New Music Metrics (not the same as Old Music Metrics)

Lots of talk in the blogosphere today about what success IS in today’s music biz. At the moment, one of the more popular experts being flogged by the intelligentsia is Tommy Boy’s Tommy Silverman.

Touting numbers derived from Neilson’s ledgers, Mr. Silverman defines success based on figures presented by the Soundscan system. Pause. Yes, you read that right. The New Music Seminar guru is using the metrics of the 20th Century to tell those of us living in the 21st Century what’s what.

Apparently, TuneCore’s Jeff Price felt the same way a lot of us felt, albeit without the expletives. Read about it here.

Using Hypebot’s “Nielson’s 12 Breakthough Indie Artists” blog as my “proof”, I will echo what Jeff Price has to say by pointing out the fact that Neilson NEVER represented the real music business reality of the indies. If success is only measured by the accounting methods of an outdated system, the tally will reflect the same results we’ve always seen — indies are inconsequential, majors are king. But the truth is simple — Tommy Silverman is wrong. Sorry.

If I cherry pick Hypebot’s Breakthrough Indies, I can show you three artists that lit up the radar of my universe in 2009. Bon Hiver is my choice, Duke Spirit is my partner’s choice and Blind Pilot is my control group. By Neilson standards, none of these artists succeeded.


  • Record Label: Jagjaguwar (US/CAN)
  • Album: For Emma Forever Ago  103,112


  • Record Label: SHANGRILA
  • Album: Neptune   19,403


  • Record Label: Expunged Records
  • Album: 3 Rounds & A Sound   11,281

Of course, anyone trying to survive in the music business will probably tell you that if they were Bon Hiver, they’d be quite happy with those numbers. But let’s face it, when you waste money like it’s a bottomless resource, you have a VERY large nut to crack. Most artists working in the indie world today understand that economy is necessary and practice restraint. I will always maintain that ANYONE can sell 10,000 records if they throw millions of dollars at the wall to break that release. For the majority of indie artists, selling 10,000 records usually means a certain level of success. When you consider THAT success is not achieved by throwing money at it, I think we can all agree to disagree if your metrics say otherwise. But in 2010, who has the cash to burn?

And, what IS success? If the bottom line is based on successfully floating a yacht, then your economics say LOTS of cash equals success. For the rest of us, 10,000 units sold means validation. 100K units? If you made your album in a hunting shack in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and sold that many copies, you get to call that level of commerce whatevah you want.

The numbers based on Neilson are valid to those that practice Old Music Business. Mr. Silverman is selling tickets to his New Music Seminar using a sales pitch that will surely hurt his metrics in the end. If I was planning on being the expert voice charging an entrance fee to hear my wisdom, I would carefully consider what Jeff Price just countered with and adjust my soapbox accordingly.


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