Warning: Mathematics Ahead

On vacation last week, I read Dirty Little Secrets of the Music Business: Why So Much Music You Hear Sucks by Hank Bordowitz. I could blog on it from now until St. Swithin’s Day, but I’ll talk about just one bit of it instead. Bordowitz quotes research from Ed Christman at Billboard, who likes to figure out just what percentage of the music released in a typical year actually sells. He uses data from SoundScan, which ticks off a number every time a CD is scanned at the register, like the odometer in your car. In 2005, over 60,000 new albums were released. These new releases accounted for 243.1 million of the 618 million albums sold that year. But of those 60,000 releases:

32 sold a million copies or more
62 sold between a half-million and a million
103 sold between a quarter and a half-million
213 sold a minimum of 100,000 but not more than a quarter-million

That’s 410 albums accounting for 169.2 million copies sold. The math works out like this: That year, 0.7 percent of new releases accounted for 70 percent of new-release sales that year, and 27 percent of everything the record industry sold. These numbers help explain why there’s so little innovation among the major labels—why the flavor du jour tends to get recycled until it’s like homeopathic soup. In other words, why so much of the music you hear sucks. In his book, Bordowitz explores the meaning of these numbers in greater detail, along with plenty of other interesting topics. (Fans of this blog are likely to be quite interested in the section titled “The Messy Suicide of Commercial Radio.”) Casual listener or music junkie, you’ll find something in the book that interests you.

If there’s any justice in the world, the new album by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, This Is Somewhere, will become one of the million-sellers of 2007. Today is the album’s official release date. Thanks to the people at Situation Rocks, I got my copy a couple of weeks ago, and I’m recommending that you get yours any way you can, even if it means spending the baby’s milk money. As good as Nothing But the Water was, This Is Somewhere is better—better singin’, better playin’, better songs. To quote our friend Homercat (who first turned me on to Grace in 2006), “That voice slays me, and I have never heard a Hammond B3 sound so damn sexy.”

I don’t know if the Grace Potter album is going to be available on vinyl. Certain new releases are still released and/or available in the mother format, but not many: The dollar value of all the vinyl singles and albums shipped in 2006 was about 37.5 million, according to the RIAA. That’s something like 0.4 percent of all the music sold, down by almost half over the 2005 figures. Vinyl may be growing scarce in the marketplace, but it’s still important—the vast majority of the music made in the 20th century is, after all, unavailable on CD, only in vinyl versions. This coming weekend, as you may know already, a number of music blogs (including this one) are banding together to celebrate Vinyl Record Day. The day is officially Sunday, which will be the 130th anniversary of Edison’s invention of the phonograph. Blogs planning to participate are:

AM, Then FM
The “B” Side (just added)
Echoes in the Wind
Flea Market Funk
Fufu Stew
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Got the Fever
Ickmusic (a new addition to the list)
In Dangerous Rhythm (also new to the list)
It’s Great Shakes (new, too)
Lost in the 80s
Py Korry
Retro Remixes
The Snack Bar (new, too)
The Stepfather of Soul
(just added)
Underground Vault of Records, Music, and All Kinds of Stuff (yep, new)
You Must Be From Away
(just added, too)

I’ll have my post up on Friday; some of the other posts may also appear that day, or Saturday, or Sunday. If you’d like to participate at your site, there’s still time. You don’t have to be a music blogger who posts tracks. You can be just a regular person with a website who is interested in the preservation and celebration of vinyl as a music medium. E-mail me at jbemail229-blog at yahoo dot com.

Ah Mary/Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (This is the single from the new album; although it’s been widely posted around the web lately, I’m liking it better the more I hear it, so listen already. Then buy the album at the link above.)


2 responses

  1. OK, I need to go get my hands on the Bordowitz book right away – it sounds like an awesome read.

  2. Two great recommendations in one day. Fantastic. Thanks!

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