It is no secret that we are elbows-deep in the digital age. Modern society demands we stay connected and utilize technology at all times. We can watch television on our smart phones, video chat with friends or colleagues hundreds of miles apart and access an unprecedented amount of information at any time we please. It should come as no surprise then that our ability to enjoy music follows the same set of guidelines.
The music industry today, however, is lagging far behind, although some signs would suggest otherwise. The Recording Industry Association of America recently released the total industry sales numbers for 2010, and statistics show the music industry is doing its best to penetrate the digital world of music. In 2010, digital music sales made up 47 percent of the total market share. Nearly half of all albums and singles sold in the United States were bought online through music-giants like iTunes and Amazon — a staggering number, considering digital music made up only 9 percent of the market in 2005.
Recent sales from the most popular artists we listen to today also suggest that the music industry is turning back in the right direction. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is one of few albums recently to move more than a million copies in its first week. Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” made a dent in the charts as well, selling about a half a million copies in its first week. Lil’ Wayne’s newest album, “Tha Carter IV,” is on pace to sell over 750,000 copies in its first week. As promising as these numbers are, they are a far cry from what the recording industry used to enjoy for its blockbuster albums.
In 2000, the industry experienced once of its most successful years on record. In March, pop super band N’Sync released their smash hit “No Strings Attached” and set the record for the fastest selling album of all-time, shipping 2.4 million in its first week. Just two months later, Eminem reached a similar milestone with “The Marshall Mathers LP,” which sold 1.7 million copies in its first week — the fastest selling solo album of all time. A current superstar seeing these kinds of numbers would be astonishing.
Artists also saw a drop in concert revenue in 2010, down 12 percent from the numbers posted in 2009, according to the Performing Rights Society. The PRS was quick to place blame on the lack of major tours in 2010 — the Rolling Stones did not play, for example, as it had set records for tour revenue in its most recent run. But perhaps the biggest culprit is that big acts are simply not selling as many tickets. Popular artists such as Kings of Leon and Rod Stewart had to downgrade to playing in arenas versus much larger stadium venues. Add that to the resale mess that promoters like Ticketmaster are fighting against popular sites such as StubHub and even eBay, and the music industry suffers.
Overall, despite the surge of digital music sales, the music industry as a whole is suffering just as much now as it was four or five years ago. People just aren’t compelled to go out and by albums anymore. Sales of physical copies of albums were down a staggering 20 percent from 2009. And the digital surge only made up for about 9 percent of the loss — music sales overall are down 11 percent. It is evident that the digital music industry simply can’t keep up with the shift we are seeing in the music marketplace.