Sales Arcs

You can have a big debut, then what?

Used to be the album drop date was the beginning. Now it’s more like the end. You’ve fired up all your publicity, you’ve got the fans at a fevered pitch, they buy the album the week it comes out and then?

You’ve got to have more radio singles, to introduce new fans, to convince the casual buyer the album’s a good business proposition, worth their investment.

Used to be that going on the road kept sales humming. But now, the attendant radio play and hoopla just don’t materialize. Maybe, you’ll get some local ink. But enough to drive significant sales?

Lil’ Wayne sold a million copies his first week. But only 308,505 this week. What does this tell us? Most of the demand was satiated. The only way sales will continue to churn along is if he gets radio airplay.

At least Lil’ Wayne can get radio airplay. What about Offspring and Alanis Morissette?

It’s Offspring’s first week. They did 45,000. Pretty fly for an aged band. But, does alternative airplay mean anything anymore? Back in the last century, anything less than a 100,000 unit debut was seen as a disaster, a failure. We’ve realigned our debut expectations, but what about the aftermath? How are you going to generate sales thereafter?

You may not believe this, but Mariah Carey’s latest album is barely platinum. Despite a 436,000 copy debut, after ten weeks, she’s only sold a grand total of 1,046,158. Mimi-Mania? God, that seems like a press hoax. Seems that most people just don’t care. Her recent single stiffed and people have moved on.

Madonna? With those iTunes numbers on the initial clusterfuck single hyped ad infinitum? She did a grand total of 14,294 albums this week, for a cume of 558,543. Live Nation’s savior? She can’t even save herself! And no one is as self-centered, as in control of her career, as Madonna. She wanted people to buy her new album… But they just don’t care.

Why sign Jakob Dylan? He’s not a classic act. If he’s lucky, his album will do 100,000 domestically. Maybe 150,000. But the way sales tank so fast… He did 12,987 this week, for a cume of 37,416. Where does he go from here? MTV plays no music, certainly not by aged pretty boys like Jakob. Hell, MTV is having the VMAs on the Paramount lot… They used to fill an ARENA!

Kenny Chesney’s album, "Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates", is sitting at a million three. Pretty good. But he didn’t have a gold debut. It’s been slow and steady, based on singles, based on radio airplay. It’s taken 41 weeks to get to this number. What are the odds of a non-country act residing in the Top Fifty after 41 weeks? Almost nil?

If you’re releasing the album of a well known act without radio airplay, plan on making almost all of your money, doing almost all of your sales, in the very first week. Certainly the first month. After that, the media has moved on, they’re working something different. And, unless your act dies, there’s no way to get any further traction. You’re yesterday’s news.

If you want to sell thereafter, maybe you should focus on the long term rather than the first week. What is Madonna gonna do now? What is her Plan B? I can’t see one. She thought it was the nineties, when the public cared about her. At most, the public cares about her adoption and possible divorce. She’s a celebrity, not a musician. For a musician, the album is just a starting point. You hit the road and let it breathe. You try to engender word of mouth. The release is just one day on the calendar, almost irrelevant. Your music spreads into the atmosphere, if it’s good, the Net community picks it up and spreads it. Your dates get further attention. Your fan base grows. You don’t book a string of arena dates and put them all on sale the same day. You can’t sell out arenas. There’s not that demand. You’re trying to create demand. You’re hoping the music gets to the potential audience organically. You don’t want to beat people over the head, you want them to discover it on their own. You don’t want the media to own your career, you want the audience to.

Maybe Coldplay can land with a splash and continue to sell. But most acts cannot. That’s all we’ve got, a thin layer of acts that stay in the public eye/mind/consciousness, and those that are quickly forgotten. Coldplay’s got the benefit of being the sole rock act with current validity, the media is championing them. As for the has-beens… No one even wants to hear their new music. You’re driven to the show by nostalgia.

What SoundScan is now telling us isn’t who’s happening, but who’s not. Read the numbers to see who is faltering and where the opportunities are. New acts can maintain their chart numbers as the public discovers them, and there’s always a few hits a year that sell and sell, but mostly those acts who have longevity at the top of the SoundScan chart are burning out their careers in front of our very eyes, through overexposure.

So which way do you want it? Scorched earth, money up front, but no longevity? Or, a slow walk down the side street, waiting for people to realize you’re there, and great. The klieg light game will fry your career. You can be seen, but usually very briefly. We look at the car wreck on the side of the road, but not for long… We speed home to our families. That’s who we’re most interested in, people we have a relationship with. Foster the relationship, don’t get caught up in your first week sales numbers.

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  1. Pingback by CD Sales Arc – Short and Not Too Sweet | | 2008/06/26 at 07:03:39

    […] Sales Arc – Short and Not Too Sweet The manic but insightful Bob Leftsetz does an analysis of how CD sales start … and end. Thi […]

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  1. Pingback by CD Sales Arc – Short and Not Too Sweet | | 2008/06/26 at 07:03:39

    […] Sales Arc – Short and Not Too Sweet The manic but insightful Bob Leftsetz does an analysis of how CD sales start … and end. Thi […]

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