Category Archives: Crunching the Numbers

Crunching the Numbers: July 2008, Part 4

Country music is such a male-dominated industry that there is an entire class of male artists who exist just under the radar, often scoring radio hits but rarely an instant add. They may go gold or platinum, but they don’t hang around the top of the albums chart for very long. They score nominations for Top New Male Vocalist or the Horizon Award, but they don’t get Male Vocalist nods.

Today’s entry of Crunching the Numbers takes a look at how five such men are doing with their current albums.

Gary Allan, Living Hard
Release: October 23, 2007
Sales to Date: 372,600

Of all the men who fit the description in the introduction, Gary Allan is the least deserving of the B-level status. He’s a top-notch singer who writes and selects consistently interesting material, and he’s made albums with more depth and meaning than most of the A-list males in the business. His current set is on track to become his seventh gold album, though earlier sets have cleared the platinum mark. Why he hasn’t broken through to the big leagues is a mystery to me. Give the man a Male Vocalist nomination already!

Blake Shelton, Pure BS
Release: May 1, 2007
Sales to Date: 341,700

Thanks to a re-release of this album that includes his cover of “Home”, this album is back to selling in the 6-7k range every week, and should become Shelton’s fourth gold album in as many tries. He’s a solid singer, and this is one of the best divorce albums in recent memory. But the need to tack on the Michael Bublé cover highlights Shelton’s biggest hurdle, which is that he continues to be embraced for his occasional hit songs instead of as an artist.

Chris Cagle, My LIfe’s Been a Country Song
Release: February 19, 2008
Sales to Date: 115,800

After starting off his career with two gold albums, Cagle has struggled to match that level of success with his later efforts.  His current album entered at #1 an spawned a top three single, but sales have been anemic, with the album selling less than 2k weekly.   Radio has been slow to embrace his current single, “No Love Songs”, so unless something changes soon, this album’s already near the end of its run.

Phil Vassar, Prayer of a Common Man
Release: March 11, 2008
Sales to Date: 71,400

Few artists have demonstrated the law of diminishing returns better than Phil Vassar, who has gotten less mileage out of his signature sound and lyrical themes with each release.  His first album went gold, thanks to a quartet of top ten hits.   Ever since, his albums have been good for one radio hit and have failed to reach gold.   This set is his first for Universal South, but changing labels hasn’t reversed the trend.   With the album selling less than 2k a week after only three months in stores, things aren’t looking good.

Josh Gracin, We Weren’t Crazy
Release: April 1, 2008
Sales to Date: 53,700

His gold-selling debut disc arrived in 2004, and he scored three top five hits as he became the first American idol contestant embraced by country radio.    However, a four-year gap between that set and his sophomore release may have been too long, especially with the wave of other Idol contestants that have taken up residency in country music.   Obviously, Carrie Underwood isn’t going anywhere, but I’m sure the record labels of Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington are a little nervous seeing the Gracin numbers.

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Crunching the Numbers: July 2008, Part 3

Today’s entry looks at how some new artists are faring with their albums.

James Otto, Sunset Man
Release: April 8, 2008
Sales to Date: 246,000

It’s not his first album, as his 2003 debut set sank quietly, despite a great single in “The Ball” and an opening slot for Shania Twain’s Up! tour.  But the once also-ran of the Muzik Mafia is now giving all of the other members a run for their money, as he’s moved an impressive number of units in just three months.  If he keeps up this pace, he’ll outsell the most recent albums by Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich by the end of the year.

Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
Release: April 15, 2008
Sales to Date: 173,300

They’ve already won an ACM award and have enjoyed a top ten hit with their first single, “Love Don’t Live Here.”  But even with both of those accomplishments on their side, selling 173k in three months is an impressive feat.    Like Otto, their album has stayed in the top fifteen, even as their first hit fades from the radio and a new one has yet to replace it in heavy rotation.   I actually have a sneaking suspicion the average country fan doesn’t know Lady Antebellum from Little Big Town, but that’s just me.

Luke Bryan, I’ll Stay Me
Release: August 14, 2007
Sales to Date: 166,300

Powered by his good-natured drinking hit “All My Friends Say”, Bryan sold a decent amount of records.   Second single “We Drove in Trucks” didn’t quite replicate the success of its predecessor, but he’s having more luck with the third single, “Country Man.”    I imagine that by the end of this album’s run, he’ll have enough of a solid base underneath him for his second project.

