Country Album Sales Down Again in 2000

Country album sales continued to drop in 2000, even as overall album sales went up. According to figures just released by SoundScan, a company that monitors actual retail sales, 67.1 million country albums were sold in 2000, down from 69.3 million in 1999 and 72.6 million in 1998.

2000 was a very good year for the Dixie Chicks, however. Fly, their second album for Monument Records, was country music’s bestselling collection for the year, moving 3.5 million copies past the cash register.

SoundScan totals for all albums sold in the U.S. are 785.1 million for 2000, 754.8 million in 1999 and 711 million in 1998.

None of 2000′s Top 10 bestselling albums was country. However, in a cumulative Top 10 list, also released by SoundScan last week, Shania Twain’s Come on Over, whose sales have now reached 13.6 million, is the second bestselling album since SoundScan was established in 1991.

Sales of rap, rhythm & blues, alternative and new age albums were up in 2000, while classical, jazz, Latin, Christian/gospel and soundtrack titles joined country in the slide. SoundScan, which last year began monitoring record sales on Amazon.com, reports that 12.8 million albums were sold via the Internet in 2000.

A look at Billboard’s year-end Top Country Albums chart reveals that there were few new voices sufficiently exciting to spur sales — and that many former bestsellers are now in a commercial slump. A few superstar acts — notably the Chicks, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw — are essentially driving country sales. But they are not driving the genre’s overall popularity, as Garth Brooks did in the early 1990s.

Among the new faces, Billy Gilman’s now shines brightest. His One Voice album reached the platinum (or 1 million) sales level within a few weeks of its release in June. (It should be noted that SoundScan figures, which are based on actual retail sales, are more accurate than the “platinum” and “gold” certifications of the Recording Industry Association of America. These indicate the number of records shipped to retailers, the unsold portion of which can be returned to the record companies.)

Another promising newcomer, Brad Paisley, has yet to reach the platinum level, even though his debut album, Who Needs Pictures, has been on the chart for 81 weeks and had the benefit of three hit singles, several industry nominations and awards and enormous praise from the entertainment media.

After 43 weeks on the chart and the airplay boosts from “Carlene” and “Just Another Day in Paradise,” Phil Vassar’s self-titled debut album has yet to sell gold (500,000 copies). The same condition holds true for Keith Urban, whose self-titled CD has been on the chart for 46 weeks. Eric Heatherly’s Swimming in Champagne is not gold after 35 weeks on the chart.

Montgomery Gentry’s heavily promoted Tattoos & Scars has yet to sell platinum for the CMA’s newest Vocal Duo of the Year after 89 weeks as a Top Country Album.

Even artists with a long record of platinum and multi-platinum sales seem to be in the doldrums. Toby Keith’s How Do You Like Me Now?! is at gold but has yet to reach platinum after 59 weeks, heavy radio airplay for the title track and the publicity of a killer music video. Vince Gill’s Let’s Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye, 35 weeks on the chart, has not yet gone gold. Clint Black, who used to routinely go platinum, finds his D’lectrified still stuck at the gold level after 64 weeks. Dwight Yoakam’s Last Chance for a Thousand Years is also only at gold after 83 weeks on the chart.

Just what country record labels have done wrong or might do better — or how the marketplace might be changing — is not a subject the label chiefs seem eager to discuss. None of the many record executives solicited for comments on the sales dip returned country.com’s calls, nor did the executive director of the Country Music Association.