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Record Companies Need To Work Together

By Jon Bergen
Bender Music Group

I have worked in the music business for the last 19 years, and I love it. Many of my friends work in the music business and they love it, too. We always talk about new bands we like and the state of the industry. This is our business, and we are well aware of the state it’s in – as we should be – it’s our livelihood. After the most recent widespread negative article I read, I thought, why is it that almost weekly I read about the “battered” music industry? And why is it that every soccer mom knows that CD sales are down from last year? Isn’t it odd that soccer moms know MORE about my industry than the TUNA industry, which directly affects the health of their families?

Photo: Jon Bergen, Bender Music Group

Here are some facts.

The tuna industry saw sales of “shelf-stable” tuna – in cans or pouches – drop almost 6% to $1.01 billion from 2001- 2005, according to market researchers at ACNielsen. During the same period (01-05), the volume of tuna sold sank 18% to 383 million pounds as prices climbed because of rising costs of fish and the metal of cans. In a study of American eating trends, market researcher NPD Group found that 19% of those surveyed in 2005 reported eating canned tuna at least once in the previous two weeks. That’s down from 25% in 2001. And more recently, stats say canned tuna sales fell 3.48% by unit volume for the 52 weeks ending January 27, 2008. Tuna executives attribute much of the decline to the mercury issue.

Does the average person know that the tuna fish industry is hurting because of the mercury scare?

Isn’t that health issue more important than CD sales?

Let’s review some positive things the music business has offered us recently, starting with the obvious.

America loves music and wants to buy it. If you need proof, look no further than American Idol. Every week 25-30 million people tune in to watch music. Yes, many people watch to make fun, but many of those viewers made Carrie Underwood’ album, “Some Hearts,” the third-biggest seller in 2006, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

How about this for the music show? Jordin Sparks won the sixth-season with more than 74 million votes tallied, with some 609 million votes for the season, almost 10 times as many votes President Bush received in his last election, which CNN says was 62 million.

Chris Daughtry’s self-titled debut sold more than 1 million copies after just 5 weeks of release, becoming the fastest-selling debut rock album in SoundScan history. Why do I not read that amazing stat in the press all the time?

So, the industry is in such a horrible state, yet we are breaking records in this “dismal” phase? Daughtry’s second album, “Leave This Town,” was released on July 14, 2009. With the release of this album, Daughtry made history by becoming the first American Idol alumni to have two consecutive #1 albums.

What’s the point? It’s a call to action for our industry to protect itself. How? A united front. Sony, Warner, Universal and EMI are preparing a new digital album format to include songs, lyrics, videos, liner notes and artwork called CMX. That’s good, but they need to form a coalition. This coalition of labels can hire a publicist to battle negative articles and discuss the positives of our industry. The press leads a negative war on the music business, and we must defend ourselves. Let me help this music business publicist with some ideas.

Why am I not reading articles about the success of a once very unknown Kings Of Leon? This band has developed over time and finally exploded into the mainstream on their recent fourth album, “Only By The Night.” This Nashville band is also humongous in the UK. Seems like a big deal to me when an American band has had nine top 40 hits in the UK. Why no articles about that kind of international success for an American band?

How about an article about the resiliency of the Dixie Chicks? A band that was left for dead by the press still sells CDs like hotcakes and swept the 2006 Grammys. Why aren’t there more articles about the resiliency of this group, and the staying power of their music?

Let’s spread positivity like a virus!

How about AC/DC? “Black Ice” (released in late 2008), their most recent album, sold approximately 1,762,000 units in its first week. The album went to #1 in 29 different countries. In its first week, it sold 784,000 copies in the US, receiving a three-times-platinum certification in Australia, and sold upwards of 110,000 in the UK. The album is close to ten million in worldwide sales. Does anyone know this? How come not one person has mentioned this to me? This is stunning!

How about the artist development of John Mayer? With every CD, he grows by leaps and bounds with sales, Grammy nods and critical praise.

How about Jason Mraz? Big single sales for “I’m Yours,” his albums continue to sell and he is a true developmental success story in this “crumbling” business.

In June, the Black Eyed Peas’ “The E.N.D.” entered at #1 on the Billboard 200, selling 304,000, the band’s best sales week ever. It’s also the first No. 1 album for the group. The total album sales to date in the United States are closing in on a million copies. The two singles so far (“Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling”) have spent a combined 20 consecutive weeks at #1 on the Hot 100, which is the current chart record! Bands are breaking records and no one knows!