Chuck Wicks, Starting Now
Release: January 22, 2008
Sales to Date: 93,000

With one of the biggest breakthrough singles in the past year, it’s surprising to see that Chuck Wicks has sold so few units in the past six months.  Weekly sales are barely north of 1k these days.   Wicks might be the textbook example of how sales patterns have changed in the digital age.  “Stealing Cinderella” is one of those songs that ends up in weddings, embraced by people who wouldn’t normally embrace the artist.   I love Lee Ann Womack, but if “I Hope You Dance” was released today, the album of the same name would not sell three million copies.

Ashton Shepherd, Sounds So Good
Release: March 4, 2008
Sales to Date: 44,900

There was a lot of hype surrounding this album, particularly given the circumstances under which she received her recording contract and the rush recording and release of the album.   Radio support was only enough to produce a top twenty hit in “Takin’ Off This Pain”, though the title track is now at radio.   The album’s only been out for three months, so there’s still room for growth.  MCA just needs to stay strong behind the project.

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Crunching the Numbers: July 2008, Part 2

This edition looks at how the genre’s superstars are doing with their current records.

Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride
Release: October 23, 2007
Sales to Date: 2,218,000

It’s not easy following up a successful debut album, especially when it’s the top-selling country album of the decade.   But Underwood’s new set has been a strong seller, moving more than two million copies in less than nine months.  If “Just a Dream” has the impact that I suspect it will, this will be a triple platinum album by year-end.

Rascal Flatts, Still Feels Good
Release: September 25, 2007
Sales to Date: 1,994,300

They remain a wildly popular act, but despite having several radio hits from their current set, album sales have slowed to around 7k per week.   The problem may be the lack of an undeniable smash single this time around, like “What Hurts the Most” or “Bless the Broken Road.”  Selling nearly two million copies in under a year is still impressive, but this looks like it will be their lowest-selling album since their debut.

Tim McGraw, Let it Go
Release: March 27, 2007
Sales to Date: 1,419,200

His album has sold more than most artists’ current sets, but by Tim McGraw standards, it hasn’t done that well.  It’s actually his lowest-selling album since his debut disc, which wasn’t a hit.   Every other album he’s released has sold at least two million copies.  Also, radio hasn’t been as reliable as it was in the past, with “Kristofferson” being his lowest-charting single since “Two-Steppin’ Mind”, which was released before his breakthrough single “Indian Outlaw.”

Kenny Chesney, Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates
Release: September 11, 2007
Sales to Date: 1,341,400

The reigning CMA and ACM Entertainer of the Year has enjoyed 21 straight top ten hits, and radio has been especially fond of his current set, which already boasts three #1 singles.  Still, sales are a bit slower for this album than they have been for his previous collections.   If this finishes as a double-platinum album, which seems likely, it will be his lowest-selling set since 1999’s Everywhere We Go.

Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
Release: June 19, 2007
Sales to Date: 1,008,700

He’s had seven consecutive #1 singles, and four of them are on this album.   So it may be surprising to see that his current album is selling at a slower rate than his previous two sets, which were two-million sellers.   As was the case with Rascal Flatts, the dip may have to do with the lack of a huge hit.  Paisley’s last two albums had “Whiskey Lullaby” and “When I Get Where I’m Going”, respectively, each of which led to a big increase in sales.    But unlike Rascal Flatts and Tim McGraw, Paisley’s current sales are not a big drop-off from previous sets, as he’s consistently sold in the 1-2 million range since he first hit the scene.


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Crunching the Numbers: July 2008, Part 1

At the end of 2006, I of various albums released that year. With sales in the doldrums, it seems a good time to take a look at who’s doing well and who’s struggling. In each part of this series, I’ll take a look at five current albums. This seemed too interesting to be just a daily thread, so it’ll be a regular feature instead. Sales figures are rounded to the nearest hundred. Enjoy!

Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift
Release: October 24, 2006
Sales to Date: 3,139,000

It’s been out for a year and nine months, and Swift’s self-titled debut is still schooling the competition on a weekly basis. Granted, it’s only taking 28k to top the country chart these days, but when the #2 title is still selling 10k less, you’re schooling the competition. This week, Swift became the first female solo act to score five top ten hits off of a debut album. She’ll probably rule the roost until Sugarland’s new album hits.

