Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

New sales figures reveal an industry in perilous shape

We knew things were bad in the record business, but this bad? Last weekend, the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) had their annual shindig in Chicago. Music retailers of every stripe schmoozed, supped and sang their hearts out to …

Fri, May 21, 2010, 10:25

   

We knew things were bad in the record business, but this bad? Last weekend, the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) had their annual shindig in Chicago. Music retailers of every stripe schmoozed, supped and sang their hearts out to Cyndi Lauper, Taylor Swift and Melissa Etheridge.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Over the weekend, Nielsen Soundscan, the company who collate US sales figures, gave what amounted to a state of the nation address to the gathering.

Per Soundscan’s numbers, 98,000 albums were released in 2009, with only 2 per cent selling over 5,000 copies. Yep, that’s right, most albums racked up less than 5,000 sales. There was also a sidebar that three-quarters of sales are still physical, but let’s concentrate on the marquee statistic.

While there is much headline focus on mainstream frontloaded acts like Lady Gaga, Susan Boyle and Justin Bieber, the bulk of album acts just aren’t getting off the block. It was always a given that the majority of acts signed to major labels never went into the black, but most of them could at least shift 5,000 copies even on their very worst day.

Of course, there are caveats to all of this. There are, for instance, sales which are not counted by Soundscan (ie albums sold at a band’s gigs) and there are also many bands who can quite happily survive and thrive on 5k sales.

But such a low number means it’s high time for the record (and live) business to realise that there are problems aside from the net slippage in sales. After all, if acts can’t get over the 5,000 sales mark, where are the breakthrough acts and venue-fillers of tomorrow going to come from?