Does Free Streaming Help Album Sales? It Worked for Daft Punk, At Least.

Categories: Commentary

775px-Daft_Punk_2007.jpg
Daft Punk Spotified their way to big sales.

Last week, on Wednesday, May 29, Steve Knopper of Rolling Stone.com detailed Daft Punk's domination of the Billboard album chart with the release of their eagerly-awaited Random Access Memories. The article moves into territory deeper than simple retail numbers, though. Knopper even dug into the number of Spotify spins for the album, and how those numbers stack up with previous blockbusters such as Mumford and Sons' Babel and how bands are now using - appropriately or inappropriately, in his opinion - streaming services to promote their album sales.

During its first full week on the market, Random Access Memories sold over 339,000 copies, which makes it one of the larger sales weeks of the year pretty easily. Interestingly enough, the French EDM Robot mask-wielding pioneers allowed the album to stream on Spotify for an entire week prior to its May 21st release. Knopper suggests this method was an effective part of the strategy to move physical copies of the electro-disco 1980's time-warp LP.

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In the same piece, the RS scribe goes on to second-guess the streaming-as-a-promotional-tool strategy -- or lack thereof -- of Vampire Weekend, who sold enough to hit the number one spot on the albums chart the week before Daft Punk with their new album, Modern Vampires of the City. Vampire Weekend only ran a preview stream of their record on iTunes for a week before its release, and then stopped all streaming for the first two weeks of its time on store shelves. The massive drop Vampire Weekend suffered in second-week sales numbers could suggest the group unwittingly opted for a less-effective avenue than Daft Punk had. To a far lesser extent, The National also might have suffered a bit from conducting a similar Spotify debut-delay, though the first week sales of their stellar Trouble Will Find Me, was the highest of their continually soaring career.

Of course, for some time now, it's been the opinion of many vocal artists and record executives that the Spotifys of the world will steal sales from stores and dollars from pockets from the indie-artists that are already working with less-than-profitable margins. As Knopper points out in his piece, that may not be the case as much moving forward. Labels and artists are taking various approaches to see if they can make the streaming-thieves work for them, instead of against them.

To sum up the theories presented in the seemingly benign box-office report very simply: if you're album is being fawned over for months prior to its release, let the people have a free taste and assume they'll buy it, because it worked for Daft Punk, and that the less-stream-friendly approach of Vampire Weekend didn't work. Or something like that.


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