Please Don’t Bother Talking About WATTBA’s Record Sales. They Don’t Matter Anymore.
A big deal was made about the steep second-week sales drop of Drake and Future’s What a Time to Be Alive. What’s upsetting about this is that hip-hop, the genre that once defined its success beyond mainstream consumption, is now beating up on its own for low sales numbers. Right now, these stats are bordering on useless.
Whether or not the album is quality is irrelevant to the matter. When a garbage album sells a lot of units, people say, “Well, it’s because the masses only like dumbed down music.” When it flops, they say, “Well, it’s because it’s garbage.” It’s not the point.
Apple’s iTunes, the biggest market for purchasing digital music downloads, recently launched its music streaming service, further making the act of buying individual albums and singles one that will be short-lived. We are officially transitioning to a future of music streaming. And soon the number of people purchasing MP3’s will rapidly dwindle down to numbers not worth mentioning. Even now, discussing record sales feels like tallying the sales of DVDs in the age of Netflix.*
If the media didn’t write about it, we’d be clueless about their Billboard chart positions. What you’re seeing is an old format gasping for its last breath, while being oblivious to its fading importance.
Music sales alone no longer give an accurate measure of a song’s reach or popularity. A single having dismal sales can have massive YouTube and streaming plays. In an era when free mixtapes can shoot an artist to stardom, trying to hold on to these decaying music industry structures do very little to help move the culture forward. The truth of the matter is that real hip-hop fans never equated sale stats with quality anyway and those who do only reveal how disconnected they are.
*Note that although 1,500 streams count as a “sale,” with the multitude of streaming platforms like SoundCloud, YouTube, DattPiff, and many others, it’s impossible to measure the amount of fan engagement and count these correctly as “sales.”