You know how you've heard people say "They don't make music like they used to?" Well, apparently music consumers believe that, too. For the first time ever, consumers are buying more old music than new music. Nielsen Soundscan (formerly just Soundscan) reports that in the first half of 2012, "catalog" music releases (CD releases more than 18 months old) sold 76 million units, while newly released music sold only 73 million. This is a watershed moment: it is the first time there was such a wholesale rejection of new music in favor of older stuff.
Catalog sales were driven by strong showings of artists such as Adele (her first album 19), Queen, Guns N Roses and, especially, Whitney Houston, who re-charted several albums after her February death. And record companies, seeing the trend, are releasing long out-of-print music at tremendous rates (see Your Favorite Old Album is Coming Back...Really).
Even with the strong catalog sales, overall music sales so far this year are down by 3% from 2011, which shows just how bad things are for new releases. There was a time when literally a couple hundred gold albums were released each year. Now a gold album is a cause for extended celebration and major label artists are routinely selling 75% less than they would have just a few years ago.
Is it that the overall quality of new music is down? Is it piracy? Probably yes and yes, but that's not entirely it. I think one major factor is that the oft-ignored music fans age 35 and over who have the love of music and the money to spend simply aren't connecting with what modern, oligopoly-controlled radio is pushing. And while those who search hard can continue to find gems of new music out there off the beaten path (and we consider SoulTracks to be off the beaten path), more casual fans who rely on their car radios for music discovery have, in many cases, given up on the safe, sound-alike, inorganic new popular music dominating the airwaves and are instead spending their time and money on the familiar tunes of The Beatles and Anita Baker or are simply finding other forms of entertainment.
What do you think?
By Chris Rizik