Today’s mauve-colored column is about making do with less. It’s a righteous theme that has rippled through numerous country songs extolling the virtues of frugality.
Yes, country music is up 1.1% YTD, but that translates to less than 150k units at this time. And please note that all genre music sales (which includes country) is down 5.4% or over 5 million units! Saying, “Flat or slightly down is the new up,” was pretty cute a few years ago, but today it has become a somber reality describing the album sales business. Adding pathos is the fact that Nielsen SoundScan’s trusty sales yardstick, which accurately measures scans and digital downloads, is being inundated by a fast moving industry tsunami whipped by technology and a coalition of new revenue streams.
Unfortunately, we find few tools to help us quantify these appreciable business opportunities. I’m talking about revenue from touring, endorsement, merchandise, sponsorships, publishing, TV, streaming and more. Billboard took a brave step adding numerous measurement variables to its music charts, but its formula is still experimental. The RIAA last week tried to evolve its venerable Gold and Platinum awards to include streaming plays, but may have permanently injured its “girl scout cookie” brand in the process. If these “precious metal” awards have always been about sales, then how do we now start including credits for streaming without differentiating between paid subscriber streams and free (ad-supported) streams?
These weighty issues funnel down to this week’s prime example, Lady Antebellum. The trio’s latest album tops today’s country and all-genre lists with over 167k physical and digital debut units. But the trio’s previous album debuted the week ended 9/18/11 with over 347k units, more than double this week’s showing.
Does this mean that Lady A’s fame is in jeopardy? No way! The trio is at the top of its game, visible across a plethora of media channels, with great new music, headlining sold out tours, selling truckloads of merchandise and promoting brands like Lipton Tea.
Last week we saw the same effect with Kenny Chesney who debuted with 153k units, down from his previous release which sold 193k in 6/24/12. Like Lady A, Chesney’s career is bubbling on all fronts including his new signature rum rolling out with the new album and featured on his headliner tour. Brad Paisley’s latest came out about a month ago and also fits the pattern.
Problem: The music industry doesn’t have a reliable tool to measure artist success. It’s about time we acknowledge that fact, and try to solve it.
All right, let’s move on to this week’s Nielsen SoundScan results, the data we can measure.
The Nitty Grid-y
Two trios are nested at the top of the country album chart this week, the aforementioned Lady A at No. 1 (167k; 32% digital) and the Pistol Annies at No. 2 with over 83k; (47% digital). (The Annies’ last outing sold 42k units 8/28/2011. Does this somehow negate the above discussion? Not really because the trio’s first album was released digital only.)
With the two debuts and recent product from Chesney, Shelton and the Band Perry, we’re seeing the Top 75 Current Country total swell to over 676k units. Then next week we’ll get new offerings from George Strait and Trace Adkins, followed a week later with product from Darius Rucker and Restless Heart which should keep the good news flowing.
While many want to sound a death knell for physical product, please note on our grid chart that digital album sales are only about 32% of total album sales which means that 68% of the album sales are still physical.
This week’s tracks discussion begins with the venerable “I Told You So” department, every writer’s self-indulgent delight. I’m talking about 16-year-old The Voice contestant Danielle Bradbery who sang “Maybe It Was Memphis” last week and was highlighted in this space for her great performance. This week she gets highlighted again, but for her performance on the tracks chart. “…Memphis” lands at No. 9 on the Digital Genre Country list selling over 49k units!
The top of the country tracks list shows few surprises as Florida Georgia Line continues to DOMN8 adding another 151k units to remain at No. 1. Next week they’ll pass the 3.3 million marker. The remainder of the Top 5 is as follows: Blake Shelton featuring Pistol Annies “Boys Round Here” 110k; Darius Rucker “Wagon Wheel” 95k; Tim McGraw/Taylor Swift “Highway Don’t Care” 86k; and Luke Bryan “Crash My Party” 58k.
For an interesting NYT read/review of the two trios at the top of the country album charts this week, click here. Here’s the opening line from the invincible Jon Caramanica, “For Lady Antebellum, lipstick represents optimism. For Pistol Annies, it’s a tool of the oppressor.”
See you next week…
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