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?


  1. Brooks & Dunn have fallen into the pattern Clint Black found himself in during the late 90’s. They still have radio hits, but no one is going out to buy their albums. The songs from “Cowboy Town” just seem generic to me. I think B & D’s heart wasn’t into this album. I hear they both are working on solo albums, so maybe the duo thing is growing stale for them.

    I am pleased to see Miranda still moving forward. Unlike B & D, Miranda’s current music is really starting to connect with people, and motivating them to buy her cd. Remember Martina McBride signature hit “Independence Day” never made the top ten, but it sure sold a lot of albums for her. Sometimes you can’t define a hit song by how far up the chart it got.

    I am not sure why, but the Plant & Krauss project seemed like such a natural pairing to me when I first hear about. I am not surprised it is selling well. I think a lot of old Zepplin fans had their curiosity peaked by this project, and they went out and bought it.

    It seems the top three selling artists in country music at present are female. Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and the female dominated Sugarland are probably the three biggest commercial stars in country music right now. I am not sure what this means for the genre as a whole, but it is nice to see some female artists up at the top.

  2. Out of curiosity, how many albums has Blake Shelton sold? As I recall, he released his album the same week as Miranda and has had bigger radio hits. I think a comparison would be interesting. (As for the pair of them, I’m glad they found each other – I love them both, and I think they push each other, not only creatively, but to think outside of the box.)

  3. One that intrigues me is that Miranda sings at all of these awards shows, but Blake doesn’t seem to. I don’t know what his album sales are, but he has had better radio success, hasn’t he? I like Blake, but prefer Miranda’s music more. It’s funny that they really don’t like much of what the other records, with the exception of “Home”, apparently. It’s probably good for keeping their egos in check.

  4. Just wondering why is says Miranda has only sold 485,600 albums. I thought she was presented with a Gold record at CMA Music Fest. Also, I thought her first album went platinum. I always read articles that say that, and I’m just wondering why the album count is different…Thanks

  5. Perhaps they were projecting that her album would be going Gold? I’m not sure about that one.

    I think Kevin was only crunching the numbers for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, not her first album.

  6. Darby, the RIAA certifies gold, platinum, etc. by the number of units shipped, and not the units sold. Over 500,000 copies of CXG have been sent out to retail stores, but 485… is the approximate number of copies sold.

    Leeann and Lynn, album sales for Blake Shelton: 341,734 as of 7/6/08. He is selling at about 5-6 thousand per week. He has better radio success, but a relative lack of hardcore fans compared to Miranda. I believe Miranda’s album will sell well far into 2008 due to her recent success.

  7. I think part of Blake’s problem is his visibility. I took a friend to his concert and she was surprised she knew all of his songs, because she had no clue who he was! However, when you hear a Miranda song, you know it’s a “Miranda Lambert song.” Maybe its her appearances on awards shows, or maybe the fact that she is doing something different (as compared to other new females).

    I must say though, out of all the concerts I’ve been to in the last year or so, Blake was the best. Small venue, awesome voice, great country songs.

  8. I actually ‘track’ some numbers weekly at Roughstock looking @ the soundscan numbers. It is interesting to note that Blake’s CD jumped a bit this week to the numbes Jonathan mentioned.

    Strait’s @ 448K this week and James Otto is selling well as he’s nearing the 250K mark with his record.

    Sadly, Montgomery Gentry is very low with their record at about 44K after 4 weeks on the charts.

  9. Can someone please tell me what’s considered to be strong sales? Does an album have to be certified gold to be considered successful or can it sell less than that?

