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Feature: The Biggest Drop in Record Sales of the 21st Century

Written by Charlotte Faulkner. Posted in Carousel, Featured

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Published on April 20, 2012

It has been revealed that record sales are at the lowest they’ve been in the 21st Century, yet individuals seem keen to air their interests in music and records by joining in with Record Store Day events taking place across the UK this weekend (April 21/22.)
Just how bad have things really got for the music industry and sales?
Overall album figures over the last week are down 27.62% with week-on-week sales at 1,446,218. In comparison to the same week last year, where sales figures were at 1,882,878, showing a 23.19% drop. According to the Official Charts Company, this is lower than any of the previous 640 weeks that have passed since the year 2000.
It’s no surprise that sales are down if you take a glance at the UK top 40 where a handful of artists seem to be achieving repeated success. Music Week reported that Adele’s second album ‘21’ is currently spending it’s 22 week in the UK top 10 album charts, with it leaping from number 3 to back up to the number 1 spot in the past week. Sales jumped up to 22,235 copies over the last week. While this may be great news for Adele, who is worth £20m and topped The Telegraph’s young musician rich list, her album sales were the lowest for a number one album for 11 weeks.
Madonna’s new LP ‘MDNA’ struggled in its third week of sales, only managing to sell 7,194 copies in the last week. It’s also the first album by Madonna to not be in the Top 10 for its third week in the chart since 1984.
In comparison to albums, the sales of singles are doing relatively well. Despite a drop of 5.40% for week-on-week sales over the past year, the sale of singles has increased overall, with figures up by 11.89% when compared with this time last year. Trends change so rapidly, one week we’re all meant to be singing along to some pre-pubescent boy from reality tv crap, and the next we’re all loving the 50-something comeback single from that band our parents loved when they were our age. No surprise bands are struggling to stay afloat during this rough time, since the tides keep changing. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the fads and how quickly they change and therefore don’t want to be buying whole albums when they do just want to listen to one track. It’s like lives are dictated by what’s on the newest ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ bullshit.
As the sale of records dips, it seems other musical outlets prosper. Many of you blamed the internet and social media for the dip in record sales, suggesting that “Youtube, Spotify [are to blame as] people no longer see music as a commodity or something worth ‘owning’.” (Twitter: @DomWarren). Spotify reported on their blog in March 2011 that in the UK it had hit 1 million paying users . Spotify, on the surface, seems a great service, the artists receive credit for people listening to their tracks and it’s preventing some individuals turning to illegal downloading to get hold of an album. Yet is it just another money making scheme? Probably so, the adverts are also so annoying that I bet more and more of you are starting to think that just £4.99 a month is pretty reasonable to not have to listen to ‘hi, it’s me again’ between every song or not having a time limit on your listening time.
In an interview with NME, Patrick Carney of The Black Keys slated Spotify founder, Sean Parker, saying “That guy has $2 billion that he made from figuring out ways of stealing royalties from artists, and that’s the bottom line. You can’t really trust anybody like that”. Hardly surprising Carney has so much dislike for Sean Parker since bands get 0.002p per play on Spotify, meaning 500 plays equals £1. Hardly seems fair does it?
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (or IFPI – it’s a bit easier to say and less to type), who represent the recording industry worldwide, recently released their digital music report for 2012. They report that many major markets are seeing growth in single track download sales, with it up 10% in comparison to 2011. Digital album sales grew, with them up by 27% in the UK, while the demand for an artist’s body of work still remains strong in the digital world.
Yet, not all of you reading this will be nice boys and girls and pay for their music. Some of you are pirates. I don’t mean with a wooden leg and eye patch, but you sit in your room and download from Torrent sites and forums (tut tut!) for free.  The IFPI report that 28% of internet users globally access unauthorised download services on a monthly basis. Around half of these users are using forums and file sharing, while the other half are using torrent sites to share music.
While some of you may think ‘well it’s just one album and I don’t really know if I’ll like it’, you’re probably one of a hundred people thinking the same thing at that moment in time. That’s massive loss and damage to the music industry. I know it’s hard to imagine that being in a band is an actual job, but it actually is. As Kid British said in their interview with Counteract back in 2010: “We do all this hard work in the studio and then people just take and we’ve got no money. It’s like you going to work every day and your boss coming up to you and saying that he’s not gonna pay you.”
Bands work hard on writing and recording and it’s unfair to just steal from them. Fair enough, you may not wish to help put money in the bulging pocket of some fat middle-aged record label man at some major, but your favourite artists need supporting.
Jon McClure from Reverend and the Makers told Counteract why he thought the music industry was witnessing a drop in sales:
“Everyone downloads stuff for nothing. Yet artists expect folk to pay. The charts are catered towards the tastes of 13 year old girls. The printed music press is dying on its arse or has bitched any half decent bands to the point of non existence. What’s worse is that technology has allowed people with ‘minimal talent’ to masquerade as real musicians. There are several amazing new bands in this country ignored in favour of generic pop music. For me we have returned to the dark ages of the mid 80’s Stock, Aitkin and Waterman era.”
I agree, the printed music press does love to build-up and knock down artists and bands, in a similar way in which the tabloids toy with the lives of celebrities and this has a damaging effect but isn’t totally to blame. Jon has accurately pointed out several factors that are ruining the industry yet I don’t believe we’ve totally returned to the dark ages of the 1980’s. I feel I have to agree with Adam Ficek that “The good days are over unless you’re a puppet or a vampire.”

About Charlotte Faulkner

Absolutely massive Mystery Jets fangirl! If I'm not on a train listening to The XX, Art Brut or Arctic Monkeys I'll probably be found in some music venue around Sheffield enjoying the music from one band or another rather than actually studying for my degree.

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