CDs still staple for country fans; streaming services took note at CMA fest


A story at Billboard about a recent effort at CMA Fest in Nashville confirmed what we’d already learned. CDs are still a staple for country fans, and probably for indie fans as well. In an effort to up their share of the market, streaming services like Amazon, Spotify, and iHeart Radio took action and had a larger presence at this year’s Country Music Association event. Crunching numbers leads to some interesting insights.

Billboard reported:

“Streaming music providers had a larger presence at this year’s festival, hoping to convert country music fans, who have been slower to adopt streaming compared with other genres.”

My experience with my daughters’ band had already led me to the conclusion that whatever we do, we have to have CDs available when they perform, and for online purchases. Even their fans in other countries like CDs. I was totally convinced of this when at a gig, Rebecca asked me if I still had a copy of Where the Dirt Runs Out of Road. I parted with my only copy because a supporter wanted one. My husband had smartly tucked another copy away in his home office. And that was the last one. We had committed to keeping that CD as a limited edition.

The Crazy Daysies aren’t alone in this regard. Yet the industry may need a wakeup call. Digital Music News reported:

“Of course, pound-for-pound, formats like vinyl records and CDs absolutely eclipse the revenue generated by streams.   Even downloads, which offer a mega-multiple over streaming revenues, are outdone by physical sales.  But so far, American and European acts have done little to maximize physical sales, at least outside of niche vinyl records.

Asian acts, primarily those from Japan and South Korea, are killing it in this category.  And, ensuring far better revenues than their Western pop counterparts.”

Even Ed Sheeran’s Divide, ranked by Nielsen as the top album of 2017, had robust traditional sales:

“Ed Sheeran’s ÷ (pronounced Divide) finishes 2017 as the most popular album of the year in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music. The data tracking company reports the title earned 2.764 million equivalent album units during the year, with 1.1 million of that sum coming from traditional album sales. A year ago, Drake’s Views was named Nielsen’s top album of 2016.

÷’s 2.764 million equivalent album units figure is a multi-metric consumption total, which includes traditional album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and on-demand audio streaming equivalent albums (SEA). The multi-metric formula is also used to compile the weekly Billboard 200 albums chart, which ranks the most popular albums of the week in the U.S.”

I think lifestyle has something to do with all this—where people listen to music and how they listen to it.  Radio is still big for us when we’re out on the deck poolside, and we are out there a lot because this is Florida. In the car, sometimes it’s Sirius, sometimes it’s traditional radio, and a lot of times, we pop CDs in. Other times, if I’m alone and fiddling with my phone, I listen via that device.

On total sales, country music, according to the Billboard article, comprised “about 13 percent of physical album sales last year but only 5.5 percent of on-demand streaming, according to Nielsen’s year-end music report.”

I don’t know if the percentage has to do with supply, demand, or both.

Brittany Schaffer, who heads up artist and label marketing for Spotify Nashville, put her finger right on the mark when she told Billboard Spotify aimed “to integrate into this culture of country music fans.”

That will take time and effort. One of our band’s best songs (in my opinion) was released as a download card. We learned something when we did that—always do a CD. I’m still hoping they’ll add that song to their next CD.

I’d add one caution to those sales figures on country albums. Country has folded pop into its offerings, so there’s no way to tell whether the percentages had to do with traditional country or the hybrid of country and pop (with some disco nuances thrown in) the corporate machine is trending towards. You might soon one day only find real country in the indie sector.

The early June festival was CMA’s 47th.

(Kay B. Day/June 19, 2018)


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