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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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