Why A Platinum Selling Band Is No Longer Selling Platinum

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 one million units of a single album in today’s market can take years instead of weeks, if it hasn’t 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 1998 Baz Luhrman’s album Something For Everyone achieved triple platinum status from the momentum generated by the first single “Everyone’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen”. Would this have happened if that track were available for 99 cents? Probably 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. The magic number of 9.99 was set by loss leader big box retailers many years ago and then reinforced by Itunes and Amazon. This is quite a change from the 15.99 and 18.99 CDs of my record store days over a decade ago. Now that number seems to be hovering around $5 for a full album.

Let’s start at the beginning. I remember working in a record store while attending college back in the late 90s 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. (include more on the record store experience, posters, handwritten signs, elaborate displays)

Have music fans needs really changed that much?

 I don’t think so. Although there may be a slight downturn in the quality of music being released (due to the sheer ease of self producing), it’s just much harder to find the good stuff. Working in a record store back then was amazing. I got turned on to so many great artists, but what I enjoyed even more was to turn on other potential fans. 

The problem? I could not do it all myself and radio was more or less playing the same thing over and over with maybe one or two new artists 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 2011, despite numerous venues to learn about and consume music, that the same things are going on and even fewer sales are being made?

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 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). So why did Lady Gaga sell X# of albums while these other albums went unnoticed?

To explain the dynamics of today’s music industry, let’s take a look at a specific case study of a band that was 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?  Read on as I break it down one particular example from my perspective.

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

The album: Black Turns Into Blue was just certified Gold by the RIAA last May (in reality though it has just broken 450k as the RIAA certifies on units shipped as opposed to actually sold) and I believe it should be Platinum.

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. Ten years between albums is a very long time; especially with the internet revolution giving the industry a complete makeover during that same time period. In the year 2010 they will be attracting 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.

Case in point; my girlfriend was not an Alice in Chains fan back in the day and hadn’t really ever listened to their music prior to meeting me. I recently played the new album for her, in particular the undeniably classic sounding “Check My Brain”, then took her to the show and voila, a new fan. She is even asking me to go see them again.

Is The World Missing Really Great ALBUMS?

Lately, public opinion on the concept of 10 or 12 good songs on a record is at an all time low. Black Gives Way To Blue is a fantastic record all the way through. This is the kind of record that could reinvent the album purchase and reinstate music consumer’s trust. With the ala carte options in the digital downloads market, there is a certain culture that has created a trend of artists only being able to sell singles. I think that music consumers need to be reminded that artists make albums. Albums are works of art, 10 songs all related to one another meant to be heard together in a certain order. It’s become all too easy to put 10 songs together in a playlist and set to repeat. And while we are on the subject……

(A Brief History Of The Album)
The term “record album” originated from the fact that 78-RPM phonograph disc records were kept in a bound container resembling a photograph album. The first collection of records to be called an “album” was Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, released in April 1909 as a four-disc set by Odeon Records. It retailed for 16 shillings (approximately £56 or US$101 in 2005 currency). In 1948, Columbia produced the first 12-inch, 33⅓-RPM microgroove record made of vinyl.With a running time of 23 minutes per side, these new records contained as much music as the old-style album of records and, thus, took on the name “album”. For many years, the standard industry format for popular music was an album of twelve songs, originally the number related to payment of composer royalties.

Catch The Fans At The Show

At a recent Alice in Chains show, I turned to two girls standing 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, this is a perfect opportunity for some follow up to encourage them to buy their music, new and old. I left the show and the opening band found me tweeting and began to follow me. Very clever marketing and it made me feel connected to the show a bit more. My point being that the band is selling out huge venues and I  would bet that not everyone in attendance has the new record. Some fans surprisingly enough may be clueless enough to not know that a new record even exists. In a perfect world there would be100% sales conversion of the crowd to purchase 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 purchase legitimately and reward them for doing so.

Where are the up-sales?

I am a huge fan of the band and would most definitely purchase bonus tracks, B-sides, or live footage. Pretty much anything these guys can come up with that says Alice In Chains on it at a reasonable price and I’m in. Since they are such an amazing live band I would really like to see an option to purchase the show that evening. If I could go home that evening and download the show for $15.00 I would be thrilled. That is the ultimate fan souvenir.

These are just a few of my thoughts and opinions and there are of course many other factors that I did not discuss here. With that being said, let me finish by saying that I am truly this art forms biggest and most devoted fan just trying my best to spread the seed. There is nothing more I enjoy in the world than witnessing the look on someone’s face when they hear their next favorite song. It’s a spark of sorts, a spark of interest that later ignites into a passion for someone’s art; something I have been fortunate enough to enjoy since I could first put on a pair of headphones.
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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