24 February 2011

Record sales

I had a post scheduled with a comment on this chart, but since, seemingly better charts and analysis have been posted by Michael DeGusta.

The take-away seems to be that album sales are falling, single sales are rising, but single sales aren't up enough to offset the drop from albums.

Questions that come to mind:

1. Is any of this due to people having a lot more to spend money on today? e.g. mobile phone plan, mobile data plan, TV provider, ISP, among many others.

2. What about the larger music industry. Live music? Selling music to businesses rather than consumers?


KenHR said...

I know that, in my 10+ years working record retail, most casual music fans (i.e. 90% of the music buying market) didn't really like to buy albums. They wanted to hear the songs they knew, and didn't want to take a chance spending $15-20 on a bunch of tunes they didn't know well.

Digital music (and file sharing did a lot to the retail industry; I would hear "I'll just go to Napster" at least 10 times a day back in my Borders days if we didn't have something someone wanted) and the iTunes model have made it easier and more convenient to obtain only the songs you want. So I think you're just seeing the pendulum swing back to where it was in the early '60s.

Really, if you think about it, music sales are swinging back to what they were in the days before 33 1/3. Albums are really kind of an anomaly in music sales history; you had sheet music first (single songs), which was replaced by early recordings on wax cylinders, then 78s, then 45s. Singles (using the term loosely when referring to sheet music, but that was the primary method of disseminating "pop" songs before the rise of recorded music) drove music sales.

While I enjoy a well-crafted, cohesive record, its time is past. On the one hand, the casual consumer can get their hands on the songs they want, and only the songs they want. More hardcore music fans have access to hours and hours of music, and aren't limited by physical space and technological concerns (i.e. a CD or record or cassette can only hold so much information; with digital files, you don't have that).

I'm rambling now.

Robert Fisher said...

Thanks for the insightful comment, Ken!

My reaction to the original chart was that the CD era looked to be an anomaly that had corrected itself. It makes a lot of sense, however, that albums were the anomaly.

Will this mean that songs that would've in the past ended up as album tracks without singles will be less likely to be developed and released now?

On the other hand, Rush is considering that in the new digital world they can once again do >3 minute works.

KenHR said...

The CD era was definitely an anomaly. Sales inflated by people switching to the new format, etc.

I think non-single tracks will continue to be produced, for sure. As you mention, digital technology doesn't impose limitations on song/album/collection lengths anymore (the reason a pop song is 3 minutes is because the 78 could only hold about that much audio information on a side). So I think you'll see some interesting works from the minds of people who don't have those limitations imposed in their DNA (for example, I have a hard time writing original material longer than 3-4 minutes because that's what I've grown up with).

It's an interesting time for music and musicians, certainly. Copyright issues, new media, new methods of distribution and ways for artists to make money...

I do have to say, as a consumer, the death of the CD format has resulted in a short "golden" period as record companies release Deluxe versions of albums with tons of bonus material to entice buyers. Not to mention that the used stores are flush with product as people get rid of their physical music in favor of downloads...neither situation will last long, though.