Sugarland, Enjoy the Ride
Release: November 7, 2006
Sales to Date: 2,329,000

Speaking of Sugarland, they’re budding superstars. Even though their most recent single from this album, “Stay”, peaked months ago, they’re still in the top five of this week’s album chart. Radio has jumped on the lead single from their upcoming album, they’re winning major industry awards, and they’re the only duo that’s actually selling records these days. That they’re also making the best music of the duos out there is a nice added bonus, don’t ya think?

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
Release: October 23, 2007
Sales to Date: 1,030,000

Two artists who don’t need radio to sell records combined their audience bases to make a surprise smash hit. If there’s a lesson in this, it might be the same one that’s taught by Taylor Swift: connecting strongly with a narrow demographic reaps bigger dividends than not quite connecting with the wider general audience.

Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Release: May 1, 2007
Sales to Date: 485,600

The most critically acclaimed album of 2007 was named ACM’s Album of the Year in May, which helped make current single  “Gunpowder & Lead”  her highest charting to date. That being said, it still hasn’t cracked the top ten, making Lambert a fascinating case study. Her first album scanned nearly 900,000 units, at the same slow and steady pace as her current one is selling. Both sets have been more successful at retail than many albums that boast #1 hits.

Brooks & Dunn, Cowboy Town
Release: October 2, 2007
Sales to Date: 276,000

Then we have one of the true superstar acts of the nineties. They have a huge hit at radio right now, “Put a Girl in it”, which is on track to be a #1 single in the next couple of weeks. “Proud of the House We Built” was also a hit from this set, while “God Must Be Busy” missed the top ten. But even though they’re getting wide radio exposure, this set only sold 1,500 copies this week. We’ve all said over the years that we’d like to see an end to the B&D Vocal Duo domination at the award shows, but when they won over Sugarland at this year’s ACM’s, it was the first time their victory seemed blatantly unfair.

So what do you think about the albums featured today? Any surprises?

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Fifty vs. Kanye vs. Kenny

Entertainment Weekly has an interesting take on the brewing feud between hip-hop mega-stars 50 Cent and Kanye West:

Whose new CD will sell more when they both drop on Sept. 11, 50 Cent or Kanye West? While those two rappers continue to busy themselves trading verbal jabs over that question, a third contender is now staking his claim to that week’s hotly contested sales crown: country superstar Kenny Chesney.

”It’s funny how with every record that comes out, we’re aware of the urban [competition], and none of those acts acknowledge that I exist,” Chesney tells EW via email. ”Until I have that No. 1 debut on the Top 200.”

Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates, Chesney’s 11th studio album, goes on sale the same Tuesday morning as 50 Cent’s Curtis and Kanye West’s Graduation. Chesney’s last four studio efforts have opened atop Billboard‘s albums chart — including his most recent effort, The Road and the Radio, which beat the original soundtrack to 50 Cent’s film Get Rich or Die Tryin’ when both debuted in November 2005.

Personally, I’d be surprised if Chesney wins the first-week showdown. His latest studio album, The Road and the Radio, opened with 469,000 copies.   Kanye West sold more than 860,000 of Graduation, his last album, in the first week.  50 Cent sold 1,140,000 of The Massacre, his last studio set, in only four days.

I would, however, wager that all three artists will sell less this time around, and that Chesney will easily have the top-selling album of the three after a few weeks.   Chesney remains a core country radio act and is far less dependent on a big opening week to drive up his sales tally.   One need only to look at Shania Twain’s Come On Over and more recently Carrie Underwood’s Some Hearts for proof that a #1 pop opening isn’t everything.


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ACM Sales Bounce? Not So Much.

So I’m checking out this week’s from Hits Daily Double, and expecting to see a sales bounce among country artists who performed on the ACM show early in the tracking week. Turns out, that didn’t happen, and I have to say I’m shocked. The only performer to see a sales bounce was Taylor Swift, who rose a meager 7%. Rascal Flatts stayed flat, but everybody else so their sales drop: Carrie Underwood (-20%), Tim McGraw (-25%), Martina McBride (-48%), and Miranda Lambert (-6%) .

Presenters didn’t do any better: Blake Shelton was down 25%, and while former ACM Top Female Vocalist Gretchen Wilson opened at #1 with her new album (and #5 overall), it was with sales of 72k, a shockingly large drop-off from her first two albums, which both moved more than 200k in their opening weeks.

