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Tough times for the music industry

Country Standard Time Editorial, May 2007

2007 is proving to be an extraordinarily difficult time for the music industry, country music, of course, included. CD sales are way way down - almost 20 percent from 2006. While digital sales are up, they do not come close to making up for the decline in sales of CDs.

In country music, for example, Tim McGraw's "Let It Go" was the number 1 selling album in the U.S. during its first week out in late March with 330,000 units sold. However, that was about 400,000 units less than its predecessor, "Greatest Hits Vol. 2." Bucky Covington's debut sold 61,000 units in its first week in April, not boffo numbers either.

On the country scene, fans can look forward to upcoming releases from some big name artists like Brad Paisley and Toby Keith in June, Rascal Flatts and Reba McEntire in September and Kenny Chesney sometime this fall. Releases by major acts tend to boost sales.

Even if the releases are of high quality musically (the lack of quality music has been one of the barbs lodged at record companies), there is no guarantee whatsoever that people will fork over their dollars.

The record industry can rightfully hope all it wants that sales will increase, but, while a commendable thought, there is no evidence that is in the offing.

A by-product in this catch-22 of the record industry is that with sales down, retailers are taking steps to reduce their inventory of space devoted to sales also. That apparently is the case at Best Buy, Target, Borders and others. That is particularly worrisome at Borders because they historically did a commendable job in stocking titles from independent acts. At the Best Buys and Wal-Marts (the big box stores control about two-thirds of the market), the emphasis is on CDs that will sell. That means the limited space is devoted to artists who can turn the cash register, making it even harder for independent labels releasing high quality music that will not be easily available to the masses.

The bricks and mortar end has been further hurt by the decline in record stores period with Tower closing its doors, although some locations were taken over by other existing chains.

All of this seems to bode well for on-line sales. More and more advertising of all types is flocking towards the web and away from newspapers and magazines. Yet, many people seem more interested in buying a particular song than a full-fledged release these days.

It seems clear that the record industry model is inalterably changed. People have spoken with their pocketbooks and aren't willing to shell out the big bucks record companies demanded, which probably, in turn, led to illegal downloads. And now that the genie was let out of the bottle, it may be too late.

One area that just can't be replicated are live shows. Hopefully, fans will continue supporting acts in concert along with checking out new ones because that could end up being the financial lifeline of bands.

It's hard to find a silver lining when the perception is that the sky is falling.