“You guys are such a totally unique act,” proclaimed Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association. “You’ve brought something to our industry we haven’t had before.”
The object of Benson’s enthusiasm was the acoustic music trio Nickel Creek , which celebrated the certification of its first gold album Wednesday evening (March 20) at a party in Nashville. The self-titled debut album, on Sugar Hill Records, has so far spent 67 weeks on Billboard’s country album charts.
Gold certification means that 500,000 copies of the album have been shipped to record stores. Since the album was designated gold on Feb. 4, the total shipped has increased.
“I think this is just the first plateau for you guys,” Benson continued, as he presented Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins a CMA certificate honoring their ascent to precious-metal status.
In his congratulatory remarks, Larry Welk, head of the Welk Music Group, which owns Sugar Hill Records, called Nickel Creek “wonderfully talented and so nice.” Alluding to the band’s follow-up collection, due out this summer, Welk added, “We hear the new album is phenomenal.” Multiple Grammy-winner Alison Krauss produced both albums and was on hand for the celebration.
While the gold certification has become commonplace for country albums, it is still a rarity for acoustic, bluegrass or bluegrass-tinged projects. Because these albums are less expensive to produce, one that “goes gold” is very likely to make a profit for its label. In country music, so much is spent on production and promotion for a new act that a gold album may not even pay for itself.
A label official declined to specify how much it cost to produce Nickel Creek’s first album — describing it only as “modest” — but did point out that, in addition to the production costs, the label had also done three music videos — “Reasons Why,” “When You Come Back Down” and “The Lighthouse’s Tale” — to support the project.
“We’re still selling over 10,000 [copies] a week [on Nickel Creek],” Welk reported, “and we went over half-a-million scans in the U. S. this week.” (A scan is the record of an actual sale to a consumer.)
Like most acoustic/bluegrass records, Nickel Creek has had little airplay. “When You Come Back Down” and “The Lighthouse’s Tale” both appeared on Billboard’s radio-oriented Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart but in the lower reaches. However, the trio’s music has been the subject of euphoric articles in Time, USA Today, The New York Times and elsewhere. And it has benefited as well from the attention still being showered on that other acoustic leviathan, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack album.
Welk singled out Chris Parr, CMT’s vice president of music and talent, and Craig Bann, vice president of promotions and marketing for AristoMedia, for their work on behalf of Nickel Creek’s music videos.
Others attending the party were Barry Poss, founder and president of Sugar Hill Records; Steve Buckingham, senior vice president of the Welk Music Group; Dan Keen, ASCAP; Thomas Cain, BMI; Tracy Gershon, High Seas Music/Gershon Music Group; Steve Fishell, A&R for Sugar Hill; and comedian Shane Caldwell.