F.Y.E. Senior Assistant Manager Tim Eddins helps his store ready for Black Friday. Locally, CD sales have not dropped significantly, which is unlike most of the rest of the country, where CD sales are down.
ALBANY — Glenn Tennyson, the lead singer for local country music band the Kinchafoonee Cowboys, was telling his young sons recently about rock band AC/DC’s music, so he decided to let them hear it for themselves.
“I did what I always do now, went online to download some AC/DC music,” Tennyson said. “I was surprised to find that AC/DC is one of the last holdouts; the band doesn’t allow its music to be sold as digital downloads.
“I actually went to one of the local retailers and bought a copy of (the band’s most famous album) ‘Back in Black.’ I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually bought a CD.”
Evidently, Tennyson’s not alone.
According to a recent CNNMoney report, sales of recorded music in the compact disc format have plummeted by more than half in the United States over the last decade-plus, from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion in 2009. The Recording Industry Association of America has reported declines averaging 8 percent a year over the last 10 years, leaving many to forecast the death of the CD.
Billboard magazine senior chart analyst Keith Caulfield recently told CNN the pending demise of the compact disc format is part of the evolutionary process in the music industry.
“Vinyl was the predominant configuration from the ’50s and the ’60s all the way up through the early ’80s, and then cassettes became the predominant format from the early-mid-’80s to the very early ’90s,” Caulfield said. “Then CDs became the predominant format, and cassettes didn’t really go away until a few years ago. It’s kind of a natural progression, to a degree.”
Just as the Buggles brazenly proclaimed in 1979 that “video killed the radio star,” music industry insiders say the downloading of digital music will soon do in CDs. There’s plenty of evidence to support their claim.
As recently as 2007, RIAA numbers showed that CD sales accounted for 90 percent of albums sold in the U.S. with digital sales accounting for just 10 percent. Two years later, the numbers were 79 percent for CDs and 20 percent for digital.
Unfortunately for artists and music industry insiders, even with a dramatic increase in digital music purchases, as much as 90 percent of the digital music that is being received electronically by music lovers is through unauthorized downloads. It’s simply too easy for computer-savvy consumers to find their favorite tunes for free.
Despite the doom and gloom that hangs over the music industry, there are signs that the current business plan used by the major and independent record labels that have for so long set the rules for sales of recorded music may not be done quite yet. Halfway through this year, Nielsen Soundscan’s figures showed music sales up 1.6 percent overall and the purchase of digital tracks up by a healthy 16.8 percent.
The increase comes despite a continued decline in CD sales. Many insiders say the upswing is largely a product of the long-awaited deal in 2010 that allows for the sale of albums by the Beatles in digital format for the first time.
Locally, while some retailers admit sales of CDs have been hurt by the digital revolution, they claim their in-store sales have not dropped significantly.
“In general, the flow in our music department is still pretty heavy, especially during the Christmas season or if some hot artist releases a CD,” Target electronics team member Wendy McKinzie said. “A lot of time when a big-name artist releases an album, we’ll sell out our initial supply the first day it’s in the store.
“We get customers of all ages, but in general most of our sales are to customers between (ages) 20-35.”
Tim Eddins and Nicole Spurlin, assistant managers with the FYE outlet at the Albany Mall, said they too haven’t seen a sharp decline in CD sales at the music/movie outlet.
“When we have special sales on like we do now, we usually get a good flow of customers in here,” Spurlin said. “Sure, digital music sales have hurt CD sales in general, but what hurts more is when artists’ albums are leaked on the Internet before the album is supposed to be released.
“That will change the planned release dates in stores, and we have to adjust.”
Eddins said the decline in the number of locations at which music is sold is one of the reasons the local FYE outlet’s music sales have remained steady.
“A lot of (music stores) have been shut down over the last few years as the economy has gotten bad,” he said. “People in general are doing what they can to save money, but music lovers are going to get the latest music. And a surprising number of them — at least locally — still want a physical copy of their favorite artists’ work.”
There’s another overlooked element to the musical sales decline that few in the industry have been willing to admit: the general lack of quality music. Dave Grohl, lead singer of the Foo Fighters who previously played drums for Nirvana, addressed that issue in a recent USA Today article.
“It’s the music,” he said. “People are blown away that Adele is selling so many records. I’m not. That record is great. She’s got a beautiful voice, and people are shocked when they hear actual talent. Music should be more than ad placement, more than synthesized looping of a voice that’s been Auto-Tuned and an image made to look like a superhero or supermodel.”