February 15, 2006

Food For Thought...

by Chris Randall

We're taking our label (and the parent of this site) Positron in to the digital delivery realm here in a few weeks, so I've been paying more than normal attention to marketing and moving music as downloads as opposed to CDs. All the Posi artists do pretty good on iTunes and their ilk, but it has always annoyed Lisa (my wife, who runs the label) and I that Apple treats indies like second-class citizens. Our artists, myself included, can't be browsed to from any point in the site, even though there are 8.4 million albums in the world with my name on them.

Because I'm not signed to Joe Shit's Ragman Records, a subsidiary of Universal, I don't get the same features at iTunes that artists that will maybe move 20 full-album downloads as part of the thousand copies they'll sell. (If you weren't aware of the statistic, 95% of major label releases sell 1000 copies or less.)

So, while I wouldn't say that Positron! has any hope of competing with iTunes on the grand scale in the digital realm, it certainly is smart to stop sending people to iTunes if they want a download, and give it to them right then.

But that's kind of beside the point. The reason I bring this up at all is that in my research on the subject, I came across this article in the WaPo, which puts some things in to perspective. The easy availability of single songs for purchase again has made novelty tracks and one-hit wonders the movers of the music world once more. This giant freight train we call the music industry has finally turned full circle.



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Feb.15.2006 @ 10:48 PM
1000 copies or less, on all formats? or just on itunes?

Feb.16.2006 @ 1:55 AM
Chris Randall
1000 copies or less, total. In fact, of that 95% of majors that sell 1000 copies or less, 60% sell one HUNDRED copies or less. iTunes downloads for almost all majors, taking the top 40 out of the mix, are basically zero, for all intents and purposes. iTunes and the like serve two purposes:

1) A source for top-40 singles.

2) A source for "that one song, you know, from when we were kids..." like Don't Fear The Reaper or something.

As such, the format of digital distribution favors the independant artist as a whole; witness the quite-successful Bleep.com from Warp, which is almost entirely IDM, and IS entirely indie, top to bottom. If I'm looking for an artist that is on both Bleep and iTunes, I'll _always_ buy it from Bleep, because their VBR MP3s sound better than the iTunes AAC format, and I can play them anywhere, not just in iTunes or on my iPod.

I will say, speaking to my own habits, if an album is available digitally, I'll buy it that way before I'll buy a real CD. I don't think I bought a single CD in 2005, and I know I haven't bought one in 2006.



Feb.16.2006 @ 11:22 AM
I don't think it's come full-circle... at least it won't for long.

They hit the nail on the head right here:

"The challenge for the industry is to find some balance between singles sales and album sales. We want to create an artist experience, not a singles experience."

The whole idea of albums, singles, buying records at the store, came about due to limits of distribution and technology. Now that the limitations have up and moved way down the road, peering into the future, I'd hope we can come up w/ something that improves on the whole bands-release-an-album-every-year-or-three.

I do agree that iTunes ain't the end-all-be-all, and props to you for DIY.


Feb.16.2006 @ 12:59 PM
holy effing shit, I've sold more cds than 60% of major label artists? WOW.

Feb.16.2006 @ 1:03 PM
do you have a source for those statistics, they seem unbelievable.

Feb.16.2006 @ 1:32 PM
Good article. The salient qoute to me was this:

"I have to ask my artists to make better records," he says. "I need at least four singles. We lost a lot of fans over the years because we gave people average albums, with one or two singles and the rest of the album was trash."



Feb.16.2006 @ 2:07 PM
or don't make singles at all. Merzbow sells a shit load of cds. (just not a ton of any single release other than maybe pulse demon, 1930 and batztoutai with material gadgets...)

Feb.16.2006 @ 3:18 PM
Chris Randall
Oh, singles pressed as CDs are a complete waste of time. You're missing the point, though. For mainstream artists, the album has ceased to be a viable mechanism for moving music. Merzbow hardly applies to this equation, in any way, shape, or form. They couldn't be further from "mainstream" if they tried. In fact, I believe they do try.



Feb.16.2006 @ 3:24 PM

yeah, I guess I don't really see the point in being a "mainstream" artist any more, at least not in the "sudden celebrity" kind of way. long term careers of audience building and an established track record of worthwhile music is the saner strategy for long term survival (vs. the get rich quick scheme of mainstream pop/rock/rap music)... and it's why folks like Merzbow can still be putting out albums after 25 years instead of working at a super market bragging about the good old days...

Feb.16.2006 @ 3:28 PM
Chris Randall
Regarding the stats, I can't find the article I read that in (almost certainly in Billboard), I'm sorry to say. Here's a set of statistics from 1995, which is a little more favorable to the mid-level artist, but in 1995 the music industry was a very different place, with a dozen majors as opposed to the 3.5 we have now.

These are SoundScan numbers from 1995:

> One Million 0.12%

500,000-I Mil 0.15%

250,000-500,000 0.24%

100,000-250,000 0.63%

50,000-100,000 0.70%

25,000--50,000 1.16%

10,000--25,000 2.82%

5,000--10,000 3.70%

1,000---5,000 15.52%

Under 1,000 74.97%

So, as you can see, in 1995, when the album market was quite good, 90.49% of all full album releases on major labels sold less than 5000 units, with 3/4 of the total being under 1000. I wish I had a SoundScan account (well, not really) or could find the current stats, because it's far worse now.



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