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.


  1. Kevin: It seems to me that the artists above (Tim McGraw excluded) have all been inescapable within the last 2-3 years on country radio. While I’d attribute some of the sales dropoff to the “Internet age” we are living in, I have to admit that I would be less likely, as a casual fan, to buy the record if I could hear its 4-5 singles in constant rotation (even recurrent singles) every day.

  2. I agree with B. Jonathan. Even though the songs that are not released as singles by my favorite artists tend to be my favorites, I have never bought a single CD by any of the above artists because you hear them on the radio all the time. And I never feel like I’m missing out. Especially these days, where you can listen to the entire album on YouTube or iLike or Rhapsody if you wanted to without having to buy it.

    I don’t feel bad for the above artists (whose sales are down) because they make the majority of their money touring (which hasn’t taken a hit), but the sales figures do not seem to bode well for new artists…

  3. I have a feeling Tim McGraw will start to see a decline in his sales. It won’t drastic; more like George Strait and Alan Jackson are doing now. After you have been around a while; you start to not be the “it” artist. You start relying on that core group of fans who will always buy your albums. Once and a while you get a big hit that spikes album sales, but mostly you just release albums for your committed fans go out and buy.

    Luckily for Tim, like George and Alan, he has a large core fan base. Most artists are not that lucky.

    I also feel Kenny Chesney will be headed same direction Tim is sooner rather than later.

    I thought Brad Paisley would be doing better. He is supposed in the prime of his commercial appeal. He is getting all his songs to #1. He is winning some major awards. He is getting great press coverage. However, he is no near Carrie Underwood, Sugarland, and Taylor Swift when it comes to sales.

    Kevin is correct in saying these are numbers are near what Brad normally does, but I would have expected Brad to step it up a notch or two.

    I wonder if we are not headed toward a time period where female artists have the upper hand commercially. Carrie, Taylor, and Sugarland really do look like the top sellers in country music right now. George, Alan, Garth, Keith, Toby, Kenny, Brad, B & D, and R.F. just don’t see to be selling at the same pace. I keep wondering where the next new male superstar is. I don’t see him though I do like Josh Turner and James Otto and think they have some potential.

  4. I, too, am surprised by Brad Paisley’s sales. I guessed that with his current success, he would have sold more albums. I don’t think Fifth Gear is one of his better albums though.

    I think B Jonathan makes a good point about artist overload. If you can hear these artists for free all of the time, why pay money for it? Then again, you can hear Taylor, Carrie and Sugarland quite a bit and their sales seem to be doing fine in comparison to today’s declined record sales. Furthermore, if there is an artist that I like, I will more than likely buy the album, even if I hear him/her a lot. I’m addicted to buying music though, so I’m not always as discriminating/selective as I could be, which has admittedly resulted in some buyer’s remorse.

  5. I agree with basically all of those statements. I’m surprised Brad’s sales level hasn’t increased as well, but I’d have to attribute that to his lack of “crossover” appeal. The top men always seem to sell (and tour) consistently within the country realm, but the women (Carrie, Taylor, etc. now; Shania, the Chicks, etc. then) seem to break out of the box and cater to a broader scope, causing greater album purchases from the mainstream audience.

  6. With Rascal Flatts current single, I don’t see how that group will last much longer. I know I am probably wrong about this, but Bob That Head seems like it would ruin the career of any artist who dared to record it.

  7. Crossover appeal certainly would describe Taylor Swift’s success. I am aware of a lot of teenyboppers who have bought her album who don’t otherwise listen to country music at all. Most of these may buy subsequent Taylor Swift product but probably won’t sample other country artists very much.

    Country music’s appeal is very strong amoung the blue collar population and that has been the segment most effected by the current sluggish economy. While sales are down across all segments of the population, this group has been severely affected.

    Jonathan at MTCM’s point is well taken – at some point you just aren’t the “It” artist anymore and you are releasing albums for the core fans. The core always shrinks eventually as some of your fans dies off. George Strait has many fans in the 65+ age group – he is one of the few contemporary charting artists who can appeal to that group – but it is a group that will start thinning out rapidly before long

  8. “Country music’s appeal is very strong amoung the blue collar population and that has been the segment most effected by the current sluggish economy. While
    sales are down across all segments of the population, this group has been severely affected.”

    Paul, I think your assessment is probably most accurate. At least I hope so, because it means there’s hope for improvement with an improved economy.

  9. clearly, the girls are back in town. jennifer nettles/sugarland, carry underwood, taylor swift, miranda lambert, kelly pickler and ashton shepherd (twang has never come along on longer legs) still have a great deal of potential untapped and are still in the early phase of their potential career life-cycle. they are a tremendously interesting bunch of young artists with substantial pulling-power.

    the top male artists, however, are mostly beyond their commercial peak, or rather sluggish starters (turner, nicols, atkins, allan) or even worse fall into the owen-aldean-cagle-etc. class. this simply means that it takes a whole new generation to really rock the boat in terms of sales figures. meanwhile, the “veterans” plus paisley and bentley will have to hold the fort under increasingly deteriorating economic conditions.

  10. First of all… “YAAAYYY!!” to Carrie for ruling this group.

    IMHO, I am a bigger fan of the female acts because I find their music basically says more and is just better musically and lyrically.
    The guys are just too interchangeable. George, Alan, Kenny, Tim, Brad, Trace, even Brooks & Dunn … whoever…. are overall too much of the same hat & guitar act.

    Re: Rascal Flatts…. PLEASE. Let’s hope that train is finally pulling into the station.

    All this said… Take note during the upcoming Awards season where: a.) No women will be nominated for the major awards, ie. album or performer.
    Sugarland and Miranda Lambert’s wins will be considered “flukes” and must promptly be corrected by a Music Row trying to sell more of the guy’s music.
    And b.) Brooks & Dunn will win “Duo” again. (yawn!)

  11. The fact I don’t give a rip about any of these top selling artists means I will not make any relevant comments about Big Country. These artists keep cranking out the same old same old and their legions of loyal fans scoop their albums up in comparable quantities without any consideration as to the quality of the music contained therein. Its a good gig if you can pull it off, but that takes Top 40 Airhead Country Radio keeping the artist in heavy rotation and the Top 10 on a regular basis.

    On the other hand its interesting to compare our sales quantity perceptions to those in Canada. Here is an excerpt from a Billboard /Reuters article on Crystal Shawanda by Ken Tucker:

    “Signed to Sony BMG Nashville’s RCA label, Shawanda is being promoted on both sides of the border. Her album has sold 2,100 units since its June 24 Canadian release, after debuting at No. 39 on the Nielsen SoundScan Top Albums chart in Canada and at No. 2 on the SoundScan Top Country Albums chart in that country.”

    Wow, 2100 units get you into the # 2 position on the Canadian country album sales charts! No wonder these artists head for Nashville if they want to do such exotic things as eating, paying rent, and buying gasoline…..

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