Category: Retail

Record Store Day 2012: Ten essential releases to chase

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What started as a little cry for help among a union of independent record retailers a decade ago has become in 2012 a roar: Record Store Day is upon us, and when it takes place April 21, an avalanche of limited-edition vinyl will arrive from many of the best labels and artists in the world.

Scouring the list is overwhelming, as each new item offers both desire and a pang of acceptance that acquiring it is going to take work, strategy and timing. Last year, the line outside Amoeba Music Hollywood stretched down the block, and similar traffic jams were reported both at Origami and Vacation Vinyl on Sunset. You can see the whole list of items by clicking here, but for a quick glimpse at some of the cooler offerings, see below.

The Civil Wars, "Billie Jean" 7". The hot folk duo covers Michael Jackson's classic. Limited edition of 1,000.

Carolina Chocolate Drops/Run DMC, "You Be Illin' " 7". Old-time geniuses cover old-time rappers, with the original on the B-side. Edition of 3,000.

The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwendz, double LP. Limited to 10,000 copies, this new Lips record features the Oklahoma psychedelic rock band collaborating with, among others, Kesha, Nick Cave, Chris Martin and Erykah Badu.

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Whitney Houston album, track sales, radio play explode

Whitney Houston music sales skyrocketed following her death on Saturday
Not surprisingly, the public’s appetite for Whitney Houston’s music erupted in the hours after she died Saturday in Beverly Hills, as more than 100,000 albums and nearly 900,000 individual tracks sold in a little over 24 hours.

The Nielsen SoundScan retail sales monitoring service reported that 91,000 digital albums and another 10,000 physical albums along with 887,000 digital tracks were sold by the close of the reporting period that ended Sunday night. Those numbers and new Billboard chart positions will be released on Wednesday.

The top-selling title among the albums was her 2000 compilation “Whitney Houston — Greatest Hits,” which sold 64,000 copies, enough to place it in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart, possibly inside the Top 5.

The most popular song was her hit version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which was responsible for 195,000 of the downloaded tracks. Additionally, according to Nielsen BDS, which tracks radio airplay, that song was played 2,137 times on U.S. broadcast radio stations Saturday and Sunday.

Sales figures constitute a quantum leap in public interest in Houston’s music. Compared with the week before she died, her digital album sales increased more than 17,000%, sales of the greatest hits collection jumped by more than 10,000% and digital track downloads were up 5,730%. Radio airplay of “I Will Always Love You” rocketed from 134 plays before her death.

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Appreciation: A voice for the ages tarnished by addictions

— Randy Lewis

Photo of memorial placed by fans outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J. Credit: JMP / Abaca Press / MCT.

Taylor Swift merchandise connections: Let us count the ways

Taylor Swift merchandise
The full flowering of Taylor Swift's career provides a textbook example of how pop musicians are diversifying far beyond the lyrics and melodies they serve up on their recordings.

With four sold-out shows on her current “Speak Now” tour, which began Tuesday and runs through Sunday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter's reach now extends across multiple platforms. Here are a few, but hardly all, of the ways she's connecting with fans — either via her website or in the merchandise booths in and around the venues she's playing.

PERFUME

-- Swift's new signature fragrance, Wonderstruck, is making its debut in October, in conjunction with Elizabeth Arden. Starting at $49.50.

POSTER

-- “Speak Now” by artist Peter Max: $49. There's also an autographed version available — signed both by Swift and Max — for $149.

PACKAGES

-- Back to School: Includes a backpack, Swift's 2011-12 calendar and Papyrus journal: $55.

-- “Mean”: A limited-edition (2,500 copies) individually numbered CD single of her hit “Mean” and a T-shirt that reads “Why You Got to Be So MEAN?”: $25.

CLOTHING

-- “Speak Now” T-shirts in a variety of designs and colors: $25

-- Half a dozen different headbands: $12 to $150 (for the limited-edition model).

MUSIC ACCESSORIES

-- “Speak Now” songbook: $17

-- Six guitar picks with a tin box: $9.99

GREETING CARDS

-- Box of 13 (from the line Swift created for American Greetings): $19.99.

ETC.

-- Key chain with Swift's hands in the shape of a heart logo: $8.

-- Journal (in “glitter guitar” or “chandelier” cover designs): $19.95.

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-- Randy Lewis

Left: A bottle of Wonderstruck perfume; credit: Elizabeth Arden. Right: Peter Max's "Speak Now"; credit: Peter Max.

Jay-Z & Kanye West: The iTunes 'tax' on 'Watch the Throne'

Jay-Z & Kanye West: The iTunes 'tax' on 'Watch the Throne'

Fans who wanted a copy of the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration "Watch the Throne" could buy a download of it early Monday morning. Yet those who have long been buying music online may have felt as if they had been hit with a bit of sticker shock, as configurations started at $11.99 and extended to $14.99 for a deluxe edition. Perhaps iTunes is just getting into the spirit of the wealth-examining "Watch the Throne," in which West drops the phrase "luxury rap" and refers to someone beneath him as a "customer."

Come Friday, however, the standard edition of the album will be available to all retailers -- physical and digital -- but the deluxe CD edition will be given solely to Best Buy for an additional 10 days. Fans who can sit tight for a few days will have cheaper options, as Best Buy is currently listing the standard CD for $9.99 and the expanded edition, which has the same extra tracks as the iTunes version, at $12.99.

Album review: Jay-Z and Kanye West's 'Watch the Throne'

The iTunes home page immediately directs potential buyers to the expanded $14.99 configuration of the album without making it clear that a slightly cheaper version exists. Retail exclusives have long been a source of contention in the music business, and the arguments against remain the same -- they limit consumer choice by playing favorites and drive prices higher.

