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"I will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor
January 25, 2007 9:29 AM   Subscribe

As MIDEM - arguably the world's most important music conference - gets under way this week in Cannes, an ominous milestone has been reached here in the United States. Last week, the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack registered the lowest record sales for a No. 1 album since Nielsen Soundscan began tracking data. This week, the soundtrack's sales dropped 9%, but it has managed to hold on to the top spot with a paltry 60,000 units sold. (So, What song was No. 1 on Billboard the day you were born?)
posted by phaedon (29 comments total)

 
I was born in between Ruby Tuesday and Penny Lane. Though, really, I doesn't matter a whit what song was number one when you born. It's what song was playing when you were conceived that matters.
posted by psmealey at 9:51 AM on January 25, 2007


an ominous milestone has been reached here in the United States.

Whilst illegal downloading might be a contributing factor, methinks the Dreamgirls soundtrack is just the best of a whole lotta incredibly bad music.
posted by three blind mice at 10:09 AM on January 25, 2007


an ominous milestone has been reached here in the United States

It's not ominous at all. People still buy music, they just don't buy "albums" of it:

From Variety:
"Some 588.2 million album units sold last year, down 4.9%, while consumers purchased 581.9 million digital tracks -- a 65% increase from 2005's 352.7 million sold."

The real problem for the record industry i.e. the large companies that sell albums, is that they are in danger of losing control over the process by which consumers discover music.

Once consumers are comfortable paying to download songs from RIAA signed artists, it's a tiny step to then start downloading tracks from unsigned artists without the consumer ever knowing the difference.

How much new music have you discovered on Metafilter, or some podcast or internet radio station? Were they signed acts? Do you even know, or care? I guarantee you the RIAA cares about that distinction.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:19 AM on January 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


lower sales for number one albums may not signal any lowering of over all sales. It may just be a greater diversification of tastes. Knocking over the pop music pinnacle is a good thing in my opinion.
posted by subtle_squid at 10:25 AM on January 25, 2007


Vaya Con Dios - Les Paul & Mary Ford
posted by quonsar at 10:47 AM on January 25, 2007


The internet is turning music to shit. The fact that the RIAA is full of money-grubbing fools has nothing to do with it; the labels, the promoters, the PR guys, they've all always been just as brute and disgusting as we thought they were; but the system which molded rock bands for fifty years, forcing them to be truly great and appeal to the best in humanity, served a purpose, much like the system under which jazz musicians labored in NY in the thirties, forties, and fifties.

Now that system is dead. Nothing can bring it back. Not an insistence that the watered-down 'instant classics' that are rewarded with popularity today, and certainly not the RIAA's frantic attempt to 'control' what they never owned anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 11:06 AM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


koeseliz is channelling Lester Bangs... and they're both 100% right.
posted by psmealey at 11:27 AM on January 25, 2007


What precisely about music today is shit that is the fault of the internet?
posted by Pastabagel at 12:08 PM on January 25, 2007


The internet is turning music to shit.

Thanks. I needed the ell oh ell, and this sentence is just the right sort of ridiculous.

Music is no more or less shitty now than it's ever been. There's more of it to be sure, as means of production grow ever cheaper, but the ratio of shit to gold's not changed in ... ever, really.
posted by sparkletone at 12:15 PM on January 25, 2007


MIDEM is more arguably totally irrelevant for the vast majority of global musicians, and there's nothing "ominous" about a low #1 (as it's happened a couple times before, and isn't representative of total sales or even album qualities, but does reflect a move away from releases that are universally heard).
At least your first link featured a picture of some zombie exec.
posted by klangklangston at 12:16 PM on January 25, 2007


Ironically I was born when (You're) Having My Baby by Paul Anka & Odia Coates was number one.

Never heard of them or the song...
posted by bruzie at 12:25 PM on January 25, 2007


Not to mention the fact that the movie was also shut out of the Best Picture nominations for this year.
posted by deusdiabolus at 12:40 PM on January 25, 2007


If you can sell a football stadium's worth of albums, you can have a Number One hit single in America.

That seems to be the REAL message all these articles miss since the numbers dropped below 100k sometime last year (Johnny Cash's posthumous release, IIRC.)

If you are a musician, that first sentence should excite you, shouldn't it? That sounds a little more DIY-doable than the whole dance with A&Rs and record company lawyers and what not, yes?

You can be #1 if you can just convince sixty thousand souls into buying your stuff. Ride this wave before the whole shithouse goes up in flames, baby! That's what I'm sayin'.
posted by First Post at 12:48 PM on January 25, 2007


First Post and subtle_squid get it right, I think. It's diversification to the max. Anyone with a hit album of Bananaphone covers might make #1.

