I recently put an article together asking if Billboard and labels should start throwing around numbers pertaining to illegal downloads when promoting bands. Many people have criticized the music industry’s inability to change with the times, and find a real solution to counteract torrent sites. Let’s turn the clock back in time, and throw out the hypothetical notion that the industry did get in front of the curve, and was able to stop Napster, torrent sites, and iTunes ultimately taking one of the lessons learned from Napster (the casual listener just wants the song, not the album), and using that to make huge amounts of profit, and whether people want to realize it or not, actually help debilitate the industry further.
So let’s imagine we’re still only dealing with physical formats, CDs, and due to their resurgence, vinyl, and for novelty sake, cassettes. Would hard rock and metal bands album sales equate to platinum or gold selling albums in 2018? Metallica’s Hardwired…To Self Destruct was number 1 around the world and went Platinum, including having 1,000,000 units sold in the U.S. alone. That number however is skewed as the double and triple album packs counted as double or triple the normal album sale. They also sold the CD to you when purchasing concert tickets. They leveraged the system to get their platinum album, kudos to them for doing so. I do think huge bands like Metallica, and Guns N Roses would still reach platinum status, but sales would drop off sharply after them.
Let’s look at Iron Maiden, who have still managed to put out Gold and Silver albums in their native UK, even in the days of downloading. In the US they have managed three straight top ten releases without reaching either of those plateaus, one could argue that back in the day having the fourth biggest release on the Billboard Charts would surely equate to a platinum selling album. They have done great numbers touring as well, regardless of what their setlist is comprised of. So I think they probably would not of had an issue, neither would Kiss, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Megadeth, Slayer or Anthrax.
But what about a band like Overkill? Their biggest selling album is Horrorscope, which sold around 120,000 units. Given how strong all of the material they have released since 2010’s Ironbound, you could argue they have not only gotten better, but their album sales have continued to improve. I would think they would have been close to silver or gold selling band, especially given how well they’ve done from a touring stand point.
What about newer bands like a Greta Van Fleet? Given all of the press they’ve received, would they have come close to reaching platinum status? What about In This Moment, who went gold with their album Blood would that album of been platinum while Black Widow and Ritual of been gold?
There are a few factors to also consider, that I don’t think people take into consideration. Every other popular music format like Blues, Jazz, Big Band, Swing, Doo-Wop, etc. that has come before rock, have all had a point in time when they climaxed, and then sales inevitably dropped. Obviously each one of these genres has still had artists that have sold well, but not anywhere as near in comparison to their heydays. Would rock based music still have seen a decline in sales? How many albums did Jay & The Americans, The Platters, The Miracles or The Chantells move in the 80s?
At this point is there any turning back? Chris Akin of The Classic Metal Show responded to my previous article arguing that the value of music is no longer what it once was. I agree with him, a lot of different factors go into this, downloading isn’t the only thing. Terrestrial radio has done all it could do to make music trivial, and just background noise as opposed to something everyone gets excited about. That has also damaged album sales, instead of “turn it up, it’s the new track by Greta Van Fleet” it’s “turn it down, it’s Sweet Emotion for the millionth time today”. So I think that needs to be factored into all of this as well. iTunes for years has allowed people to only purchase that one hit they want for their collection, so that has also hurt overall album sales. People no longer were being vamboozled into buying an entire album instead of that one track they were looking for.
Could the reversal of Net Neutrality actually help the industry out? Up until now they haven’t been able to make a money off of illegal downloads, sure they initially started suing people, but it hasn’t really quelled the situation. Imagine if the repeal of Net Neutrality leads to ISPs being allowed to bill people for illegal downloads, or implement a flat fee similar to streaming where if you pay $30 a month and you can download whatever you want, would that change anything? I would think that would push more people to Apple Music and Spotify than it would increase album sales.
What bands do you think would still be selling platinum and gold albums in 2018 if illegal downloading was not so prevalent?