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January 16, 1997 - Image 17

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1997-01-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

14B The 4thgan Daily Weekenie- Thursday, Janua 16, 1997

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RECORD SALES LAG
Industry looks for rebound in '97

The Washington Post
The record industry finished 1996
with flat sales, the second stagnant year
in a row. Only a Christmas surge avoid-
ed what some had predicted would be
the first downturn in a decade.
According to SoundScan, which
monitorscJ .S. record sales, the year
totaled 616.6 million copies - up a
minuscule 300,000 from 1995. The pal-
try increase - less than 1 percent -
rekindles worries about the health of the
industry, whose sales have stalled at the
$12 billion mark.
This is a far cry from the double-digit
annual increases of the early '90s,
where sales were fueled by the
changeover to compact discs. That
gravy train had to pull into the station
sometime, and catalogue sales of older
material went into a precipitous decline

for all but the Beatles - the biggest-
selling band of 1996 had its best-ever
year, selling 20 million records a quar-
ter century after breaking up.
The music industry's flat-lining has
been felt by music retailers, who
expanded rapidly - some suggest too
rapidly - during the nine-year boom
that ended in 1994. During that period,
record industry revenues tripled to $12
billion a year from $4 billion a year.
In the past 18 months, three major
music chains filed for protection in
bankruptcy court, and Blockbuster
Music closed 50 stores. Hundreds of
smaller chains and stores went out of
business, many hurt by price wars
waged by appliance chains. The clos-
ings reduced shelf space, which hurt
record labels.
Part of the problem: too many

University Musical Society

records. Last year, more than 20,000
new albums were released. Of those,
only 0.05 percent sold more than
250,000 copies, generally accepted as
the break-even point. The majority of
new albums came from independent
labels, where lower overhead lowers the
break-even point. But there clearly is a
glut on the market. Many major labels
didn't wait until after Christmas to start
trimming both staff and artist rosters. It
was reminiscent of the last great indus-
try fallout in the late '70s.
Michael Jackson's 1990 deal with
Sony for $50 million was the first
example of the kind of cross-pollination
that was supposed to result from the
media company merger of Sony with
CBS and Columbia Pictures. But there
have been no Jackson movies, TV
shows or software, and "HIStory,"
:eleased to great fanfare with a $20 mil-
lion ad campaign, has sold only 3 mil-
lion copies in 17 months.
Early last year, sister Janet Jackson
signed a $70-million deal with Virgin,
but a greatest-hits package sold only
500,000 copies. In 1996, both George
Michael and the Artist Formerly Known
as Prince got out of what they called
onerous multimillion-dollar contracts.
They stopped calling themselves
"slaves," but nobody seemed to care
one way or the other and their subse-
quent albums stiffed.
In August, R.E.M. re-signed with
their record company for a reported $80
million, but the subsequent album,
"New Adventures in Hi-Fi," has sold
only a little more than 800,000 copies.
R.E.M. wasn't the only multi-plat-
inum act failing to meet industry expec-
tations. Sheryl Crow, Sting, Counting
Crows and the Cranberries fell short,
too. Pearl Jam sold 1.1 million copies of
"No Code," compared with 8 million
for its predecessor. Hootie & the
Blowfish's "Fairweather Johnson"
topped 2 million - a sixth of their
debut album's sales.
Even country music, which experi-
enced explosive, Garth Brooks-fueled
growth in the first half of the '90s
(going from $735 million in sales in
1990 to $2 billion in 1995), stubbed its

Michael Jackson's "HiStory" sold poorly this year, despite a massive ad campaign.

boot with a 10-percent sales slump. And
while country radio remains the nation's
most popular format, its audience was
down 20 percent compared with 1993.
It's even worse at MTV, and folks are
wondering if any artists will emerge to
lift the music
business out of
its doldrums.
That can be a Part of t
double-edged6
sword, commer-s
cially and artisti- records.
cally. After all,
the 1995 and more th
1996 year-end m r h
totals would be albums t
significantly
lower were it not released
for Hootie & the
Blowfish in
1995 and Alanis Morissette last year -
that's close to 30 million records right
there. Ironically, Morissette vastly out-
sold her label boss Madonna through all
of 1996, 100,000 albums on average per
week - a career's worth for 80 percent

of the acts releasing albums last year.
If critics seem able to spot the
burnouts - alternative rock, gangsta
rap - they're decidedly less sure about
what will light up this year.

The retro-soul
,he
too many
Last year
in 20,000
were

movement led by
D' A n g e lo,
Maxwell, Tony
Rich and Tony
Toni Tone has
sparked huge
sales for anyone
but Babyface.
Despite the suc-
cess of No
Doubt and
Goldfinger, ska
seems an unlike-

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Hootle and the Blowfish (top) didn't
tom) sprouted success in 1996 with
Ann Arbors
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ly savior. The
British club
music jungle,
the rage in England, will never provoke
much jingle at stateside cash registers.
MTV is putting its muscle behind
techno, ambient, trip-hop electronica.
Unfortunately, such music begs for a
live communal experience and doesn't
translate well to shorter, impersonal for-
mats such as radio or television. While
some of electronica's videos have been
brilliant, it will need marketable person-
alities to drive music sales, and acts
such as Moby, Aphex Twin, Orbital and
Prodigy don't fit that bill. U2, however,
seems ready to jump on the dance
music bandwagon with the early March
release of "Pop." The Irish band has
shifted directions before, but this could
cost it its hard-core audience.
"Pop," incidentally, is one of the few
big albums scheduled for release in the
first quarter of 1997. Other big groups
bringing albums early in the year
include Aerosmith, Live, Mary J. Blige,
the Offspring and David Bowie.
Maybe the next Hootie, or preferably
the next Alanis, will pop out of the
woodwork as well. The music industry
hopes so.

MUSIC 1996
Continued from Page 3B
his newest album "Odelay," which suc-
cessfully blends styles ranging from
blues to rap, with a little of everything
in between. His popularity should be
no surprise when one considers that his
music has been likened to "channel
surfing." In an age of Beavis and
Butthead, what more could alternative
listeners ask for?
Perhaps the most extraordinary
trend in 1996 was the sudden upsurge
in techno music. Jungle, trip-hop,
drum-n-bass and all of techno's other
subsidiaries gained much commer-
cial success with bands like Prodigy
and the Chemical Brothers. MTV has
even relinquished an hour of time
from its busy game-show schedule to
work in some late-night techno
videos on "Amp." In 1997, one can

surely look forward to the continued
achievements within this genre as
long as Tricky and Goldie can keep
from fighting over Icelandic vixen
Bjork.
In the world of rap and hip hop,
New York's Fugees stole the show
with an album that took over all the
airwaves, be they alternative, Top 40
or nearly anything else. But, even
though their remakes were popular,
it's the raw talent and originality of
bands like The Roots that really
deserve respect. While further elec-
tronic sampling may be in our future,
a human beat box who can mix with-
out any equipment is the more incred-
ible skill.
Overall, 1996 was quite a year. As
Bret Michaels of Poison once said,
"There are 'A' bands, 'B' bands, 'C'
bands and so on." While Poison may
have been an A band, subsequent acts
such as Skid Row and Warrant slow-

ly made their way down to C and D.
Sometimes it takes an entirely new
artist to start the cycle all over again.
After glam metal, it was Nirvana and
Pearl Jam. Now, as we start a new
year, there are C bands like Bush and
Silverchair abounding. Maybe 1997
will be the year for a new cycle.
Someone to do something totally dif-
ferent and new. And I predict it won't
be Hootie.

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