Vinyl's Big Secret
Everyone is buying, but no one listens.
No one was surprised the past two weeks when Billie Eilish’s new album landed at number one and stayed there. What did catch our attention was the fact that in its first week, 54% of the album equivalent units use by Billboard to rank the “sales” of the release were actual albums. As in, 73,000 vinyl LPs, 46,000 CDs and nearly 10,000 cassette.
How big a deal is that?
Well, even if Billie’s latest, Happier Than Ever, was only released in physical format — no streaming — it still would have been number one it’s first week. And it would have stayed in the Top 10 this past week, selling 40,000 more physical units to rank at #7, just above the re-release of George Harrison’s 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass (which moved 28,000 vinyls and CDs).
Now here’s where the math gets a bit fuzzy, but the picture gets more interesting. Imagine a world where a large majority of the Billie records sold everywhere from from Urban Outfitters to Amazon to Walmart at $30-$60 a pop were never opened. No needle on the record. No pressing play on the CD player. That appears to be the reality of today’s music market.
How do we figure? Check the math.
Happier Than Ever chalked up roughly 110,000 streaming album units its first week. That’s 25% more than the previous week’s number one album by Kid LAROI (85,000 streaming units) and Pop Smoke’s number one debut (88,000 streaming units) the week before. Is Billie 25% more popular than these two? Yes, 100%!
But if we keep going back through number one albums this summer, from Olivia Rodrigo to Tyler the Creator to Polo G, the typical streaming numbers ranged from from 80,000 on the low end to 120,000 at the top. The top is where Billie landed, as she should. But in a world where a vast majority of music listening (not music units sold) takes place on streaming, it’s pretty much impossible that an extra 129,000 people unwrapped their “collectable” Billie product in order to hear the music.
It’s been pointed out plenty of times that vinyl (and increasingly CDs) are seen as totems of fandom, as well as possibly investment vehicles for collectors, rather than the actual medium for listening to music.
The same could be said for music NFTs, which continue to sell in their current form while offering virtually no obvious benefits to the holder. That will change as blockchain smart contracts actually get smarter. In fact, the opportunity for artist to produce digital goods that fans can legitimately interact with will be a game-changer for the industry.
But if vinyl can’t offer any more utility than the act of possession itself (it can’t, can it?), then it seems like 170,000 proud owners of plastic and paper labeled Happier Than Ever really are possessed.
Live Concert Update
Last week, we got into a bit of a tizzy as when became clear that the concert industry was heading for the abyss as COVID reasserted its dominance (insert your favorite “Fall plans, Delta variant” meme here). Then, as has so often been the case in the past 18 months, the tide shifted.
First was the news that for all of the super-spreader porn it generated online, it appeared that Lollapalooza managed to go off without a spike in COVID cases thanks to the mandatory vaccination or negative test policy (with mask). Jumping on the good news, the country’s two largest promoters, AEG and Live Nations, rolled out company-wide policies that mirror Lolla. Not bad for an industry that we were afraid was prepared to hear no evil, see no evil. These policies will do a lot to get needles in arms and masks on faces in places where public appetite and government mandates for safety are lagging behind.
Credit where credit is due.
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The week’s most salient statements.
This coup for the blockchain-powered music platform could help lead us towards a Web3 future, but only if creators will work for crypto tips.
Takeaway: Like TikTok, Audius does not currently pay royalties to artists using the platform to stream music but offers a platform to engage with fans and find listeners.
The Chinese mega-corporation is selling NFTs that “reflect copyright,” but the mirror appears all fogged up.
Takeaway: Many of the NFTs on show don’t specify what rights buyers get, and one of them even appears to depict unlicensed Star Wars fan art.
The German capital is a company town. And that company is techno.
Takeaways: Work in local vaccination centers has provided a steady income for many creators and unexpected opportunities to reunite with friends and experience a different side of Berlin’s club scene.