtime inventory for new music. Consumer familiarity with more singles in less time, translated to increased album and ticket sales.
A quick look at recent charts supports the idea that chart cycles might be starting to trend faster, again. Look at these recent No. 1 songs from the last six weeks atop Billboard’s Country List. Four artists rose to the top in 20 weeks or less. Only newcomer Kip Moore took the scenic 33-week route!
May 7: Miranda Lambert— 20 wks
May 14: Jason Aldean— 20 wks
May 21/29: Kip Moore— 33 wks
June 4: Carrie Underwood— 15 wks
June 11: Eric Church— 19 wks
But experienced promotion executive Skip Bishop, recently Sr. VP Promotion for Sony Nashville, isn’t convinced by the recent numbers. “The quickening of the chart is an illusion,” Bishop believes. “What you are seeing (in most cases) are singles from superstar acts being ingested to a higher rotation faster. Because of PPM methodology, programmers are relying more on very familiar hot acts to be on the radio when their P1s tune in. On the other hand it seems that the process for developing acts is actually taking even longer, up to 40 weeks due to the log jam at the top. It isn’t necessarily bad. If you have a young act that is working and driving downloads, the slow journey to the top can be a blessing to artist development!”
Nine North Records/Turnpike Music President Larry Pareigis, whose country airplay experience includes the wilder, faster ‘90s and current times, is also hesitant to pronounce today’s charts as “speeding up.” “As Kip’s 33-week path illustrates,” says Pareigis, “the road is still a long one for debut artists, whether on majors or indies. The chart has been faster—always been faster in fact—for major, established acts like Miranda and Aldean. The big 7-9 artists in the format at any given time are the exception rather than the rule.”
Are faster charts an illusion, exception to the rule, or simply a wish to return to a golden age? The answer is not yet clear, but what is verifiable is that country music sales have a nine-point spread ahead of all-genre sales and a 12.8% market share which compares nicely with 11.8% market share for the same period last year.
Country album sales are up almost 6% and positive in all categories across our weekly grid snapshot. We’re coming off an incredible week for the format, with CMA’s Music Fest showing record attendance, the CMT Music Awards getting great ratings, a variety of major country tours selling arenas and stadiums plus album debuts from Alan Jackson and Jana Kramer. Have fortunes and futures for country music ever been better?
The answer to that depends upon whether we look at revenue streams overall, (especially touring, merch and endorsements) or focus primarily on product sales. From a multi-year sales standpoint, things are not really that rosy. For example, with all the above excitement and two debut albums, the Top 75 Current Country Albums chart fails to break the 400k barrier this week measuring in with a weak 364k. What’s worse, that is quite an improvement from last week when the total was a tepid 287k! Some observers would say that unless a new business model is crafted, shops currently depending upon music sales might find in the not too distant future that product sales will become inconsequential as a revenue stream for all but a very few artists.
Alan Jackson’s new set, (getting strong critical praise) strolls into the No. 1 spotlight with almost 73k units this week, (15% digital). He graces the No. 2 rung on the all-genre Top 200 ladder, behind Adele. The traditionalist also beats debuts from Beach Boys (No. 3), Neil Young (No.4) and Big K.R.I.T. (No. 5).
Jana Kramer, buoyed by her TV base and new country fans makes a nice Current Country debut in the No. 5 position with over 16k units (59% digital). The remainder of the Country Top 10 albums seem strangely unaffected by the week’s events with five titles showing mild, but negative sales moves.
In country trackland Luke Bryan is sailing with a strong wind, moving his “Drunk On You” to No. 1 with almost 109k units. Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” leaps up 202% to No. 2 with over 81k units. No doubt the jump comes as a result of the quartet’s hypnotic performance and incredible houseboat set on the CMT Awards.
In closing we turn to the #laughoutloud department and WMN’s sales division.. John Esposito and Peter Strickland’s merry band of marketers proved that if they don’t wear the pants, at least they own them. The mischievous mavens peppered the Row yesterday with pants of all colors and sizes to recognize the release of the label’s Jimmy Fallon comedy album, Blow Your Pants Off.
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