  10. It seems the one demographic that still buys lots of music is young females from age 6 on up, and especially those who faithfully watch The Disney Channel. The huge success of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus and the High School Musical soundtracks are definitive proof of this. Taylor Swift definitely tapped into this demographic and Carrie Underwood has as well to a lesser extent. The herd/groupthink mentality of young females who all want to be doing exactly what all their friends are doing is a powerful marketing force to be reckoned with. Taylor Swift’s amazing run at the top of the country charts proves this market segment has long legs to stand on metaphorically speaking……

    If the US labels think its rough, down under in Australia a “Gold” certification only requires 35,000 units sold and Platinum is 70,000. Even at those low number thresholds very few Aussie country albums ever reach Gold status even if they spawn # 1 radio and CMC video hits. Typical retail prices equivalent to 20-25 US dollars have a lot to do with the small volumes. Also most artists likely sell a large portion of their total CD count at concerts and I’m not sure those numbers are tracked. Big success can come from the rare pop-market cross-over as when Kasey Chambers’ “Barricades and Brickwalls” went seven times platinum with total sales around 500,000 copies in a country with a total population of 20 million. Not bad at all….

  11. KC…

    To answer your question, it depends on the ‘level’ of the artist and/or label. If the album is made for a relatively modest budget (which includes marketing it too) you can have a more successful CD. Typically, this is an ‘independent’ type of artist who would have GREAT success selling ‘just’ 50-100K but if an artist is on a major label, they almost need to go platinum to even have a sniff at artist royalty checks.

    I read somewhere that Kenny Chesney never got a royalty check until he had released his Greatest Hits album.

  12. KC,

    When an artist signs to a typical label deal, they are getting LOANED the costs of recording the album. The label acts as an ‘investor’ in the artist and does what they can to ‘recoup’ that investment. So, if an album cost 200,000K to record, another 300,000k to promote and then the artist has an advance, they could actually owe the label anywhere from 500-1 million dollars. So, typically, the only way an artist ‘makes’ money is off of touring and selling merchandise.

    With the market shifting in the music business due to a variety of factors, that’s why labels are interested in “360” deals with some artists because then they get a percentage of ALL of the artist’s business. It may give the artist a bigger bonus up front but they will more than likely lose out on more in the future if they are still ‘stars’ when they sign such deals.

  13. Interesting topic and great choice of cds.

    Taylor Swift: I know she catches alot of slack cuz of her core audience, etc but I have to admit that I like her. She’s not “Disney” and the fact that she is very talented (especially for her age… and beyond many of her predecessors) helps. Yeah, both of my nieces (under 10 yrs old) love her but I find her to be a great role model… especially cuz she knows little girls look up to her.
    She’s a positive in country music and I do hope she’s around for along time. And I do hope that Music Row doesn’t burn her out as they tend to do.

    Sugarland: I love me some Sugarland! I find their music such a refreshing change from the Music Row assembly line. I love that they stay based out of Atlanta as I have been a long time fan of the whole Decatur folk scene of which they originated. Again, it makes a difference to me when an artists writes at least SOME of their own material.
    Also, like Taylor, they appreciate the fans and say what ya will but likeability reciprocated goes along way, especially with country fans.

    Krauss & Plant: Frickin’ amazing! I love Alison anyhoo and am so blown away by this pairing. The cd is so different yet so “traditional”. Again, it all goes back to being original and not underestimating country audiences.

    Miranda Lambert: Not really into her yet but am amazed that she has not received more gold or platinum at this point. Would like to hear something from her that doesn’t involve revenge. ;-)

    Brooks & Dunn: Yawn. Talk about an act that has seemingly run it’s course. I TOTALLY agree with their recent ACM award being too transparent (and undeserved IMO). Last time they got this tired and predictable they ended up releasing their version of “Missing You”. ‘Nuff said.
    Sorry but I just find them boring and predictable and all their stuff is way too formulaic anymore. I would be interested to hear Ronnie solo …. Kix, not so much as his songs in concert are literal show stoppers.
    Just saying….

  14. Interesting info Matt B, thanks. That’s good artists can still get money from touring and merchandise if an album doesn’t sell well. I can see why labels want 360 deals though since they have to put so much into creating an album.

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