It’s pretty funny how heads obsess over album sales these days. Album release dates and their numbers are easy conversation points and they help paint a picture of the industry’s current state. At the same token I feel like there is too much importance on how well an artist or a group does on the charts: especially when you look at the current state of music consumption.
First off, It’s problematic to use it as a gauge for saying who’s better than who. Music is a subjective experience and there’s no clear cut way of saying an artist is legitimately “better” than another. Now if it comes to comparing who’s more popular then that’s a different story entirely and sales are valid in that debate. Nevertheless It’s a faulty point to argue from outside of that aforementioned scenario.
Secondly, it’s no secret that the music industry’s been on the decline for years. So talking about how little an artist or group sold doesn’t matter much unless, as previously stated, you’re trying to assess how popular they are. Thing is, there are a handful of popular acts across genres that soak up the lions share of records sold. Everyone else is fighting for scraps. It’s always been that way and it’s even more concentrated now that rare, valuable cosigns are vital to an artists success and CDs are dying a slow death. Digital sales are on the rise and iTunes has been leading that front for years. But their numbers aren’t always conclusive in relation to how record sales are performing as a whole.
The phenomenon of fans not buying a record yet going to their favorite artists’ shows is another thing to talk about. Illegal downloading changed the industry forever and record companies didn’t act accordingly when it was new. Now we have a generation of fans that’ll shell out for a live performance yet can’t see themselves parting with $10-$15 for an album. (Well they’re not going to shows as much these days but that’s an argument for another day.) People give the “make better music and I’ll buy it” shtick time and time again. But old habits die hard in many cases. That “free preview” a fan entitled him/herself to ends up with a permanent home on his/her hard drive even if they think it’s a great record. As time passes cats don’t make up for it with a copy from the store. Multiply that scenario millions of times over and you’ll see the big picture.
And without digressing too much, record companies don’t appear to do much to protect their investment. It’s hard to feel sorry for them even though there are so many avenues that lead getting albums for free. Such is especially true when leaks from within an artist, group or band’s camp are so prevalent.
At any rate it seems like fans love being keyboard accountants and A&Rs when it comes to this stuff. When in actuality the artists don’t really benefit from our projections and the labels couldn’t care even less once they get paid off of these sales. There’s no harm in looking at the numbers and making observations from them. But criticizing the quality of the music gets lost if we’re all about sales. And honestly, many artists aren’t doing well in that regard so it becomes redundant to bring up. In closing, think about why you may put so much attention towards release numbers. Is it really just for conversation or are your tastes impacted by who sells what?