Major Record Labels Sell More Music as the Album Declines

Record-Album-02Album sales are down. But that really isn’t the point. Albums were the logical result of the available recording technology. At first, recorded music was limited by the “brevity dictated by the size of the shellac plate.” In other words, the length of a song was limited to the length of a side of a 78-rpm record, which for a while was about 3 minutes. The album only developed as a concept with the 33 1/3-rpm LP record, which could initially hold 22 minutes of music per side. Rather than lengthening a song, record companies began bundling 3 minute songs together in the form of an album. With digital music, it does not necessarily make sense for record labels to produce albums if they can release digital tracks.
From Justin Bieber to Drake, major recording artists are forgoing the release of traditional albums. Now they know they can generate more revenue from releasing songs continuously throughout a given year. Sometimes they later gather these songs in a compilation album. This is fine for major record labels because their artists are usually contractually bound to recording a specific number of “sides,” not albums. Notice the term side is used by record labels to refer to a song because they still think in terms of the 3 minutes available on one side of a 78.
Another problem with discussing album sales has to do with data. In the last month and a half of 2014, album sales, as calculated by the Billboard 200, skyrocketed! This is because the way the industry calculated album sales was outdated. Now the Billboard 200 considers what it terms track equivalent albums and stream equivalent albums –these calculations are problematic in and of themselves, but you can read about that here. Since the recalculation, the top ten albums have consistently sold more than 100k units per week.
Instead of thinking about album sales, we need to consider broader questions about power in the recording industry. How is streaming doing for the major record labels? What do recording artists earn from streaming? Who do record contracts help/hurt? How much music is being licensed for video games, movies and television? What are industry profits instead of perceived revenue?
Musicians have their labor exploited by record labels. Often, musicians feel that the only way they can play professionally is through a record contract. However, these contracts are the mechanisms that create this exploitation. At the same time, the Internet has not provided the alternative that many Internet celebrants promised as the majors have outsized access to digital means of distribution.

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One thought on “Major Record Labels Sell More Music as the Album Declines

  1. Pingback: Major Record Labels See Growth . . . But still say sales are in decline | iTake-Over

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