How Is Success Measured In The Current Music Industry?

It sort of baffles me that every week we take a peak at Soundscan, see which rappers sold what amount of records, and then either laud the ones who defied the odds and sold some records, or trash the ones who didn’t.

If you were to take a look at XXL’s news report on sales from last week to this week, you’d see that Plies sold something like 114k units, and Soulja Boy sold 45k. Since Plies is nowhere near as prevalent in the mainstream as Soulja Boy, it’s easy to pat him on the back and say, “Hey man, great job.” And for Soulja Boy, who was such a breakout star in 2007, you’d think, “Man, this guy flopped.”

Now I’ve got to admit, I don’t have a subscription to Soundscan, I read the #’s online just like you every week. But I think that when sites post these #’s, they’re only reporting physical album sales. They aren’t counting digital, where all the action is right now. Granted, you’ve got to look at it in a different way, because digital sales are still only a fraction of what physical sales are. Yet, with physical retail space for things like CDs shrinking at almost all the big box retailers (like Best Buy, for example), you can’t help but feel like basing an act’s success off of first week sales is anything but foolish.

I think at this point, with music being widely available both for free (via P2P networks), for legal download, and also ad-supported on sites like Myspace Music and Last FM (and a zillion other sites), if you’re going to look at sales as a barometer for success, then you really need to be taking into account all these different revenue streams. Furthermore, I think you’ve got to be looking at how many concerts an act is doing, what type of venues they’re playing, etc.

Looking at Soundscan is officially a waste of time. That’s like just using the scoring column on an NBA player’s stat sheet to tell how good he is. I mean, Bill Russell didn’t score a lot of points, but he’s top 5 in NBA history, correct?

Furthermore, and I think someone even in the comments section of the XXL news post made mention of it, Vanilla Ice sold like 10 million records back in the early 90s. The past couple years, people think record sales= talent. So by that logic, Vanilla Ice HAS to be one of the most talented rappers ever?

No, that’s clearly not the case.

Now I’m not saying Soulja Boy didn’t– on the whole, not just via Soundscan– flop. Because he does seem to have jumped the shark. Just saying, is anyone looking at single download #’s? Is anyone watching his Myspace plays? His youtube views? His ringtone sales?

It’s just, looking at one piece of data is no good anymore. Hasn’t been for a long time.

One real world example is this: I don’t own Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak. But I listened to it 5 times via Myspace Music on his page the weekend before the album dropped. Ordinarily, that would have been an album sale that Kanye would have gotten. But it’s not. And his numbers look anemic in comparison to Graduation. But everyone and their mother has heard the LP in some manner or another.

So really, I think the one thing that I would like to see happen in ’09, is less talk and even reference to album sales. Can we scratch all that stuff like, “x y and z sold 56k copies his first week” from the way we even talk. Like, seriously. Let’s get this out of our language altogether, once and for all. Let’s stop talking and writing like we’re in 1999, instead of 2009. I thought that shit would have been buried in ’08, but I guess I was wrong. The album has been dead for a few years, let’s finally bury it.

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  • the r

    very good article…they say that there is less money in the game now….but everywhere you go you can hear full albums for free legally because of the industry…all these flash music sites, youtube, nahright etc….

  • $ykotic

    You got a valid point.

    But until the labels get it together, Billboard is still the bible of music.

    Yet if that artist brags that they move units, they live by that bible.

    It would be safe to say SB’s people are in damage control mode. Gold may be WAY out of reach.

    I know the industry is hurting, but son caught a beatdown this round.

    Guess that platinum in a week campaign didn’t work.

  • amar

    there needs to be an anonymous reporting system that lets users (one per ip address) who say they downloaded a particular album reply with either figure out of 10 for how much they liked it.

    Then you can analyze not only downloads for every new album, but also how many people actually liked it

  • west philly’s finest

    By your logic Wayne just put out Thriller. Wayne proved that if people care enough about your shit people will buy it. I agree that people shouldn’t judge artists by album sales but Soulja Boy flopped. He’s a mainstream artist his shit should at least sold 100k. And his fan base are the ones that buy the most records.

  • Biz

    Amen to this article!
    In addition there should be some sort of organization and standard put in place that collects info from all the major digital mediums i.e. Myspace,, itunes etc… then we can check real numbers per se.

  • Avenger XL

    Soulja Boy and Plies are about to be victims of the kind of fame they created. I am sick of all the sales talk SB and Plies were only going to be hot for so long because SB is a party time artist with a smash hit these cat’s never last long. Plies is your random all I ever know is thuggin dude for this generation and though he offers some soul filled momments like family straight and such. He sticks to a safe formula which is simple pop tunes with no substance that don’t add to a long career either. In this climate it would be safer to reduce marketing costs and go after a particular group of listeners hard build up that fan base and let them grow with you rather than doing the larger than life thing.

  • macdatruest

    An artist will brag about selling ten million, but that’s nothing when you on a quadruple label imprint, making less than a dollar per album. I could have ten million dollars worth of promotion, a video for every song and be on Shady/Afetrmath/Interscope/G-Unit/Warner Bros./Sony and my Ten Million is expected cause all my bosses gotta eat. But if Im like… on Koch, no big budget video, my fan base is solid and I sell 500,000 at seven dollars an album profit, Thats 3.5 Million dollars. Now is the part where normal 9-5 niggas who rap part time, but still chasin’ that magical “Def Jam” Contract-act like they got a million dollars-and say that rappers who aint on nine labels and only sell a good 40 thousand are starving. And these big budget niggas on Big Chain Records are livin’ it up right? Nigga be broke wit a Flashy ass video. Nigga can also be paid with no mainstream pop audience too. Thats one thing I like about The West, They support The West even when they not in the mainstream spotlight. Niggas on the East, they so egotistical, they’ll never support eachother. Everybody wanna be “That Nigga” when it’s not even about that to the fans anymore Fiddy showed us that you can be placed on top, media hyped and backed by media stats and comparisons- and at the end of the day still be a talentless bum. So album sales are basically just album sales, not talent markers

  • FlapJack

    Xxl are kind of a big force in hip-hop right?
    Go make a rating system Gooch!
    oh, Scratch that…

    Go make a rating system xxl staff!

  • geico lizard

    Plies and T- pain act like going gold is the same as going platinum. As soon as they hit gold they start working on a new album and they release 10 videos and spend all their money on jewelry and cars. Back in the late 90′s a gold rap album was flop and you could get dropped from your label.

  • Shawty J

    Should there be another way to measure and artist success. Yeah, totaling digital purchases off the album with CD sells to get record sells.

    Digital purchases of singles should be held separately. Because the artist didn’t go into recording for a year or two just for one song and the label didn’t invest X amount of dollars for one song.

    If there is no purchase of the album we can’t really call that success. I mean listening to an album on MySpace, no that doesn’t count. Watching videos on Youtube, please. Downloading off Limewire, yeah right. Next you’ll be wanting figures from the bootleg man.

  • oneman Beats

    what if as an artist you get a penny a play on myspace.
    what do we do to make people buy instead of download for free.
    maybe just put up half the song on myspace ?

  • AZ

    This week sales were down 33% from the same week last year yea that sounds like a done deal to me. Time to diversify your revenue streams or face having a hard drive full of music and zero revenue to show for it

  • Tator

    Thank u! I just made this point on another post.