Time For Some New Standards
I think it’s time for some totally new metrics altogether. Rappers and their labels are always bragging about their platinum and gold sales, despite all of the concrete data we have proving people are no longer interested in buying physical albums. After doing a little bit of digging, it seems fairly easy to fudge the numbers. The Recording Industry Association of America created the concepts of gold (500,000 copies sold) and platinum (1 million copies sold) in 1958. It’s safe to say a lot has changed in the 55 years since then, yet we’re all hanging on to this outdated standard. On Top of that, we all know how many of those 100s of thousands of views on Artists’ YouTube channels are real, right? In this day & age, it’s ever easier to get those numbers racked up really high.
Today, more people download single tracks via Spotify, iTunes, or via third party websites. Who buys albums anymore? Do you? I don’t, and I’m a DJ. I grab the tracks which sound great, and click purchase, or if they are available for free, then it’s even better! So, What kind of metrics do we look for? Surely, album sales don’t mean squat anymore.
Major Labels’ Double Standards
In the meantime, we’re how labels can spin the concept of a “Number One” album. In May of 2010, we heard a lot of talk about B.o.B.’s number one debut, The Adventures Of Bobby Ray. In a convenient bit of record industry spin, what we didn’t hear was how the 84,000 copies sold made it the lowest sales total for a number one album since Chrisette Michele’s Epiphany registered 83,000 the previous year. While B.o.B. earned his gold certification and number one debut without any shady business tactics, recording industry veteran, Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records, explained how labels can easily resort to less scrupulous means to lock down a more favorable spot on the charts.
“People are telling me that the majors have teams of people who actually buy singles on iTunes to try to drive it up the charts—buying their own songs,” Silverman told Wired.com in a 2010 interview. “It blew my mind. I mean, we’re not learning anything. So if they buy 50,000 songs, we’re talking $50,000 less 70 percent, so it would cost about $15,000. For $15,000 in a week, they can buy 50,000 more song downloads, which could drive the record up three or four positions on the chart. And the hype of it all would make people believe it, and then the next week it would be real, which is what always used to happen.”
Again, my stating that numbers can be manipulated and record companies often lie isn’t exactly a groundbreaking opinion. But the larger question is, after decades of using the same old standard, why isn’t anyone in or outside of the industry proposing a new metric for how we measure commercial success?
New Standards Required!
The impact of licensing deals, merchandise sales and touring income are a few things we rarely see on the charts. I think if we’re going to reduce artists to numbers on a spreadsheet and only compare their monetary impact, we may as well level the playing field. Why continue to use an outdated metric like record sales, when the average major label recording deal only gives artists a small percentage of those sometimes inflated sales figures anyway? I think the measurement of viewers’ collective feelings about the track matters most. The number of people who connected with the artist during the 4-5 minutes is a value that’s extremely important to remember. As it currently stands, there’s no way to measure that kind of engagement.
I think major corporations will always find ways to manipulate data to their advantage. And if an artists opts to do business with one of the big record labels, they can more or less expect to be treated like chattel. But in an age where we can access a wealth of statistical data at the click of a mouse, independent artists can have much more of a say over their financial future. And a return to the good old, boom bap days of artists refusing to get in bed with major corporations is out of the question. If we’re really going to measure an emcee’s success by the bottom line, we should take all the available data into account.
Props to Omar at HHDX