State of the Music Industry Part 3

State of the Music Industry Part 3

I wasn’t really expecting a part three to this article but it seems there was quite a bit of excitement about the statistics that Tom Silverman had mentioned in the first part of this interview.  Tom was kind enough to add more information.

I will add only this – that of all of the people I know who did really well for themselves in the old world of music- Tom Silverman is one of the only executives I have met who actually really cares about the future of the music business unrelated to getting a paycheck.  Thanks again for this Tom.

Please check out the New Music Seminar in Los Angeles on February 1st and 2nd.  Readers of can get a two for one discount by going to and entering the code “nmsla2”.

Tom Silverman:

In preparing for the February 2nd Los Angeles New Music Seminar, I wanted to learn more about how many new artists are breaking each year. After all, the New Music Seminar is dedicated to helping more new artists break.

First we had to determine the definition of breaking. At the New Music Seminar we identify the obscurity line arbitrarily as 10,000 albums sold in the year of release.  That is not a hard number, nor is it the only meter of success.  300 hard ticket sales for a headliner in multiple cities might be another definition.  25,000 paid single downloads might be another. I’m sure there are many more but 10,000 albums doesn’t sound as elusive as gold or platinum (those archaic arbiters of success) or even 50,000 which only a decade ago might have been considered below the obscurity threshold. Looking at the 1517 albums that were released in 2008 and sold more than 10,000 units in 2008 we find that only 225 of them were by artists that had surpassed 10,000 for the first time in their career (either by themselves or with another band).

The vast majority of these were released by significant indies (110) or majors (103). Last Friday, I thought that only 14 of those were self released artists or artists on start up labels. Further inspection disqualified two of them. One was a gospel record whose Bishop had exceeded 10,000 in the past under a slightly different name and the other was a Soundscan placeholder for a title distributed by Anderson Wholesale, the distributor for Walmart, that showed the title “TBD.”  We had thought it was a Dutch electronic artist called Anderson but alas, nay.

Who were these valiant artists?  A quick inspections indicated that beyond Bon Iver, the real indie artist success story of 2008, there were three hip hop artists, one that had financing of $10 a unit in marketing spend to sell under 30,000 units, another associated with the big indie hip hop powerhouse Tech N9ne and the last a gospel hip hop artist.  The rest were largely alternative rock artists, two had been contestants in America’s Got Talent or American Idol and a few others were on small labels with big budgets.

What does this say about the Chris Anderson “Long Tail” promise?  Clearly the ease of making and distributing music does not benefit “breaking” music.  Breaking music requires mass exposure which requires luck or money or both. I can say with great authority that less new music is breaking now in America than any other time in history.  Technology has not helped more great music rise to the top, it has inhibited it. I know this is a bold statement but it is true.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to all of the technologists that participate in the New Music Seminar is to correct that issue so that great music can rise to its true potential regardless of politics, power or money. I believe that the next decade will bring improvement to the music web that allow that to happen. In the meantime, artists can still make a very good living without selling 10,000 albums by careful cultivation of their fan relationships. This is another theme of the New Music Seminar…redefining the music business around the artist/fan relationship…how to manage it…how to monetize it.  Records are no longer currency in the next music business…fans are.

Here’s the list of the 12 artists that sold over 10,000 albums in 2008 for the first time.  Remember these are 12 albums out of 105,575 new album releases that year.

Record Label: Jagjaguwar (US/CAN)
Album: For Emma Forever Ago            103,112

Record Label: TMI Entertainment
Album: Grindin’ For a Purpose                      29,119

Record Label: CaptainHooks, also Big Karma Records, a “Texas start up label”
Album: Cas Haley                   22,580

Record Label: SHANGRILA
Album: Neptune                           19,403

Record Label: BreakSilence Recordings
Album: Reach                            16,133

Record Label: Strange Music Inc./ DeadMan Productions Inc.
Album: Tales From the Sick                                14,929

Record Label: Brash Music
Album: Running Back To You                         14,785

Record Label: GO Aloha Entertainment
Album: Nothing To Hide                                 14,262

Record Label: Expunged Records,
Album: 3 Rounds & A Sound                                 11,281

Record Label: +1 Records
Album: Talking Through Tin Cans                       11,201

Record Label:  1320 Records
Album: PEACEBLASTER                    10,601

Record Label: Reach Records
Album:20-20                   10,003

Continue on to the 4th and final part of this series…

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