How about the success of newer artists like Lady Gaga? “The Fame,” her debut CD, peaked at #1 in Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland, and at #4 in Australia and the United States, a worldwide sales estimate of 3 million copies. The album’s lead single, “Just Dance,” topped the charts in six countries – Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Also, her debut has sold around 1.5 million to date in the US. These kinds of sales for a new artist are impressive.

Let’s read about this weekly, or daily on

I want to read positive articles about the fact that U2 Tickets for their current North American Leg went on sale March 30, and fans broke records. With sales of more than 82,000 tickets sold in New York, 72,000 in Boston and 65,000 in Chicago, U2‘s 360° Tour set the largest single-day attendance record in each city with second shows quickly added.

The Irish band sold 6,700 tickets in 60 seconds for their gig at London’s Wembley Stadium, while all 160,000 tickets for two dates in Dublin in July sold out in 40 minutes. U2 broke sales records when the European tickets went on sale. Yes, I understand that this isn’t CD sales. Again, what I’m saying is get this positivity leaked to the press, as it’s all part of the bright side of the business that does exist.

Let’s chat about Kid Rock. His last album debuted at #1 on Billboard 200 chart, selling about 172,000 copies in its first week. It is Kid Rock’s first and only album so far to go #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. It has since been certified 3 times platinum by the RIAA and 5 million worldwide and was certified 2 times platinum in Canada and gold in Germany, Austria and Australia.

Heard of the Zac Brown band? If you haven’t, you should have. The band’s RIAA gold-certified, major label debut “The Foundation” (Atlantic Records), peaked at #11 on Billboard in early August. In addition to their their #1 platinum single “Chicken Fried” and #1 gold single “Whatever It Is,” the Zac Brown Band’s current single “Toes” is currently climbing the charts on Hot Country. These are impressive sales stats. Where’s the press on this?

I can make a very long list of newer bands that are making livings in this “plunging” industry. Just ask the SilverSun Pickups, Rise Against, MGMT, Gaslight Anthem, Slightly Stoopid and Phoenix. Where are those articles?

How about the artists Hollywood Undead and Colbie Caillat who have broken through, partially because of social networking giant MySpace? That’s a huge success for the music biz – a true positive light for the business. These social networking sites would never have existed if it weren’t for the same Internet boom that hurt music sales.

Here’s a stat that might blow your mind (it blew mine):

CD sales went up last year on CD baby. Yes, up! 2% from the year before. CD baby, the online music store that carries many independent artists, saw an increase in physical CD sales. I’m gonna say that again – an increase in CD sales! That should have been a headline everywhere! Here’s the headline we didn’t see

“Popular Music site Sees Increase In CD Sales For The Year: Music Industry On An Upswing”

The leaders in our industry need to take control. This cannot, and should not be, an every-man-for-himself mentality. Let’s neutralize negative articles with the truth. The label giants should get together, dip into their wallets, hire a corporate publicist and let the public know all the great things about our industry. No time is better than now. Start a company, with publicists, that offers an email address to all record labels. Labels and bands (signed or independent) can email their press releases and success stories to this email address, and then our publicists can go out and spread those stories to the public.

You don’t need to respond to this article reminding me of all the declines in sales, and this and that – I know these things.

I love music and so do you. Let’s keep this wonderful industry prospering, alive and healthy.

I’ll leave you with this thought:

Sales of DVDs have taken a beating, falling 13.5% for the first half of 2009.

The Digital Entertainment Group (known as DEG, a trade group), in contrast to previous reports in which they disclosed the value of the DVD sales, declined to do so this time. New forms of home entertainment such as high-definition Blu-ray discs and digital distribution over the Internet have grown but not enough to make up for the DVD slump. People can burn DVD’s, ya know? People can file-share movies also. However, I don’t read about that weekly in Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly. If If I did, I’d probably go to the movies a lot less often. I bet you many others would go less often as well. They might start believing that there is something inherently wrong with the movies if everyone else ISN’T going.

So maybe if the average reader heard good facts about the industry as often as they heard the bad, they would buy more music. It’s simple.

Please forward this article to anyone who can make a difference in this business. I look forward to hearing sweet music for years to come. We can no longer sit back and let the town crier spread panic.

The great FILTER magazine tagline is “Good Music Will Prevail.”

Let’s make sure it does.

Jon Bergen can be reached at