x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Trapped in a singles cycle

In today's pop music scene, many artists are suffering from an imbalance: they have a multitude of hits, but anaemic album sales.

Artists of today experience poor album sales while their singles manage to fare better, writes Mesfin Fekadu

Just before Flo Rida released his third album, almost two million fans purchased the first single Club Can't Handle Me, helping the rapper snag yet another top-10 hit in the US.

But in its first week out, only 11,000 people bought the eight-song EP, Only One Flo Part 1, giving it a measly debut at number 107 on the Billboard charts. And in nearly two years, the album has sold only 62,000 units, according to the sale tracking company Nielsen SoundScan.

Flo Rida's experience in 2010 is being repeated again and again in today's pop scene. He's just one of many acts who suffer from an imbalance: they have a multitude of hits, but anaemic album sales.

Years ago, a hit song was usually accompanied by a gold or platinum album, and multiple hits meant multi-platinum albums. But times have changed.

"If you used to have a big single, you would sell a million albums, and if you sell a million albums and you're a band, you can probably not have to work for a couple of years. We don't have that luxury," says Cobra Starship's lead singer Gabe Saporta.

Cobra Starship had a top-10 hit with the double-platinum dance jam You Make Me Feel …, but their latest album debuted at number 50 and has sold a mere 33,000 units.

Gym Class Heroes, who had a top-five hit with the triple-platinum Stereo Hearts and success with its follow-up Ass Back Home, saw their fourth album, The Papercut Chronicles II, debut at number 54 on Billboard's Top 200 albums chart, spending just one week on the list.

Ne-Yo, the Grammy-winning hit maker who has written smashes for Beyoncé and Rihanna and recently became the senior vice president of A&R for Universal Motown Records, blames the phenomenon on a lack of personality and originality from the artists.

"I feel like it falls on the shoulders of not only the record label, but the artists themselves. I feel like the thing that makes you go out and get a person's whole album is you liking that artist, you connecting with that artist," he says.

"I feel like a lot of people are saying that the industry is moving to just being singles-driven, and that's kind of a cop-out to me. Basically that means we sign a bunch of disposal artists, you know, as long as we get one hit that's good? That's BS."

Ne-Yo adds that today's music executives should be "taking the time and spending the money that it takes to make sure that you're building icons, not fly-by-night, add-water-and-stir artists".

Jason Derülo had three multi-platinum hits from his 2010 debut - including the number-one smash Whatcha Say - but the album has only sold 315,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Things didn't get better when Derülo released his second album last September: Future History has sold just 64,000 so far.

Tom Corson, the chief operating officer and president of RCA Records, says that just because an artist doesn't sell a lot of albums doesn't make the act a failure. He says record companies determine an album's success by an artist's "TEA" - track-equivalent-albums.

"You have certain artists who sell 300,000 albums, but sell 10 million tracks. That's the equivalent of 1.3 million albums," he explains.

Corson says Pitbull is a great example of an act who defies the "singles artist" stereotype. While his latest albums in English, last year's Planet Pit and 2009's Rebelution, have sold 397,000 and 249,000 units respectively, his singles from those albums - Give Me Everything and I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho), among others - have sold more than 15 million. He also sold out Madison Square Garden with Enrique Iglesias last year and has endorsements with Bud Light, Kodak and Dr Pepper.

Others have managed to find success in both lanes, even when early projections didn't show promise.

Lady Gaga's 4.4 million-selling 2008 debut, The Fame, wasn't an instant smash, but she released back-to-back hits while connecting with a core fan base - her "little monsters".

LMFAO, too, has had a similar breakthrough. Their massive tune, the now six-time platinum Party Rock Anthem, hit the number-one spot this summer, but their second album Sorry for Party Rocking only moved 27,100 in its first week. But they managed another multi-platinum number-one hit - and pop culture moment - with Sexy and I Know It, and fans have connected more with the wild, party-boy vibe of the duo. Now the album has sold more than 800,000 units and peaked at number five. This summer, Flo Rida will release his fourth album, which features the triple-platinum Good Feeling and Wild Ones, another platinum top-10 hit. Despite weak album sales, Corson says the rapper has a formula that works.

"There's a reason why Flo Rida keeps putting out records: 'cause it's good business," he says.