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A Professional Pirate

pirate.gifRemember back in the 1980s when musicians could break huge records with album sales? Some of the sales records set by Michael Jackson and Def Leppard still hold up today.

An article in yesterday's online edition of the Wall Street Journal depicts the bleak outlook of modern day record sales.

According to journalist Ethan Smith, compact disc sales for the first three months of this year plunged 20% from the same period a year ago. Of course, analysts blame the decline of CD sales on the popularity of the iPod and downloadable music.

In the late seventies, Metal was still an underground phenomenon. Enthusiasts would create fanzines and dub cassette tapes with the latest music by their heroes. These tapes would travel around the world, effectively "pirating" music while creating a mainstream movement.

Of course, dyed in the wool music fans know that most causal listeners don't pay for their music by legal downloads, either. Many younger fans download pirated music without regard for an artists sales rank or royalty checks.

I don't pirate music, but I am guilty of downloading an odd song or two if I don't want to purchase an entire album.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, music moguls now consider CDs as a marketing tool to push sales of more lucrative items like concert tickets and band merchandise.

Sadly it seems there's just no money to be made from huge album sales these days. But is this really different than years past?

In the glam rock hey day of the 1980s, bands tramped up and down the Sunset Strip, posting flyers, selling tickets and begging people to watch their shows.

They made a living off touring, and the same is true today.

There's a reason why the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith tour constantly. World tours mean big money, and big money means less pressure to sell millions and millions of albums.

Back in 1987, Def Leppard released Hysteria . To date, that album has sold more than 18 million copies worldwide.  Let's say the Leps had a pretty good deal from Polygram that earned them a quarter for every album sold. This means the Brits earned four million, five hundred thousand dollars for their efforts. Def Leppard still earned several times more than this amount from their massively successfully "In the Round, In Your Face" world tour.

Nielsen SoundScan just posted some of the weakest sales ever recorded. In fact, this year has already seen the  two lowest-selling No. 1 albums since SoundScan started back in 1991. Incidentally, Skid Row's Slave to the Grind was the first heavy metal album to debut at the top of the Billboard charts. Slave to the Grind was released the first week Nielsen adopted the SoundScan sales tracking method.

So is all this talk about sluggish album sales much ado about nothing, or do we have a real  music crisis on our hands? Like most things, I think most people have become complacent. Yesterday's rabid fans are today's stock traders, doctors, and lawyers. Sadly it seems these careers just don't leave enough time for Metal.










Reader Comments (4)

Electronic downloads are a problem, but a bigger one is lack of artist promotion by the Record Companies. The whole state of music in the United States is just a mess.

The people running these companies seemingly forgot how to rock, and do nothing to promote the artists from our generation.

I think people would be shocked if they took the time to discover how many quality releases are still being put out today.

So many get litte PR here.

Its amazing when I find quality hard rock and metal coming from every country on the planet and hardly ever the United States anymore.

A lot of artists have gotten smart, and are packing in videos and or DVD's with their CD's.

I.E. a couple of CD's that I reviewed this week at HRH, Grand Lux and Masterplan, both had
a video on the disc. Very cool! I actually look for CD's that have this now, and preorder them when I see them.

As far as the music scene out there? Can an a rock artist still go platinum in 2007? With the right promotion, absolutely! AI's Chris Daughtry is now double platinum in less than 6 months time frame. Quite frankly, I have heard better stuff than his, that has sold very little.

There were plenty of quality discs in 2006 that could have hit the platinum mark with a little promotion. (Something that the record companies forgot how to do.)

Wow....I really got off the subject here, which is electronic downloads. Bottom line, if you like an artist, BUY their music.

Check out Bring Back Glam, Hard Rock Hideout, Heavy Metal Addiction, and Heavy Metal Time Machine. Between the lot of us, we will tell you what is good, and what sucks, so you can spend your money wisely!

March 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterHard Rock Hideout
Hey Hard Rock --
Great comments! As for Daughtry...there was a hunk of the WSJ article dedicated to the jilted idol. Here's the section:

"One week, "American Idol" runner-up Chris Daughtry's rock band sold just 65,000 copies of its chart-topping album; another week, the "Dreamgirls" movie soundtrack sold a mere 60,000. As recently as 2005, there were many weeks when such tallies wouldn't have been enough to crack the top 30 sellers. In prior years, it wasn't uncommon for a No. 1 record to sell 500,000 or 600,000 copies a week."

I agree he's sold a lot, and that there are MUCH better acts than Daughtry on the market.
Still, he's sold way fewer units than other number 1 artists of years past.

March 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAllyson
OK, a couple of things here. It certainly stands to reason that in due time the sale of recorded music will be a much smaller part of a musician's income, if any part at all. with that in mind:

1) Allyson, what you said about the 80s bands we love surviving on tour income... not quite the case. those bands sold MILLIONS of records. back then it was easy for a band to go Gold, even platinum, and for any record on a major label it's going to recoup somewhere between 1 and 2 million units sold. suffice it to say, these bands made a boatload of cash from selling records.

2) Furthermore, these bands CONTINUE to make money from these CDs in PERPETUITY! Meaning that snake sabo gets a check in the mail every three months for sales of Skid Row's self-titled album that are still racking up sales.

3) this brings to light something important... if recorded music won't make a band money, then how can a musician be expected to earn once he can't tour anymore? do you really expect sebastian bach to head-bang into his 70s (should he live that long)? It certainly seems that touring / merch are a bigger part of an artist's income now than before, but this begs the question, can an artist survive on this? what of when the well runs dry? tour dates don't exactly pay royalty checks.

4) @ Hard Rick Hideout: what you're saying about labels not promoting isn't quite how it works. the labels that release records of modern metal bands (century media, nuclear blast, the end records, etc) are smaller labels that spend as much as they can to promote these bands -- and it works. keep in mind that record labels only make money on RECORD SALES -- not touring, merch or anything else. when a band gets to the point where they are so popular the label infrastructure can't support them anymore, then a major label will usually snatch them up. just look at Mastodon. and believe me, Warner has spent a shitload of cash on that band, but they stil haven't even cracked 100,000 units, which for a major label is an enormous monetary loss. Lamb of God, on Epic Records (a major) have sold somewhere in the 200k-300k range. What this says is that there just isn't that big of a market for metal -- it appeals to a specific sect -- not that labels don't promote it well enough.

my two cents.
March 23, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterVince Neilstein
Hey VN--
Good points. Of course, I never meant my beloved 80s bands survived soley only touring...they DID enjoy major album sales, as metal was mainstream throughout much of the decade of decadence.

Also, thanks so much for the special post link over on

I do love you boys.

March 23, 2007 | Registered CommenterAllyson B. Crawford

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