What's that you hear? Is it the sound of the last traditionalist angrily leaving Nashville? That's the argument people outside of the Nashville record industry would have you believe, particularly based upon The Nielsen Company's just released data about album sales. According to their Nielsen SoundScan report, Country music album sales dropped 24% from the previous year's numbers and as was chronicled in an earlier news report, if it weren't for Taylor Swift and her four million albums sold, Country music would probably be in even more dire straits.
Given the demographics for Country music, perhaps the genre was hit even harder than others in the sense that its blue-collar roots show that people aren't buying albums. Perhaps the traditionalists are right. Perhaps they're wrong and country fans have finally bought mp3 players and iPods as the prices have come down to attainable levels and, thusly, these fans have transferred from album purchasers to single download purchasers (as this area of the industry continues to grow at remarkable levels). The industry, then, could blame digital distribution sources --mainly iTunes/Apple-- for insisting on a-la-carte prices at 99 cents per song.
The question that needs to be asked, then, is what can Country music do to reverse its fortunes? The genre could promote more than the latest fads for one thing. If the continued success of Alan Jackson and George Strait and the relative success of Jamey Johnson is any indication, it's that there's a huge group of consumers who want --no desire-- to hear the traditional sounds of Country music's past. It is true that artists like Sugarland and Taylor Swift do bring in new fans to country music but these people typically like more than just Country music. They like multiple genres and aren't inclined to dig too deep into the vast history of country music. So, one way to stem the tide of declining album sales would be to appeal more to the traditional minded fans out there. There is a market for them and if you even got radio to play more traditional sounding songs along with the latest pop-leaning hit then maybe, just maybe the sales wouldn't have dropped as much as it did this past year. We might even see Country music rise back up.
Speaking of Radio, a bright side to the over-all numbers is that the radio industry is healthy as six of the Top 10 artists in airplay terms are Country music artists. Rascal Flatts are 2nd, Toby Keith is 3rd, George Strait is 5th, Tim McGraw is 6th, Taylor Swift is 8th and Alan Jackson is 9th. What this means is that radio and fans still want to hear these artists and radio is inclined to give them what they want. Perhaps labels will do the same and find more artists that present great music.