Why A Platinum Selling Band Is No Longer Selling Platinum

In this day and age of a beaten and battered traditional  music business model, platinum selling artists are quickly  becoming extinct. Selling over 1 million units of a single album can take years if not become outright impossible. During the first quarter of 2009, not a single record sold more than a million copies in the US and this dismal trend continues to look for a savior.

In 1999 Crazy Town’s debut achieved platinum selling status from the momentum one track, the surprise hit single “Butterfly”. Would this have happened if that track were available for 99 cents, certainly not.

Shania Twain sold 9 million copies of her smash hit Come On Over in 2009 alone. You might be asking yourself, what is happening to all of the platinum selling artists of yesteryear?  But the correct question is, where are the fans, and why are they not buying? 

In 1998 album sales were up 9% over 1997 with over 711 million albums sold that year. In 2009 that number was 379.9 million during a time where music consumption is at an all time high. Although we can blame piracy for a large chunk of missing sales, there are still other factors at play.

     Let’s start at the beginning. I remember working in a record store while attending college back in the late 90s up until the year 2000. At that time there was of course no Itunes and illegal file sharing networks were just starting to take shape with Napster leading the way. During this time If you heard a song you liked on the radio, or saw a video on MTV, you went out and purchased the entire record at a physical retail store. I was there when music fans of all sorts came to the same place every few weeks to purchase two or three CDs. That seemed like enough to satisfy their need for new music until the next record store visit. 

Have music fans needs really changed that much? 

I don’t think so, and although there may be a slight downturn in the quality of music released, it’s just tougher to find. Working in a record store back then was amazing. I got turned on to so much stuff, but I loved even more to turn on other potential fans. The problem? I could not do it all myself and radio was pretty much playing the same thing over and over with maybe one or two new artist added a week out of thousands. I saw some amazing records go completely unnoticed. These are records that could have easily sold millions with the right push, but back then it was difficult without radio and MTV support to be heard. So why is it that in 2010 it seems that the same things are going on with many more outlets and even fewer sales? I can guarantee you that there were at the very least 100 albums released last year that are as good if not better than say a breakthrough artist such as Lady Gaga (not a great example, but the first one that came to mind). The problem is that even though there are many more ways to discover new music, there are just too many. Potential fans being bombarded with so much stuff around every corner and not being exposed to what they would really like, but more of what someone else is pushing on them. I thought of a great case study for a band that were one of the biggest selling artists in the late 90s making some of the most influential albums of their day. This particular band released an amazing album in 2009 and it is nowhere near their previous sales and it arguably and rightfully should be. The problem? Well take a look below as I break it down in my opinion. 

The band: Alice In Chains; previous album sales totaling: 17 million in the US alone and 30 million wold wide.

The album: Black Turns Into Blue was just certified Gold by the RIAA in May and I believe it should be Platinum Here’s what needs to be done to push it over the 1,000,000 sales marker. 

     Their audience is not missing in action, they are out there and just need to be reminded of how much they loved this band in their heyday, while also attracting new fans. Selling the new record as well as their groundbreaking catalog titles. Any new fans purchasing Black Gives Way To Blue would be certain to love Dirt. Just as a music fan  discovering Kind Of Blue would be cheating himself without learning about Sketches Of Spain. (for lack of a better example). Case in point; my current girlfriend has never listened to AIC. I played the new album for her, in particular the undeniably classic sounding “Check My Brain”, then took her to the show and BOOM, a new fan. She is asking ME to go see them again. It’s not hard to replicate this process half a million times, you just need to be creative and have an outstanding marketing plan, not to mention a team who can deliver on it.

The World Is Missing Really Great ALBUMS!
     Black Gives Way To Blue is a fantastic record all the way through. Lately the concept of 10 or 12 good songs on a record is a lost art form. These guys have accomplished just that, but not everyone knows it. On anther note, where are the upsales. I am a huge fan of the band and would most definitely purchase bonus tracks, B-sides, or live footage if they contacted me and let me know. As you will read below, that may be a bit difficult when you ignore the best tool to accomplish this task; Social Networking.

Don’t Just Use Social Media; Use If Efficiently.

     Why is the band not using Facebook or Twitter? I found this article and it is quite disturbing. Jerry Cantrell is viewing this all wrong and I quote “I don’t Twitter. I don’t Facebook,” Jerry Cantrell tells Noisecreep emphatically. “I think it’s ridiculous that people are that important that people really need to know they are going to the grocery store or what club they are at [laughs]. I think it’s pretty ridiculous and self-indulgent.” That is such a one sided way to look at technology and trends. What Jerry is missing, and what his marketing team should tell him, is that a band such as Alice in Chains needs to stay connected with their fans. They should learn to use Twitter as a newsfeed for the band. Tweeting out special offers, news, and other important and fun tid-bits of info. Just because Jerry thinks it’s ridiculous doesn’t mean his fans need to be kept out of the loop.What you get in turn is several fan run Twitter accounts segmenting your market place with frustrated fans not knowing who to follow for updated and correct info. The same goes for Facebook. There is no need to mention when the band is shopping for groceries, but to not use these tools properly as a promotional channel is just silly and ultimately costing them sales. With a bit of SEO/ SEM strategy along with properly filling out their profile with keywords and getting veryfied, not only could they get two more real estate spots on the almighty first page of Google search results from their Twitter and Facebook pages; the band could also up-sell and inform their existing fan base and make it easier for fans to do the footwork and pass along. This to me is a complete failure of being informed of opportunity and a consequence of not having a great marketing team behind the efforts.The other issue could easily be a website that is extremely hard to navigate. If you choose not to do any social networking and just focus on a website, make it a glorious website. The bands current website is impossible to get info from and about as user friendly as applying for a new drivers license online. Again, not paying attention to these details is ultimately limiting their reach and therefore limiting sales.

Catch The Fans At The Show

     During the show that I was at I turned to these two girls next to me who looked to be in their early twenties. Obviously they had missed the band during the 90s, but what were they doing here. Well it was the cool place to be that night. They said to me that they couldn’t believe the band was lip synching as it sounded just like the album.  I said to them, “No they would never lip synch, they are just that good live.” At this point they were truly blown away. So while they Tweet about you to their friends after the show, there should be some following up about buying their music new and old. My point being is that the band is selling out huge venues and I know for sure that not everyone in attendance has the new record and for some reason may be clueless enough to even know there is one. The goal should be to achieve a 100% conversion of the crowd to become owners of the new record. This may be impossible but it’s not a bad idea to aim for perfection. If they downloaded the record illegally now is the time to get them to pay with an upsell. Maybe a free download of the show with any merch booth purchase; anything to take the sting out of a $20 CD and $36 T-shirt. My point is to get them while they are in the moment and don’t let go after they leave.

     These are just a few of my own thoughts and opinions and there are of course so many other factors in play, but the items I mentioned above are in complete control of the band. Taking advantage of these opportunities no matter how insignificant they may seem, will in time ultimately add up to a happy fan and a happy customer. One who engages the artist while taking a bit of the missing elements of promoting into their own hands and working for you because they want to. 

Your thoughts and comments are welcome below.



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Jason Miller
Jason Miller

Jason Miller is a leading digital B2B marketer, who’s held senior roles at LinkedIn, Marketo, and ActiveCampaign. Before entering the B2B space, he spent ten years at Sony, developing and executing marketing campaigns around the biggest names in music. He is a prolific keynote speaker, digital marketing instructor at UC Berkeley, and best-selling author. Also an accomplished rock concert photographer, his work appears in books, magazines, and album covers.

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