27
Jun
08

First Week Sales Numbers…How Important Are They?

Soundscan NumbersI just read a really good post by Adam B. over at Adam’s World concerning the major label focus on first week sales numbers.  You know, those numbers that give major label artists bragging rights, as in, “I sold 300,000 units first week”, or, “my latest album shipped gold”.

But this all makes me wonder two things: one, are first week sales really that important, and two, are they actually accurate?

A couple of lines really stood out in this article.   Like, “For all the important statistics Soundscan has been providing record labels for the past 17 years none has been more overrated than first week sales.”

Now this to me, should be fairly obvious.  But for those who don’t realize what’s going on, here’s the big “surprise” revelation: major labels manufacture much more product than they actually have orders for.  The then ship out much more product to stores than the stores ever need or will sell.  More often than not, the labels will then buy back a large percentage of these units themselves.

Not to mention the fact that a lot of labels actually hire firms that distribute CDs to independent music retailers.  These retailers then scan in fake sales to raise the number of units sold.   All these numbers are then put together and reported to Soundscan as sales.  Again, I don’t know why anybody would be surprised by this, but there you go.

(A quick side note: regardless of what you may or may not have heard, the RIAA still certifies albums as gold or platinum based on shipping numbers, rather than actual sales.  The original reason for this was ostensibly that the stores didn’t have the electronic inventory systems necesarry to provide the RIAA with accurate sales data.  According to the RIAA’s site, “the RIAA’s certification levels are based on unit shipments (minus returns) from manufacturers”. )

To me, it seems these first week sales numbers are more about perception than fact.  I mean, Rick Ross selling 198,000 copies in a week?  Does he really have that many actual fans?  My guess would be no.  But again, who cares about facts?  Perception is what we’re going for here!

Perception.  We’ve all seen (or heard about) the headlines at Billboard —  “Lil Wayne Crushes The Competition To Debut At No. 1”, or, “Lil Wayne Cracks 1 Million With tha Carter III”. —  Sounds pretty impressive, right?  To be fair, I know that these numbers really do impress Lil Wayne’s fans, at least on some level. I mean, if it sold a million copies first week, then it must be good, right?

I’ve actually spoken with a marketing person at a major label who told me, “perception is everything.  If the public perceives an album to be a hit, then they’ll rush out and buy it.” Twisted?  Yes.   But was he right?  Also, sadly, yes.

Another good line from Adam’s article: “If you look at pre-Soundscan music history artists used to work hard to push their albums for literally years, not just one week”.

Hey, to the best of my knowledge, most of us indies still do.   To my understanding, Chamillionaire pushed his first solo album for over 2 years, and moved 200,000 units before he got picked up by the majors.  That translates into a pretty good living for an indie artist.  I’m sure there are folks out there who can quote plenty of data along those lines.  The point being, if a record is good, it will eventually sell, as long as the people handling it truly believe in it.  I know I’m being an idealist here, but shouldn’t it be about quality, rather than quantity?

I think Adam agrees: “If an artist only sells 6,000 albums in their first week it doesn’t make them any less talented than an artist who sells 60,000.”

Who could disagree with that?

Are first week sales important?  Yeah, but only to the major labels who believe that the only good music out there is the easily digestible crap that moves a million ring tones and iTunes singles.

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5 Responses to “First Week Sales Numbers…How Important Are They?”


  1. 2 coffeemag
    July 6, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    great article, but going gold doesn’t mean you re-coupe anymore!

  2. July 7, 2008 at 10:03 am

    True. But this article isn’t about going gold, or recouping expenses. I’ll probably write an article on that in the near future, but honeslty, the truth about recouping expenses and advances is this: artists need to be smart enough not to take huge advances, if they can’t make it last through the lean times. The label is GOING to recoup it’s advance and expense money. As a label owner myself, I can’t say I blame them for that. The money’s got to come from somewhere. But like I said, I’ll write more about that another time.

  3. 4 coffeemag
    July 8, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    hey hit us up at hiphopcafe127@yahoo.com we wanna interview you!!!!

  4. September 12, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Very good article. Check out my blog & let me know what you think about my ideas. Peace


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