For the first time since 2004, recorded music sales have posted a gain. According to Neilson Soundscan’s mid-year report, total album sales are up 1 percent, compared to the first half of 2010, at 155.5 million units, physical and digital. Overall music sales, which includes singles, music videos and albums, downloads and physical media, were up 8.5 percent in terms of unit sales.
Downloaded album sales were up 19 percent for the period. Downloaded singles were up 11 percent. CD sales were down in single digit percentages for the period—the first time declines have been out of double digits for years (and actually posting a minor gain for Q2, 2011).
After years of reporting negative media sales trends in this space, it’s good to have some positive news to share. I don’t believe we should read too much into a single positive report— it’s far too soon to declare a turnaround or a portent of renewed good times to come, but it is heartening, nonetheless. The battle to convince consumers that music isn’t free, that artists and content creators deserve compensation by those who enjoy their artistic expression is hardly won. More likely, the vehicles for music commerce have achieved some point of convenience and value that are having an impact on music sales, or perhaps we’ve just reached the bottom of the fall. Some leveling out of the trends, some consistency (besides consistently moving downward) would be welcome.
For the past couple of years, as Pro Sound News has reached out to audio professionals to try and gauge the State of the Industry, we’ve remarked that we’ve been in a position of treading water, of staying afloat, stabilizing our individual situations. Some have made forward progress towards solid ground through strength and ability, or by learning new strokes. Versatility, flexibility, adaptability, diversification—these have been common themes in the success stories we’ve shared in the past year, alongside the perennial themes of quality and reliability, be that in physical products or in personal work produced.
The boom years are long past, surely never to return at least in their previous form. The infrastructure— social, technological and business— has changed forever. What we build now will be on a new foundation. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a number of audio students in the past year. It’s always refreshing to see their (perhaps naïve) enthusiasm and their passion for plunging into the audio arts. There is some tentativeness to this enthusiasm. Today’s students can’t quite plot out a path to success based on tradition, as the traditions are now more a history lesson than a description of how things work. They want to know what the music industry that they hope to join will look like in years to come. I certainly can’t answer that question.
I can tell them part of what the foundation for the future will be: We’ve torn down barriers. We’ve brought down tyrannical overlords. We’ve given them a legacy of powerful and ever more inexpensive tools. We’ve given them a substantial foundation of knowledge in the practice of the audio arts. We have and will continue to share our skills and experiences. And now, as we bridge the gap to an uncertain future by adapting our experiences and talents to a rapidly changing world, we look to the professionals of tomorrow for the fresh thinking and new ideas that will shape the audio industry to come. An uncertain future? Yes. But the potential is there for exciting times ahead. I look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.