Music Business

What's The Leading Cause Of Poor Record Sales?

Last week, the music world laughed up a hiccup as Lil Wayne pranced around the VMA stage in nut-suffocating, Le Tigre-inspired jeggings. While that performance affirmed that Wayne is no fashion guru, his chart performance a week later reminded us that he's very good at something else-selling records, tons of 'em.

His latest, Tha Carter IV, docked at No.1 on Billboard after moving a staggering 964,000 units in one week. That's more than double what Jay-Z and Kanye West posted on their joint effort and 9 times more than Diddy's last outing. It's the second-best opening week performance this year, behind Lady Gaga's 1.1 million outing. Call it the Jeggings Bump.

But Wayne's case is an oddity in a crippled industry. In fact, the feat stunned everyone - including Wayne himself - and had industry insiders wondering if Birdman bought extra copies of Carter IV to spike sales. The Cash Money honcho denied it. And frankly, it doesn't make sense to buy a million copies of your own album in this economy.

For most artists not named Weezy or Gaga, however, a million units will remain a fantasy. Record sales continue to plummet across the board, and labels are still trying to map out a way forward. If you're wondering why Wayne and Gaga seem to consistently buck the trend, while others continually struggle, let's establish that it's not because Weezy's latest is the nicest thing since white loaf.

When Rick Rubin took over the mantle of leadership at Columbia Records, someone asked him how to rejuvenate the music industry.

His response? Make great records. But that argument doesn't hold up when you look at Billboard charts over the last five years. The two first-week champs of 2011 - Born This Way and Carter IV - rank among the most disappointing albums of the year. With a few exceptions (Kanye West, Adele), there's no correlation between quality music and big sales.

Some argue that piracy is still the biggest catalyst for spiraling sales. Drew "Dru Ha" Friedman, co-head of revered indie label Duck Down Records, recalls a time before HulkShare and Megaupload.

"Roughly a decade ago the debate took place on whether giving your music away for free on the internet or allowing illegal downloading was healthy for artists and record labels," Dru Ha tells Rocks Off. "Working through years of declining sales, I can say with confidence that illegal downloading and the legal sites that find ways to share artist's music without payment are the direct cause for sagging music sales."

Piracy, no doubt, plays a major role, but is it still the leading factor? Tha Carter IV, for instance, leaked ahead of its street date and still scanned 964,000 in a week. If piracy isn't the culprit, then what is?

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Contact: Rizoh