My birthday #1 single: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack. Not sure about the album ...
posted by mrgrimm at 1:08 PM on January 25, 2007


Don't forget that you have to sell sixty thousand records in a way that Billboard or SoundScan/whatever can measure. Selling them off your website won't get captured.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:14 PM on January 25, 2007


@ bruzie
I finally registered with MeFi, just to tell you that that Paul Anka song was once listed as being the worst pop song of all time. Don't call where that was.

For me (11/19/71) it was Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves by Cher

The day after? Theme From Shaft by Isaac Hayes :)

This is a bit odd. I seem to recall that "Stairway to Heaven" (or "that damned wedding song" as Robert Plant calls it) came out on November 11, '71. I was sure that hit #1, guess not.
posted by WerewolvesRancheros at 1:17 PM on January 25, 2007


Pastabagel: "What precisely about music today is shit that is the fault of the internet?"

sparkletone: "Music is no more or less shitty now than it's ever been. There's more of it to be sure, as means of production grow ever cheaper, but the ratio of shit to gold's not changed in ... ever, really."

That first sentence was over-the-top, and probably just borne from the frustration I get every time I see the crap that makes it on the charts these days. On reflection, I'd probably lay the blame for the breaking of the machine there on the industry itself sometime in the early nineties. But the internet has done something significant to music, and especially rock music.

I did a post recently on a forgotten movement in rock that started as an underground reaction to the current trends and ended up being one of the largest impacts on the so-called 'record market' in the 1980s; since I put it up, I've been thinking about the impact the internet has on the process. The earliest metal-heads, those fanatics in England in the late '70's, fought hard to support their music; they put bands together, recorded, and played gigs. Nowadays, it's easy to ignore the sheer effort that was involved, but think about it: recording an album cost a great deal of money in those days, and getting and playing a gig was extremely difficult.

In general, for the first forty years or so of rock music, it was an extremely difficult thing to get started. Bands fought through years of obscurity just to get a single out; they had to practice endlessly just to secure a gig, and then had to be as good as they could to catch the eye of somebody with enough power and enough money to even record a single song; and that song had to be good if they wanted to move on to the next step. There was a lot of shit to put up with-- everybody was out to make their own buck-- but it meant that a lot of those who succeeded were those who had put a lot of work into their stuff. All the while, the central force in rock was the notion that success means charting well. That drive meant something: it was, at its worst moments, a crass pursuit of money; and, at its best, a desire to make something that was actually great and worthy of acknowledgement.

We've been moving away from this model for a while now. The increased ease has actually provoked several waves of post-punk-inspired rock since the late '80's; the results have been mixed, though there have been some real gems.

The bands that 'make it' now are hardly ever bands that have fought obscurity for many years. Everything is readily available; getting your single heard by more than a few people no longer requires a one-year effort, it takes a one-minute effort. I can list at length now-popular bands whose sound would've been vastly improved by two years in basements and bars, and who've been denied whatever quality they might have had because the buzz they got led them to instant popularity.

No, the internet doesn't physically "ruin" music; yes, musicians will probably always be out there. But it'd be wrong to say that it hasn't greatly impacted music; and it'd be wrong to assume that any impact technology has on music will ultimately be good. Advances in technology are hardly ever all good or all bad. And as any of us who like records, who feels some love or respect for power rock 1968-1982, or who ever enjoyed a good dj on the radio playing great things can tell you, while some things have been gained, some things have been lost.
posted by koeselitz at 1:36 PM on January 25, 2007


Oh, and "Ring My Bell," one of my least favorite songs.
posted by koeselitz at 1:40 PM on January 25, 2007


(Mine is one of the most optimistic anthems to be born under, I'm glad to find: Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive".)
posted by hermitosis at 2:15 PM on January 25, 2007


koeselitz, you're shooting blanks. I agree that there's a lot of bad music out there, but the internet has revolutionized what it takes for musicians to "make it." Fuck the major labels, nobody needs them any more. Sure, it's easy to make fun of myspace, but if you or your band has four tracks you want the world to hear, you can do it.

It's far too easy to get apocalyptic over the death of music. Music is doing just fine, thank you, if you have a little bit of extra time to look. If you just rely on Sam Goodie (which I doubt you do), then yeah, you're fucked. But you always have been.

As for the cherished myth that a band doesn't "deserve" success until they've suffered, I disagree. Then again, plenty of great indie/underground acts have grinded in clubs for years, and now they can make a living off music without blowing any record company pr guy.

Anecdotally, Of Montreal has a new album out, and I really want to get it. I've liked these guys for a long time, but sort of forgot about them. I read a positive review on THE MUSIC REVIEW SITE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED, went to their web-page, and liked the new tracks. These guys hardly came out of nowhere -- I saw them play in a club to 10 uninterested people six years ago. Did they become better playing so many shows together? Probably. Would they have benefited from some 50 year-old A&R guy "annointing" them worthy of a major label contract? Fuck no.

