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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The business of selling music continues to make no sense at all

Posted By on 08.30.11 at 02:58 PM

carteriv.jpg
Billboard is reporting that Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV is projected to sell between 700,000 and 850,000 copies its first week out. The news is the latest evidence that selling music makes no sense at all and that anyone trying to predict anything about what will and won't sell is a total fool.

There are a lot of reasons why TC4 should be a flop. The critical consensus is that it's a disappointment and reviews commonly point out that the album's high points—the triptych comprised of "Intro," "Interlude," and "Outro" scattered across its playing time—consist mostly of raps by people who are not Lil Wayne. Its one obviously brilliant single on par with his past smashes like "A Milli"—the frantic and inspired "6 Foot 7 Foot"—was released a full eight months ago, which is approximately 24 years in Revised Media Hype Cycle Time, and none of the following singles has shown much traction with radio or simply with listeners. And on top of everything else it leaked to the Internet shortly before its official digital release directly after Wayne's appearance at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards.

But instead of tanking, TC4 is on a tear. It's already outselling Jay-Z and Kanye's Watch the Throne, which has a hot single and a hot video and which famously made it all the way to its planned official iTunes release date without leaking only to sell a disappointing 430,000 units its first week out. The 150,000-copy wiggle room built into TC4's estimated first week is on its own greater than the number of copies Tyler, the Creator's Goblin—an album that set new records for Internet buzz—has sold total since it dropped back in May. First-week sales for Lady Gaga's Born This Way broke a million, which remains a point of pride for the major labels, but it was also available as a 99-cent download from the Amazon MP3 store, whereas TC4 is a full $11.99 at the iTunes Music Store, with the deluxe version containing three bonus tracks going for a whole three bucks more. And as far as I'm aware there hasn't been any sort of licensing tie-in with any apparel or beverage maker or anything, which is becoming the most reliable way to break an album.

If TC4 sells the lowest number of units estimated and then doesn't sell a single additional copy it will still be the sixth-best-selling album of the year. And it will have accomplished this without doing a single thing that music-biz pundits say is essential to moving units in a 21st-century marketplace.

The obvious question this poses is whether all of the credit for this should go to the album's amazing cover art, or simply most of it.

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