Number Ten with a Bullet...Metallica?
August 17, 2013
Jason McGathey in Billboard, CD sales, Metallica, Radio, music business, music sales, sales
Metallica’s black album sold over 100,000 copies last year, meaning that it was actually one of the top movers for 2012. But you won’t locate any mention of this on Billboard’s charts, because they decided long ago that albums which are more than 2 years old do not count. This reassembling and deflection of the facts is done to appease a younger demographic, and presumably make today’s pop stars feel better about themselves, yet, just like when our government tries to justify spreading a mass hysteria of made up facts – such as with, I don’t know, the AIDS crisis  – as being in the greater public interest, suppression of the truth eventually just ends up hurting everyone.
You can find article after article bemoaning how nobody buys rock albums anymore, that it’s only pop, country, and rap that sell. The paint a picture so bleak that you find yourself rooting for bands that you wouldn’t actually listen to in a million years, like Nickelback or Chris Daughtry – similar to when a player you’ve always hated gets traded to your favorite team, and becomes their only hope of making it to the playoffs - because it bothers you that nobody from the rock camp landed in the top 20 or top 50 for the year. 
Except that’s not really what’s happening. People are still buying plenty of rock albums, these just happen to be 20, 30, and 40 year old releases. Instead of whitewashing this fact, though, and then turning around and writing articles about the death of rock, wouldn’t it make more sense for the Billboards of the world to champion rock’s legacy? To say, hey, these albums are so good, people continue to snatch them up by the truckload, they outsell most modern releases. That people still love the experience of a coherent musical statement bound together in one physical package. It might actually inspire the current day rock musicians, too, to try harder, instead of thinking that all is lost, and screw it, nobody buys rock music anymore, so it’s okay to sell 5,000 copies. 
You could even claim, without stretching too far, that this attitude is responsible for the downhill plunge of musicianship. When people argue about who is the best all time at which instrument, very rarely, if ever, does someone from the last two decades even peek his nose around the corner of the discussion, much less enter the room. Because if you’re an up and coming creative type, all you’ve probably heard is that pop, country, and rap are the only genres anyone cares about – and not to knock them, because all have their merits, but these are categories where singing, production, and collaborations with proven hit-making song doctors are much more important. Being able to play a live instrument well and write your own material tends to take a backseat.
The ultimate irony is that these media outlets, in forever attempting to outdo one another on this quest to look more modern, change nothing, and might in fact damage themselves. You probably weren’t aware, for instance, that CD sales were actually up in 2012 over 2011, and that the same was true for cassettes – yes, manufacturers still make these – and vinyl LPs as well, because these media sources are all too busy firing off 21 gun salutes for the alleged demise of the album. But nobody remembers or cares what news agency was the first to report a story, because it’s entirely meaningless. All that matters is that the facts are accurate and, possibly, that you bring some unique insight to the table. Yet the reality of a situation is the reality of a situation – inventing 87 different categories so you can gush, “Wow! Rihanna has charted SEVENTEEN CONSECUTIVE top ten hits on the Ultra Modern Dance Mix Urban Club chart! That’s a record!” doesn’t change how many singles were actually downloaded, how many times the song was actually streamed, and how many times it was actually played on the radio. Leaving Metallica out of the Top 200 Albums chart doesn’t change how many they actually sold. And, I would argue, it has had no impact on subscription numbers for these magazines – unless you’re talking about years down the road, when folks realize how irrelevant they are, and one by one these are going out of print.
Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (http://www.musicthinktank.com/).
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