Rick Altizer: Ranting With Rick

Thursday 1st February 2001

American commentator and musician RICK ALTIZER looks at the Sound Scan obsessions of the US retailers.

Rick Altizer
Rick Altizer

If you remember, last issue we talked about the evils of Sound Scan. For those who forgot (silly you) here's a quick refresher: "Every time a CD is purchased it's scanned into a big computer that keeps track of the sales. These Sound Scan reports let the artists, and the world, know exactly how well (or poor) a particular CD has sold." My beef last issue was with the radio stations who only play songs that show large Sound Scan numbers (one of the most powerful radio stations has a policy of only playing songs from records that have sold 100,000 units or more. Those evil, bad guys).

This month I set my sights for the retailers. Yes, even the Christian bookstore middle class have joined the club. They now have computers of their own and have access to the Sound Scan "Label Of Death" machine. So here's what's happening now: let's say you have a new CD coming out that's really awesome. For whatever reason your last CD didn't sell tons of units (like, maybe because your record company had NO money to market it). A salesman from your record company is going to have a meeting with the Christian bookstore and ask them to buy tons of your new CD. The salesman even has a copy of this great musical extravaganza to play for the buyer at the bookstore. But the buyer at the bookstore is smarter than that. He doesn't want to listen to the CD, he wants to go on his computer and see how many units the last CD sold. OUCH! You're out of luck. If you didn't sell lots of CDs, the buyer is going to say "no thanks" to your new one. At best he will order one or two copies. When those sell out you will be on an automatic re-order system. The computer will automatically reorder the CD and TWO TO THREE weeks later the store gets ONE more copy. When that sells out the computer orders another one (which they get in two to three weeks). You don't need to be a mathematical genius to figure out that you can only sell three to four records PER MONTH at that rate. What this means is that if you don't sell tons of CDs your first time out, the bookstores are going to be VERY reluctant to order many of your CDs the next time around.

The bigger labels, however, do have some bargaining power (I'll make sure you get some extra Michael W Smith promo packets if you place a good order on this other artist), but the smaller labels don't stand a chance. Here's the hysterical (and totally true) part. If you changed your name and packaged it as if you were a new artist/band YOU WOULD SELL MORE RECORDS INTO THE STORES! That's right! If they think you are a new artist/band they might be more apt to listen to the CD and make a judgment for themselves. They could also be "hyped" into thinking this was the next big thing and would not want to be left behind. That's why you see so many bands breaking up and putting out CDs as solo artists or as another band name, because they can sell more CD's into the bookstores that way. Pretty silly isn't it?

Once again, it's well intended people looking at numbers on a computer screen and not listening with their ears. Christian music lovers don't get opportunities to find this music in the stores. The best way for a new band to sell any CDs is to be out playing concerts 200-300 days a year. Retail and radio are not about to set any trends. They will only follow them. I'm glad there are magazines like Cross Rhythms out there to keep us informed on what's new and worth listening too. Keep up the great work guys!

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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