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Music in the air: Megabytes and vinyl records shape the industry

Submitted by Alton Young on February 3, 2014 – 12:34 pmNo Comment

Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience album was a hit by any standard, but the 2.43 million records that were sold marked the lowest total for a top-selling album since SoundScan began tracking music sales in 1991, according to

The fact that artists are having a harder time selling records than they did in the heyday of music sales in the 1990s, means that music is being delivered in many different ways as artists test their creativity with not just the music itself, but also the way they bring it to the masses.

The power couple of Beyoncé and JayZ are prime examples of really big artists who decided to take unique approaches to their releases last year and the releases could not have been more different.

JayZ partnered with Samsung to release 1 million free downloads of his “Magna Carta…Holy Grail” album, before it was actually released.  He still managed to rank in the top ten for albums sold in 2013 according to USAToday.

Beyoncé, on the other hand, offered up a surprise release, releasing a self-titled visual album, which has a video to go with each one of the tracks.  This video-per-song concept is not something new, as rapper 50 Cent made a similar approach back in 2007 with his deluxe version of “The Massacre.”

It was the way in which Beyoncé released her new album, that made it more than noteworthy, though.  The only promotion that she did was through a Facebook post right before the release. Soon after the post, the album was made available exclusively on iTunes for purchase. iTunes retained exclusivity for several days before a physical CD was dispatched to brick-and-mortar stores.  This prompted Target and Amazon not to sell her album when it was made available to the masses. Surprisingly, the rebuff didn’t seem to have hurt the sales too much. Beyoncé sold 1.3 million copies of the album in 2013.

George R. Keck, UALR’s music interim department chair, had a thought about why these artists are trying unusual ways to promote or not promote their new music.

“I think that it’s so competitive now that you have to do something different to attract attention.  If you can’t, you’re not going to make it,” Keck said.

This may explain Miley Cyrus’ attention-getting twerk-a-thon during last year’s Video Music Awards, but there still has to be some substance behind the noise to maintain more than just a brief hold of America’s attention.

A good song or at least a lot of attention may get you a top download or stream (see Gangnam Style or Harlem Shake), but a really good album can still cut across all platforms.  Adele’s “21″ sold millions of copies a couple of years ago, because people thought it was a great album.

While downloading and streaming music have now become the norm, there is a growing trend to release physical copies music on vinyl. Though still a niche market, there is something to be said about the increase in sales of an archaic medium to deliver music.

John Harris, owner of Been Around Records and CDs on 1216 E. University, has a theory about the reasons for the rise in vinyl sales.

“I think it started out as kind of a retro thing to do.  I think they discovered later on that they sounded better,” Harris said.  “Analog does sound better.  It’s warmer, it’s more natural (than digital recordings).”

The future of the music industry may depend on new technology, or it may depend on something from the past, or it may depend on how artists themselves deliver their music.

Whatever happens to music sales next, making a great record first, certainly won’t hurt.


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