Britain's Got Talent contestant-turned-singing sensation Susan Boyle sold just over 700,000 copies of her debut album, "I Dreamed a Dream," during its first week of release, debuting at No. 1. According to her record label, Columbia Records, not only did Boyle have the best first week sales of 2009, but also the best-selling album debut by any woman in the Billboard SoundScan era. Boyle bested Eminem's Relapse which scanned 608,000 in its first week earlier this year. By way of comparison, American Idol runner up, Adam Lambert's CD also debuted this past week and sold 230,000 units to take the No. 2 spot overall. Across the Pond, "I Dreamed a Dream" sold 410,000 copies in the United Kingdom, handily beating new CDs from established artists such as Rihanna and Lady GaGa.
Wake up, record companies. You want to sell CD's and stop losing sales of albums to singles on iTunes and to young people who just steal the music anyway? Keep in mind that your adult contemporary audience likes to buy and own physical CD's more than iTuning or stealing. They just need something good to buy, and they want to listen to enduring, well-crafted songs, and performers with potential longevity who can actually sing. And they like to go to concerts. Among the top 10 grossing concert tours for 2008 were Madonna (debuted in 1983), Celine Dion (1981), The Eagles(1972), Bon Jovi (1984), Springsteen and the E Street Band (1972), Neil Diamond (1966), The Police (1977) and Tina Turner (1961). Enduring artists singing well crafted songs. Get it?
Granted, as they might say in England, Boyle's album is not my cup of tea. But is the success of her album really a revelation? Six years ago, Norah Jones won a slew of Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Album of the Year for her debut pop/jazz album, "Come Away With Me," which rose to number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 Chart and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. Two years later, Jones won again for Sunrise, including Record of the Year honors for "Here We Go Again." Well crafted songs from a performer who can sing, all the while sitting at a piano and playing it, rather than setting it on fire.
Pop quiz for the Record Companies: Who preceded Jones as Best New Artist? Why that was none other than the classically trained pianist Alicia Keyes, whose debut album, Songs in A Minor also debuted at number one, going on to win five Grammy Awards in 2002, ultimately selling 12 million copies worldwide. And seven years later, Keyes is once again the toast of the town for her soaring vocals on Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind." Longevity.
Examining the Best New Artist list since Jones won in 2003, it becomes immediately apparent that the problems in the recorded music business can't all be blamed on Napster. Except for 2007, when the honor deservedly went to country rocker Carrie Underwood, it is obvious that the recorded music business is promoting artists who are not destined for longevity or to sell whole CDs that will find their way to the check-out line. In 2004, Best New Artist honors went to the goth metal Christian band, Evanascence, whose debut album sold well but was followed by personnel departures over creative differences. In 2005, alternative rockers Maroon 5 won Best New Artist (beating Kanye West). Although popular as a touring band, the band's two studio albums have sold somewhat modestly -- a total of 15 million albums worldwide. 2006 honors went to the talented John Legend, but whose debut album sold only 3 million copies worldwide. In 2008, the soulful but self-destructive Amy Whinehouse beat out Taylor Swift, and earlier this year, another British singer by the name of Adele won Best New Artist honors for her debut album "19," which thus far has sold only 2.2 million copies, mostly as the result of her appearance on the Sarah Palin episode of Saturday Night Live.
Hey record companies, stop blaming the demise of your business on the Internet. Find us some great songwriters and some singers who can stick around, and the buyers will come.