Usher: Are Diminishing Sales a Sign of the Digital Age?
As I sat down to write an article about Usher, there were a few different angles I was considering for the story. Maybe I would talk about this “Revolutionary Pop” genre that he was trying to coin. Maybe I would touch on the ability to strike lightening twice, as all the records I'd been hearing from his new project put me in the frame of mind reminiscent of his Confessions album. Looking over his sales figures and the timeline of his personal life, there was always the marriage factor. Seeing as how women make up the majority of music purchases and radio listenership, it begs the question “Does marital status affect an artist’s sales?” Would he possibly see a bump in sales now that he is once again “attainable” by his female audience?
No doubt there were a lot of story angles swirling around in my head and as I always do before writing the cover story, I sat down to organize my thoughts by listening to the artist’s music. I didn’t feel like opening iTunes since I already had so many programs running (7 Chrome Tabs, InDesign, Photoshop, Word, Excel and a couple others). Instead, I jumped over to Amazon.com to purchase the CD for my CloudDrive. After updating my credit card information, and a quick 1-Click purchase, I got a confirmation page and a PayPal receipt in my inbox. What I didn’t get… was THE ALBUM. Instead, I received a link to download/listen to it that only lead me to an empty queue in my cloud drive. After over an hour of waiting, logging in and out, contacting technical support and pouring through Amazon’s FAQs, I finally broke down and went to the nearest torrent site to download the album (For FREE) and was listening to it in less than 15 minutes.
Now once again looking over the sales figures, while finally listening to the CD, a question popped into my head, “How does an artist like Usher go from selling 20 Million CDs worldwide to topping out at just 1.3 Million copies domestically for his two subsequent releases?”
Sure, it could easily be blamed on illegal downloads but when there are still people, such as I, who don’t mind buying good music, there has to be more to the equation. One factor could be the additional layers of complexity that the industry adds to legal purchases in an effort to regulate music consumption (Copy protected CDs, DRM file formats, etc). Another could be the artist’s public image. While it’s true that we sell music for a living the real product is actually the artist. It could definitely be argued that Usher saw a significant drop in support from his core female audience after his 2008 marriage.
Whatever the reasons are, Usher has consistently debuted at #1 regardless of his diminishing first week sales and has continued to release single after single that chart on the Billboard Hot 100. But can we argue that lowered sales figures are merely a sign of this digital age when Adele’s sophomore album has sold over 22 Million copies in the past 18 months. Are diminishing sales in urban music a sign of the times or is the internet being increasingly used as an excuse for lack of artist development, poorly promoted projects and the waining of careers. What are your thoughts?
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