Album sales: 2000 – 2008

Now THATS an album!Every year it seems that we talk about the decline in CD sales. Those numbers are, themselves, troubling for those attempting to make a living selling music on CDs. The overall number for music sales, aren’t much better.

The decline in CD sales seems to be around 20% annually. Digital download sales have taken off in a big way, Soundscan reported more than one billion a-la-carte downloads for 2008. These numbers just aren’t making up for the decline in physical product sales though.

Digital Music News reported yesterday that Album Sales (both physical and digital combined) has dropped a staggering 54.5% since 2000.

Just how bad is the recording industry decline? Since peak year 2000, US-based album sales have dropped an unbelievable 514.6 million units, or 54.6 percent. In 2000, the climax of a dreamlike 90s, album sales surpassed 943 million units, according to figures published by Nielsen Soundscan…

…Overall, album sales in 2008 (both digital and physical) landed at 428.4 million, also according to Nielsen.

While some blame can be laid at the feet of illegal downloading, I think a bigger factor is the unbundling of music. Why buy the entire album if there are only 4 songs you really want?

I don’t think the effect has been as pronounced on our little corner of the industry, but the decline has hit bluegrass.

My suggestions for now? I offer only two…

  1. Make sure every song is one your fans will want to own.
  2. Free your mind from slavish dedication to the “album” (or CD) format.
  • ewertj

    I believe that the paradigm the bluegrass industry, and the rest of the music industry in general, needs to look to is basing the entire industry around live performance. A studio recording, at best, should be considered an advertisement to see an artist perform live. As such, if an artist wants to invest in this advertisement, they should consider giving them away at no cost. After the set at the autograph table, the artists should be selling and signing recordings of the performance that was just given, hot off the presses so to speak. This is now technologically possible. This change in perspective would foster and reward excellence in the live setting, which is really what great music is all about.

  • Good thoughts Ewert. I agree, in that I would like to see a pursuit of excellence in live performance. For the most part I think bluegrass musicians excel in that regard, especially compared to other genres, but let’s keep the bar high.

    I think one strength of studio recordings could be the collaboration of artists you won’t see together live. In the past I’ve always wished the band would record as-is, without additional studio musicians, but I’m having a change of heart. I think studio recordings like that can present a performance you won’t see live.

    Also, there are many fans who just won’t be able to see a band live due to geographic reasons, etc. But…I still think we’re heading toward a situation in which recorded music has very little, if any, monetary value, in and of itself. There are other ways to monetize an artist’s brand besides just live performance.

  • Jon Weisberger

    How do you see monetizing a songwriter’s brand when recorded music has very little, if any, monetary value, in and of itself, Brance?

  • Jon, that is a more difficult and very pertinent question.

    The wrong answer is to say that bands should only record songs they write themselves. While I’m not against bands recording their own stuff, I am against them exclusively recording their own songs, on the grounds that not everything they write will be of the best quality. As per the discussion above, excellence should be pursued not only in performance, but also in song selection. So songwriters are greatly needed.

    Making money from his craft is more difficult for the songwriter than for the artist, because the artist at least sees significant income from live performance. The songwriter might see some if the venue purchases the appropriate licenses, and the system works well enough to distribute the license revenue to the proper people. These are big IFs (especially the last one).

    We can’t ignore the reality of the market place though. If you any ideas for how songwriters can create revenue in the changing industry, I’d love to hear them. Songwriters are often overlooked in these discussions…