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Oct 19, 2010

The state of the music industry

Yesterday independent music distributors Shock Records (one of the best, most efficient groups we deal with here at Johnnys) sent around a press release noting the success of o

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Yesterday independent music distributors Shock Records (one of the best, most efficient groups we deal with here at Johnnys) sent around a press release noting the success of one of their acts:

BRING ME THE HORIZON ALBUM DEBUTS AT #1 ON ARIA CHARTS

bring me horizonIn an industry where times are tough and naysayers are plentiful, Shock Records has recently seen stalwart acts, defiant of trends and gimmicks rise to the forefront. Just three months ago Byron Bay band Parkway Drive stormed the ARIA charts to arrive at a number two debut. To many it was an unexpected ambush but at Shock we have no reservations about the power of the punk/hardcore releases that we have become so well known for.

So it is with great delight that we announce that Sheffield metalcore band Bring Me The Horizon’s THERE IS A HELL BELIEVE ME IVE SEEN IT, THERE IS A HEAVEN LETS KEEP IT A SECRET has secured the NUMBER ONE position on this week’s ARIA Chart, thus delivering Shock Records it’s third ever ARIA number one album (The Offspring’s seminal punk rock release Smash, being the first).

Quite right that they should acknowledge this success, but it is interesting to note a news story this morning that kind of redefines what “success” means in the music industry these days.

The article notes:

RECORD sales in Australia have hit an alarming low with a British metal band hitting the No. 1 spot with just 3600 album sales.

British hardcore metal band Bring Me the Horizon made a surprising debut at No. 1 on the ARIA album charts yesterday, with just 3600 copies sold nationally.

This is the lowest sales to achieve a No. 1 album in Australia. The figure highlights the impact illegal downloading has had on record sales.

This is kind of breathtaking.  Back in the late seventies and early eighties when I was in music retail, working in a large record shop when the music industry was in rude good health, we would’ve sold 3600 copies of a number one album all by ourselves.

I mean, that would be a lot of copies for a single shop to sell, but we would’ve done it pretty easily on any number of albums, the obvious ones being various Floyd albums (Dark Side, The Wall); Rod Stewart’s Atlantic Crossing; Stardust by Willie Nelson; Dire Straits first album; various number ones by The Eagles or Linda Ronstadt or Fleetwood Mac and even Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs.

The idea that the entire retail sales of a number one album in this country amounts to 3600 units almost does my head in.

As to why this is happening, well, I guess illegal downloads, as the article says, must have something to do with it, though I suspect it is much more than that.

Watching my fourteen year old son consume music, it is simply a fact that owning an album is far less of a priority for him than it was for an earlier generation.  It’s not that he is illegally downloading, it’s just that he is quite happy to watch a YouTube clip or stream a song from a MySpace page or one of any number of other of legal online outlets.

When he wants songs for his iPod, he might download a couple of tracks from iTunes, maybe even a full album, but this is fairly rare. Even rarer is when he will go into JB and buy a CD.  He does it, but only for artists he absolutely loves and not that often.

There was a particular mindset and a set of technological limitations that drove earlier generations to buy albums and/or singles that simply doesn’t exist any more.  In fact, it is quite interesting to think about that relationship — between the extant technology and the way that translated into particular consumer choices.

I guess it boils down to basic economics: the new technologies mean that labels/distributors simply can’t control the supply of their product in the way that they used to.  Demand is being met in a way that they can’t make a big buck out of any more.

You can’t help but think it’s a crappy time to be a musician but a great time to be a customer.

Thirty-six hundred copies to get to number one?  Amazing…

PS: The other thing about all this is that it renders the very idea of a “chart” meaningless.  I mean, how many copies to the number twenty album sell?  The industry needs to think of a better way to generate excitement.

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