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2007: Another difficult year

Country Standard Time Editorial, January 2008

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that country sales, like all music genres, witnessed a huge drop in sales - about 16 percent in 2007.

Not that there is safety in numbers, but hip hop sharply slumped to the tune of 30 percent, alternative 19, rock 12 percent and Latin almost 16 percent.

There does not appear to be much of a silver lining either as sales have been in free fall for years, the result of free downloading and some would argue high prices charged by the labels for music discouraging buyers.

Digital sales were thought to be a savior, but that never sufficiently materialized either because digital sales never covered the retail sales decline. In fact, retailers continue shutting stores, including several independent stores. You can rest assured that the big three in CD sales - Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target - aren't going to be let their shelves sit with unsold CDs for very long. They will cut their space allotted to CDs. Ditto for Barnes & Noble and Borders, which used to carry more CDs as well.

Bottom line - the music business continues to be a real mess.

Who knows how the labels, such as SonyBMG, Warner, Universal Music and the indies such as Curb, ShowDog Nashville, Yep Roc and others will respond, but 2008 could be a most difficult year for the indies who don't have a lot of catalogue to sell, which the majors can rely on for a steady stream of sales through difficult periods. Some wonder whether labels may fold or contract even further in 2008.

Despite the gloom and doom, one truism remains - that there is good, even great music out there. Who would have thought that Alison Krauss and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin would team together and then do so for a great album? Miranda Lambert and Josh Turner continue to shine. Brand new artists did not in '07, and the majors are going to be ever more reluctant to rely on newbies for sales in '08, although Taylor Swift, admittedly a rarity, had none too shabby an '07.

We've said it before, and it remains true - country, bluegrass and Americana music fans need to be supportive whether buying CDs or going to concerts to enable the music scene to survive and thrive.