Two weeks ago the official album chart in the UK recorded the worst album sales since records began. Adele’s 21 went back in at number one with 15,000 sales that week, almost 15 months since it’s release, pushing her overall sales worldwide to more than 20 million. This led to cries of “change the record” and I, like many in the industry (apart from XL and Beggars Banquet, Adele’s record label), groaned at the dominance of a year-old record still making number one. That isn’t to say that 21 is a bad album and unworthy of such acclaim, far from it. Yet, not even a month ago, 15,000 album sales would not have been enough for the number one spot.
This week’s number one is shaping up to be a brand new entry (thank god) from Jack White, with his first solo album since announcing the split of The White Stripes, titled Blunderbuss. However, Blunderbuss so far has only sold a few more than 15,000, according to the midweek sales. It will probably get to over 17,000, maybe more, yet this still isn’t masses, not by a long shot.
The reason for such poor sales? There are many; poor economic climate (culture is always first to go when money is tight), the lack of any big artist releases that week, the start of the new financial year when unpaid bills come knocking at the door, and there are probably more. Maybe people just don’t really like music anymore, except that definitely isn’t it.
Figures released from the Entertainment Retailers Association, which represents music retailers and distributors across the UK, reported a boom in sales on the 21st of April, with vinyl sales up 50% the same time last year and some independent record stores reporting more than 100% increases over 2011. “Why?” I hear you ask? Because on the 21st of April it was Record Store Day 2012; an international event that celebrates independent record stores, independent and major record labels, artists on those labels, the music they make and, of course, the fans. It started in 2007 in America and is now celebrated globally, with limited edition, exclusive to that day and often incredibly inventive and unique releases. This year, for example, The Flaming Lips released a double album featuring a variety of different artists, like Chris Martin from Cold Play, Bon Iver and Ke$ha. There are only 10,000 copies made (a lot for a Record Store Day release, mind) and the lead singer Wayne Coyne claims that some were made with Ke$ha’s blood sandwiched in the middle of the vinyl. True or not, it all adds to the excitement of the day… if you wanted to buy that record that is.
Having only missed one Record Store Day in five years, because of an unfortunately timed trip abroad, I was just as excited for this one too. My friends and I made a list of all the records we wanted, because there are hundreds and it is easy to forget the exact ones you should be looking for, and set our alarms for 8am. Records stores open ridiculously early for Record Store day, most at 8am, but we just couldn’t handle any earlier than that. Needless to say, we woke up late and by the time we got down to Sister Ray in Soho it was already 9:10am and the queue was enormous, running three sides of a block (see pictures). We then made our way to Rough Trade West in Ladbroke Grove, then all the way to Rough Trade East in Liverpool Street. They both had queues and were packed out once you eventually got inside. We then ventured to Victoria Records in Dalston and by that time it was midday and our bank accounts were crying. I didn’t get everything I wanted, as is life, but I did get some of the vinyl, tapes and CDs I was after.
So maybe, just maybe, the poor album sales of the week were in fact down to music lovers saving their money for the ever increasingly, overpriced, exclusive records they wanted to buy on Saturday for Record Store Day 2012, and the aftermath. I somehow doubt that though.
It was evident to everyone who experienced Record Store Day 2012 that people still really, really love music. Of course they do. So while the independent stores and labels that participated are still counting their takings from Saturday, the big cats at the majors must be scratching their heads at the latest sets of figures. What a strange couple of weeks for the music industry.