It's amazing that there are, presumably, bands that dream of signing the "big contract," after all the sad stories of the post-Nirvana years. Sure, sign a contract, and then a few years later realize you owe the record label money, because you didn't shift enough units to cover promo costs. As for the major labels, may their deaths be short and painful. Looks like it'll be longer and painful, but the net result will be positive. Who needs 'em?
posted by bardic at 2:23 PM on January 25, 2007


No fair! I was born in 1945. There were records then: 78 rpm and breakable.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:36 PM on January 25, 2007


bardic: "It's far too easy to get apocalyptic over the death of music."

Certainly. And note that I wasn't being 'apocalyptic.'

But it's also far too easy to act as though nothing's ever changed. Rock is still very, very new-- only fifty years old-- and big changes are part and parcel with it. It always seems a bit silly to me when people talk this unvarnished 'brand new day' modernist stuff about how everything's getting brighter and better; it's not necessarily better, it's just different.

Things have changed. Maybe it's my fault for turning the conversation to whether music is "shit"-- there's always been bad music on the radio-- but I still maintain that those changes are significant. I don't really feel as though popular music will ever regain the cohesiveness that the charts gave it; I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I also thing it's odd when people insist that everything's just the same as it always was.
posted by koeselitz at 2:47 PM on January 25, 2007


Also, rock music has been a music that consistently strives to forget its own past, especially since punk. I guess I'm just the guy insisting we try to remember. Not such a bad thing, since the history of rock music is a big part of who we are.
posted by koeselitz at 2:55 PM on January 25, 2007


I hear ya koeselitz. Overall, I think it's a net-positive. Most of the bands I like would have been, at best, a labor of love 10-15 years ago. Now, while they'll never be rich, they can at least sell some albums and live comfortably, on their own terms. As for radio, good riddance. Why should I let someone else get in the way of exactly what I want to hear? (Although I do like Little Steven's show, when I remember to tune in to it.)
posted by bardic at 2:56 PM on January 25, 2007


In general, for the first forty years or so of rock music, it was an extremely difficult thing to get started. Bands fought through years of obscurity just to get a single out; they had to practice endlessly just to secure a gig, and then had to be as good as they could to catch the eye of somebody with enough power and enough money to even record a single song; and that song had to be good if they wanted to move on to the next step. There was a lot of shit to put up with-- everybody was out to make their own buck-- but it meant that a lot of those who succeeded were those who had put a lot of work into their stuff.

I think you're right but the difference is that now that the "obscure years" are the "MySpace years". Slogging your guts out in basement bars is still the main way to get great at what you do, and a major label record deal is still something many bands aspire to, but now the internet means that it's your formative years that are open for all to see and to comment on. Perhaps the earlier exposure to critical comment (and who is harsher than than the anonymous internet critic?) will put off bands that might have made something amazing if they'd had more time, or, alternatively, the early exposure to supportive comment (and who is more unthinkingly uncritical than the internet fanboy brigade?) will give the confidence boost to many great bands that would otherwise not have bothered.
posted by patricio at 4:41 PM on January 25, 2007


hermitosis: so you're telling me we were born in the same week? see post title.
posted by phaedon at 5:48 PM on January 25, 2007


#1 on Billboard the day I was born: "Walk Like A Man" by The Four Seasons. It bloody figures.

(Damn quonsar, you're 10 years older than ME?)
posted by davy at 9:48 PM on January 25, 2007


The bands that 'make it' now are hardly ever bands that have fought obscurity for many years.

This is demonstrably false, as there are many, many counterexamples. The only way in which it's not is if we don't hold bands to the same definition of "making it."

I agree that things have changed for all sorts of reasons, the Intarweb being one of the biggest ones. But I do think the ratio of good to bad stuff hasn't changed significantly. We don't live in a golden age of music, but at the same time we don't live in some sort of decayed state whose crappiness has no historical precedent.

PS: Christ. Why couldn't I have been born three days later? Then it would've been Every Breath You Take by Tha Muthafuckin' Police for me. As it is, I'm so mortified, I'm not even going to post what it actually is. (hint: Flashdance). There's a whole bunch of songs I really like surrounding the one on my birthday at least...


Though I never did quite understood why Ice Cube, and friends, wanted to fuck Sting et al...

(ducks, runs)

posted by sparkletone at 10:41 PM on January 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Upon further thought: An elastic definition isn't an unreasonable thing, but what's meant by "making it" in the case of older artists and the in the case of newer ones is probably important enough that it bears spelling it out.
posted by sparkletone at 1:24 AM on January 26, 2007


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