Today’s New York Times takes a look at the apparently waning appeal of the record album, and how the record industry is trying to adjust because of the shift. The story looks at the R & B trio Candy Hill, which has been signed to a two-song deal:
A decade ago, the music industry had all but stopped selling music in individual units. But now, four years after Apple introduced its iTunes service — selling singles for 99 cents apiece and full albums typically for $9.99 — individual songs account for roughly two-thirds of all music sales volume in the United States. And that does not count purchases of music in other, bite-size forms like ring tones, which have sold more than 54 million units so far this year, according to Nielsen data.
One of the biggest reasons for the shift, analysts say, is that consumers — empowered to cherry-pick — are forgoing album purchases after years of paying for complete CD’s with too few songs they like. There are still cases where full albums succeed — the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ double-CD “Stadium Arcadium,” with a weighty 28 tracks, has sold almost two million copies. But the overall pie is shrinking.
In some ways, the current climate recalls the 1950s and to some extent, the 60s, when many popular acts sold more singles than albums. It took greatly influential works like The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” to turn the album into pop music’s medium of choice. …
With Candy Hill, Universal paid a relatively small advance — described as being in “five figures” — to cover recording expenses. Ms. Shaw, who formed the group with Casha Darjean and Ociris Gomez, said the members had kept their day jobs working at an insurance company and doing other vocal work to be able to pay the rent at the house where they live together.
If one of their songs turns into a big hit, they hope to release a full album, and to tap other income sources, like touring and merchandise sales.
But turning a song into a hit does not appear to be getting any easier.
While it’s impressive that the big labels have apparently made strides to adapt to this technology-driven shift, we have to note that the main financial hit is being taken by the artist; anyone who bought a copy of Aqua’s Aquarium back in 1997 can tell you that the idea of the maxi-maxi-maxi single has long been a mainstay of labels’ merchandising plans, and that the rise in individual track sales seems to be a direct response to consumers’ low enthusiasm for remixes, computer-crashing multimedia “extras,” and other slop that labels used to make consumers justify spending $14 and up on a single song. Whether or not acts like Candy Hill will thrive under this new model remains to be seen, although we have to wonder if the fact that the group’s three members live together is merely a setup for the inevitable reality show that Universal will try to pitch once the promotional budget for their first single is exhausted.