The Government Accountability Office agreed with all stakeholders that radio airplay has value to recording companies and artists. They said they were unable to say exactly how much. While it may be impossible to attach a specific dollar value to the promotion free airplay provides, the value is clear as day.
GAO looked at six albums released between 2/1/10 and 2/14/10, and compared airplay spins to album sales.
Let’s look at the numbers and see if we can spot a relationship between airplay and album sales.
Allison Moorer’s “Crows” came out. It received about 40 spins during the week of 1/17/10, and picked up 44 during the peak album sales week. Those sales totaled 1,448.
Gil Scott Heron’s “I’m New Here” didn’t get any spins 1/17, and picked up 56 during its peak sales week when he moved 3,679 units.
Massive Attack got 25-30 spins for “Hellgoland” 1/17, and 98 during peak week, when it sold 18,221 copies.
H.I.M.’s “Screamworks” got about 250 spins 1/17, 374 spins during its peak and sold 25,783 copies.
Lil’ Wayne’s “Rebirth” got around 1,200 spins 1/17, 876 spins at peak week and sold 175,620 units.
Then we get to Sade. She was picking up 3,000 spins 1/17, got 3,834 when the album peaked and it moved 501,665 units.
We suspect most of you are able to spot a direct relationship to the number of spins received and the number of units sold.
GAO says one of the things confusing the issue is that once each album peaks, right about when it’s released, sales drop off dramatically even though airplay of songs from the album taper off much more gradually.
We would offer the theory that people don’t consume music the way they consume other commodities. It’s not like cereal – something you buy, consume and buy again.
Those who want a certain album will go get it, and once they have it they never need to buy it again (unlike vinyl days, when we often ended up getting a second and even a third copy of some of our own favorite LPs).
We happened to write an article about the release of Sade’s “Soldier of Love” and its marketing plan, based on a press release issued in early December 2009. Here’s part of the article:
“Epic Records, which is part of the Sony Music Entertainment empire, says the song, the title of which is also used for the entire album, ‘is set to hit airwaves December 8th and will kick off the countdown…’ to the album’s February 2010 release date.”
We suspect there were probably other elements to the marketing plan, but if there were, Epic didn’t mention them. It only noted plans to get the album’s lead song on the radio.
RBR-TVBR wrote the story specifically to point out that even as record companies were bucking for PRA passage, they were still doing everything they could to get on the radio – for free.
One of our readers asked it the piece was an example of advocacy journalism. Well, yes – he was right — at RBR/TVBR we do write the news in a way that is of interest to and on behalf of broadcasters. But we didn’t make anything up.
The same reader suggested that there were only about seven stations left in the US who would be interested in playing Sade, referring to the rapid loss of Smooth Jazz outlets. This time, the stats GAO came up with suggest that the correspondent was incorrect. Sade clearly found many stations willing to play her music.
Another correspondent told us that he had just received his free, ready for airplay copy of “Soldier of Love” from Epic Records. We do not believe that Epic was paying postage to send out valuable recording inventory that it wishes to sell because it enjoys frivolous expenditures and undercutting its own future income.
At any rate, radio gave Sade a lot of spins over the course of two months prior to the release of her album, and even though she had been dormant for 10 years – she hadn’t released an album since 2000, an eternity in the music business – radio still helped her score half a million sales in one week. We’d say that’s pretty damn effective marketing capacity.
Just ask Allison Moorer, whose spins over a month were in the low hundreds and who had less than 1,500 album sales to show for it.