Jan 24, 2011
A childhood friend of mine, Xan McCurdy, is the guitar player the popular alt rock band Cake. Perhaps, you remember them from a their older hits, Never There or The Distance?
Obviously, you can imagine my excitement (and surprise) when a mutual friend of ours posted on Facebook that the band’s latest album, Showroom of Compassion, debuted No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Ousting Tyler Swift.
I thought, “I wonder how many albums you need to sell to climb to number one”, so searched the interwebs for the answer.
That’s the lowest amount of album sales to ever send an album to No. 1 on Billboard charts in the history of Nielsen SoundScan (which began tracking sales in 1991). Funny enough, the 44K just beat the previous low of 52K, set only the week prior by, yep, Taylor Swift.
Note: Both have more then a long way reach Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which sold somewhere between 70 and 110 million copies.
All of this is yet more indications of the seismic shifts we’ve been witnessing regarding media consumption in the digital age – and, well past the canary in the coalmine for the gasping music industry.
What is abundantly clear is that the CD, and the concept of ‘the album’, are all but dead. Today, it’s all about à la carte song purchases, singles, with digital distribution. Ironically, this is a bit of a return to the good ol’ days, when radio hit records were all singles, and everyone bought those vinyl 45s. I do miss the b-sides (at least now we have Jack White’s Triple-Decker Vinyl).
That said, I would venture to guess that more music is being consumed then ever before – both legally and illegally. In fact, it’s not clear that Gen Z kids even care about ‘owning’ music (if they can listen to it on demand).
What’s so frustrating is that the music industry just hasn’t figured anything out.
If today’s ‘baby bands’ are finding an audience, it’s pretty much on their own. Some in fact have gotten extremely adept at using the social web to find, engage and transact directly with their fan base.
While MySpace is DOA, there is a glimmer of hope. Burgeoning online music discovery services such as Hype Machine, Grooveshark and Pandora are making inroads. And others like We Are Hunted and The Sixty One are offering a fresh alternative.
But back to Cake… As of right now, they have the No. 1 album in America. That’s pretty freakin’ rad. And what’s more, they self-produced the album and recorded the whole thing their own solar-powered recording studio in Sacramento.