It looks like the ACM producers haven’t gotten the message that the Grammys learned back in 2006: Stay the hell out of the way of American Idol. Ratings were at an all-time low for this year’s ACM show, which aired opposite the Idol semi-finals, and a huge national platform for country music got lost in the shuffle. The Grammys saw their ratings bounce back big in 2007 by moving to Sunday, and the performers and winners were rewarded with .

So move the ACM to a non-Idol day of the week next year, or else everybody’s going to have to follow Taylor Swift’s lead and serenade Tim McGraw to get a minor sales boost. (And, speaking of McGraw, it’s worth noting that he chose to perform a non-album track tribute to soldiers on the show, which explains why the best performer of the night didn’t get a sales boost.)

Update: CMT has posted an article about this.


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Carrie Underwood, Dixie Chicks Claim Top Digital Country Crowns

706942_going_up.jpgAs album sales tank, the one silver lining in the industry has been the increase in digital sales. Country music consumers have been slow to adapt to the format, but as time has gone on, some of the more popular acts have begun posting some very strong digital numbers.

This week, Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” sold just under 58,000 – good enough to push it past two Rascal Flatts tracks for the top-selling country download of all-time.   Just to show how much country lags in the market:  Underwood’s track is #1 for the genre, but only #42 overall.    Also of note:  Underwood’s charity single “I’ll Stand By You”, which was only available for a few days of the tracking week, still managed to sell 124,496 downloads, making it the #2 track of all genres for the week.

I’ll be discussing retail and digital sales in relation to airplay later this week, but for now, here are the top ten digital country tracks of all-time:

  1. Before He Cheats – Carrie Underwood  (1,122,447 downloads to date)
  2. Life is a Highway – Rascal Flatts  (1,121,495)
  3. What Hurts the Most – Rascal Flatts (1,102,425)
  4. Not Ready to Make Nice – Dixie Chicks (921,555)
  5. Jesus, Take the Wheel – Carrie Underwood (919,712)
  6. Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy) – Big & Rich  (752,188)
  7. Live Like You Were Dying – Tim McGraw (639,015)
  8. Tim McGraw – Taylor Swift (540,716)
  9. My Wish – Rascal Flatts (524,666)
  10. Redneck Woman – Gretchen Wilson (497,141)

For the record, Wilson’s track comes in at #199 on the all-genre list, so that’s only ten country tracks among the top 200 digital singles to date.  Unsurprisingly, there’s little country penetration on the top digital albums chart as well, though the top country digital album to date – the Grammy-sweeping Dixie Chicks smash Taking the Long Way, is #7 overall.   Two artists that worked on that album are also in the top ten: John Mayer (#1) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (#10).  There are only five other country albums among the top 100 digital albums to date:

  1. Taking the Long Way – Dixie Chicks  (173,072)
  2. Me and My Gang – Rascal Flatts (124,036)
  3. Some Hearts – Carrie Underwood (110,537)
  4. Walk the Line – Soundtrack (71,417)
  5. 16 Biggest Hits – Johnny Cash (65,009)
  6. Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing – Keith Urban (54,584)

Much like the country audience held on to the cassette format far longer than consumers of rock, pop and hip-hop, it is going to take a while for digital sales of country acts to be more consistent with retail sales.   Will 2007 be the year it happens?


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Carrie Chasing the Century Record

Carrie Underwood sold nearly 54,000 copies of her late 2005 release Some Hearts this week, a remarkable sum for an album that’s hardly new. That sales total was good enough to land her at #18 on the pop albums chart, and #6 on the country chart. All the albums that are above her on the country chart have been released in the last two weeks, and she’s outselling newer albums by Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Dixie Chicks, Sugarland, Dierks Bentley, Gary Allan, and George Strait, among others.

In fact, Some Hearts has been so well-received by consumers that it now ranks as the second-biggest country studio album of the century. So far, Carrie’s debut CD has sold a stunning 5,209,148 copies. The only studio album to sell more units this century is Home, by Dixie Chicks, which has moved 5, 916,559 units to date.

Can Carrie close that 700k+ gap and have the top-selling country album of the century?

If you’d asked me six months ago, I’d have said no, but now I think it’s an inevitability. The reason? “Before He Cheats.” The song revitalized the project at retail when it became a country smash, and now it’s become Carrie’s first crossover hit, soaring up the Mainstream Top 40 and Adult Top 40 radio charts. She didn’t even remix the song to get the crossover spins; it’s being played in its original form.

