After recording some encouraging first week sales figures, Madonna might have thought she was onto a winner by offering her latest album MDNA to anyone who buys her concert tickets.
A week on however and, alas, the ticket bundle bounce seems to have been short lived. Rather than making the headlines for the right reasons, the singer’s name has posted across the press for suffering from the biggest second-week sales drop for a number one album in US chart history.
The album debuted at number one last week, selling 359,000 copies (which includes pre-orders), but the following week it fell to number eight on the Billboard 200, with sales of just 48,000, a decline of 86.7 per cent.
But the battering was not unexpected by Nielsen SoundScan, which has been compiling the chart since 1991. It predicted that the marketing campaign would lead to misleading first-week sales figures.
Critics have also suggested that the lack of singles receiving airplay has hurt Madonna and she has also been sluggish in promoting her new release. Perhaps sales were bound to drop?
Whilst Madonna has experienced a significant sales decline partly due to a bundle offering, there have increasing instances over the last few years of artists promoting the sale of their music in new and novel ways.
Kaiser Chiefs launched their album The Future Is Medieval online, allowing fans to create their own ten track selection out of twenty songs before the band released their own version.
Radiohead famously released their album In Rainbows via their website in 2007, allowing customers to pay whatever they liked for the digital download. It was their most profitable release as a result.
Radiohead’s follow up, King of Limbs, was touted as a “newspaper album”, a concept some took as a play on Prince‘s practise of releasing two albums for free via national newspapers.
A number of musicians have also collaborated with crowd funding website Kickstarter, which gathers money from people interested in getting new projects off they ground that they’d like to see realised.
It has become common place for projects to offer a variety of investment levels to their pre-pre-orderers too. Former Nine Inch Nails drummer Josh Freese, took the multi-levelled approach further than most when he posted a number of set prices for his album, with the costliest packages offering far more more than just his music.
For $50, fans could get a thank you phone call from Josh himself, while other purchase levels offered everything from a lunch date, visit to John’s apartment in LA and ride in his sportscar, to a drunken night out in Tijuana.
LA hip-hop collective Odd Future charge nothing for their music, and have posted numerous albums online for free. They make their money through merchandising, with t-shirts purchased from their exclusive pop-up, temporary stores costing around £100.
Odd Future’s shops open and close on the day of their shows in each city that their tour visits, making the band’s t-shirts extremely sought after but exclusive to fans motivated enough to make the effort.
Besides subverting the idea that retail is irrelevant to music and musicians in the digital age, are Radiohead, John Freese and Odd Future’s commercial tactics a sign that one day bands may even win or lose fans due to their business practises? Perhaps fan preference based on the ethics and ingenuity of an artist within the music industry is just the next step on from the age old arguments of sell outs and D.I.Y.?
As a musician, what are your thoughts on the increasing need for creativity in your business model as well as your music?
Do you find the opportunities of the digital age a terrifying and unstable distraction or an exciting part of being a modern musician?