Add on the massive exposure she’s gotten from her Grammy wins, her probable domination at this year’s ACM Awards, plus her new #1 country hit “Wasted”, and it’s easy to imagine her selling more than six million units of her debut CD, maybe even by the end of 2007. That would place it as the top-selling country album of the century, and also make it the top-selling American Idol-related project; currently, Underwood’s debut trails Kelly Clarkson’s sophomore effort Breakaway, which has sold more than 5.7 million units to date.

Bright as the future is for Underwood, one record that looks way out of reach for her is top-selling country album of all-time. Currently, that record is held comfortably by Shania Twain, who has the top-selling album of any genre of the SoundScan era: Come On Over. As of this week, it has scanned 15,420,945 units.


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Carrie Underwood Joins the Five Million Club

The Five Million Club has a

13&ei=iOumRbW5NabKswGw8aieDQ&url=http%3A//″>new member

this year, and it’s only the first month of 2007. , Carrie Underwood has broken a record along the way, reaching that plateau faster than any female debut artist in history. Given that she’s only the third female debut artist to sell 5x platinum in the first place, it may not seem that impressive. But think about this: the last time an artist sold 5 million copies of their breakthrough album so quickly, she went by the name Shania Twain.

When discussing the relative strength or weakness of country music at any given time, record sales are always a key barometer for how well the genre is doing. During the boom years (1991-1997), even b-list stars like Tracy Lawrence, BlackHawk and Tracy Byrd would occasionally go multi-platinum. But even during the gold rush, there was rarefied air that few artists ever experienced: selling five million copies of a studio album.

To put this in perspective, there are major stars – legends, even – that have yet to reach the 5-million mark for an album of new material. Some have come close; artists that have peaked at 4 million include Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and John Michael Montgomery. Huge stars that have currently topped out at 3 million include Dwight Yoakam, Clint Black, Keith Urban, Travis Tritt and Martina McBride.

The life cycle of a studio album is usually 1-2 years, and can span anywhere from 2-8 singles, depending on how quickly radio can turn over the hits. An album selling four million copies has penetrated the country market almost completely; to sell more requires a breakthrough of popularity that has pretty much guaranteed permanent success, with only two glaring exceptions in country music history. Here, then, are the members of the Five Million Club, those few artists who managed to sell five million copies or more of a studio album.

The Five Million Club

Carrie Underwood
Member Since 2007

Album: Some Hearts (5 million)

Between the sales records she’s been breaking and all of the award shows she’s been nominated at, even I’m getting tired of seeing this album cover on my blog. What can be said? I was watching “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” on GAC a few minutes ago, and I realized how safe and girl-next-door she was launched as, a perfect fit for the Idol winner. Then, album sales shot right back through the roof as “Before He Cheats” went against expectations and toughened up her image. If it had been the lead single from her second album, she’d be accused of trying too hard to shake the goody-two-shoes image; by including it on her debut, she established herself as versatile from the start. I can see this woman posting Shania numbers if her next album is as solid as this one.

Gretchen Wilson
Member Since 2006

Album: Here For the Party (5 million)

Nobody can accuse Wilson of not being a major player on the Row. The mega-success of her debut album held off the inevitable Sony-BMG merger. The disappointing sales of its follow-up ensured it would come to pass. Still, she was the first artist to break through to the five-million sales level in six years, which was no small feat in itself.

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Surprise Hits & Misses of 2006

2006 was a year of surprises on the charts, with some new albums wildly exceeding expectations. Here are some particularly successful projects that weren’t expected to do so well, along with some unexpected misses that are performing below expectations.

Surprise Hits

Josh Turner, Your Man

Release: January 24, 2006
Sales to Date: 1,522,015

Turner seemed to have “one-hit wonder” written all over him when his religious-themed sleeper hit “Long Black Train” powered the album of the same name to platinum status. Radio had never embraced him, despite those sales, and expectations were low for the follow-up album. Turner beat the odds by playing against type, and returning with a smooth love song that topped the singles chart. He’s now one of the genre’s hottest stars.

Alan Jackson, Precious Memories

Release: February 28, 2006
Sales to Date: 1,171,598

This collection of Sunday School songs that he recorded for his Mom as a present was quietly released, and went on to outsell nearly all of his recent studio albums – all of them without a certain 9/11 anthem – despite no radio play. It’s even been outselling his more recent studio album, Like Red On a Rose, for the last few weeks. Those two projects garnered Jackson three Grammy nominations, and have shown him to be a lot more versatile than he’s generally been given credit for.

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