Back in 2008, when Best Buy exclusively sold Gun N' Roses' "Chinese Democracy," Michael Kurtz, the driving force behind the indie-retail marketing celebration that is Record Store Day, warned that exclusives would be bad for the consumer. "By eliminating competition, the prices of the CDs are going up," Kurtz said. "The biggest United States retailers are partnering with the biggest labels, driving the price up by not allowing competition." 

Pricing for the iTunes exclusives is in the opposite direction of industry trends. Granted, iTunes has never engaged in the extreme discounting of its competitor Amazon, but the latter has been continually challenging the perception of what an album is worth, recently discounting Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" to 99 cents.

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Nielsen SoundScan 2011 midyear report: Music sales up for a change

Adele Rotterdam 2009-Paul Bergen-Redferns 
The record industry has modest reason to celebrate this week: Album sales are up slightly for the first time in six years.

Total album sales, a figure that includes CDs, digital albums, LPs and other media, increased 1% in the first six months of 2011 over the same period last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan’s midyear report on U.S. music sales.

The gain is not much, but a significant improvement over double digit percentage drops that have become the norm over the last decade.

Among individual artists and titles, Adele holds three top spots in the tally, including the year’s top selling album to date (2.5 million copies of “21”), digital album, at 992,000 copies, and digital track with her single “Rolling in the Deep,” at nearly 4.1 million digital sales and counting.

Next week, “21” is expected to surpass Eminem’s 2010 album “Recovery” as the biggest selling digital title in history. Just this week, “Recovery” became the first album to exceed 1 million paid digital sales.

Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” featuring Kanye West, is the top selling digital song, a category that combines all versions of the song, with just more than 4.1 million sales.

Overall music sales -- encompassing albums, singles, music video and digital tracks -- are up 8.5% over last year at this time.

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Rhino Records pop-up store returns to Westwood May 27 to June 12* (Updated)

Rhino Records logo-Luis Sinco Rhino Records — the store, not the label — returns once more this spring with as a pop-up in Westwood that not only will sell vinyl, CDs and various pop music esoterica for charity, it will be the site for two weeks’ worth of in-store performances by an L.A.-centric slate of musicians.

Thelonious Monster, Bangles Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs (playing separate gigs), Little Willie G., Evie Sands, a reunion of the Balancing Act and a Posh Boy Records night highlight the schedule of in-store shows during the store’s run from May 27 to June 12.

Rhino co-founder Richard Foos created a pop-up store last year to help liquidate his personal record collection, with proceeds also going to charity, rather than move it one more time as he relocated with his family to the East Coast. This time, the pop-up store is the brainchild of Gary Stewart, vice president of artists and repertoire for the Rhino Records label, which grew out of the retail operation where Stewart also was once an employee.

“Last year’s pop-up store really brought me back to the experience of the L.A. music scene and the sense of community that it fosters,” Stewart said in a statement about the project, which will benefit the Recording Academy’s MusiCares philanthropic wing.

“MusicCares has become an integral part of that, often coming to the rescue of music folk who find themselves on the wrong end of health issues and financial issues at the same time,” Stewart said. “They help so many people who inspired us to work in this industry and without whom our careers wouldn’t even be possible.”

Thelonious Monster will kick things off on May 27, followed by Aaron Nigel Smith (May 29), Vicki Peterson & Friends (May 30), Evie Sands (June 2), Balancing Act (June 3), Avi Buffalo (June 4) and the Posh Boy Records night with Symbol Six, CH3 and the Crowd (June 5).

The series continues June 6 with Latin rock pioneer Little Willie G., Susannahoffs & Matthew Sweet (June 8), Kristian Hoffman’s Paisley Pop Cavalcade (June 9) and Susan James (June 10).

Merchandise will come from donations by Stewart and a broad group of music aficionados, record labels and other contributors. Anyone interested in offering donations should contact the pop-up store coordinator Cinnamon Muhlbauer at (310) 457-6512 or by e-mail at [email protected].

The store, which has its own Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/RhinoRecordsPopUp,
will be at 10952 Santa Monica Blvd.

Update May 18 at 10:07 p.m.: An earlier version of this post described Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs as ex-Bangles. The group, which disbanded in the early-'90s, reunited later that decade and continues to record and tour as a trio.

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--Randy Lewis

Photo of Rhino Records logo at former Westwood retail store. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles.

Ozzy Osbourne, Beach Boys, Syd Barrett figure into 2011 Record Store Day promotions

The Beach Boys - Good Vibrations 78 - cover art The musical treats for pop fans continue to roll out in conjunction with national Record Store Day on April 16, the annual event hosted by a consortium of independent record  retailers to recognize merchants who still sell music from brick-and-mortar stores.

Capitol/EMI will put out a 78 rpm vinyl double disc set pairing two Beach Boys’ high watermark recordings, “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes and Villains,” both recorded after the “Pet Sounds” album during sessions for the highly anticipated “SMiLe” album that was eventually shelved. The Record Store Day set will include commercially released versions of both songs on the first disc, and early alternate takes of both on the second. 

 

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On the charts: As sales hit constant new lows, where are the success stories?

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Adult singer/songwriter Amos Lee leads the U.S. pop charts this week, and though his 40,000 in sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan, mark a career best for the artist, the number will come with an asterisk -- at least for a week or two. Lee's "Mission Bell" marks the lowest-ever No. 1 debut for an album released in the post-SoundScan era, which began in 1991. 

The record-breaking number comes only two weeks after alt-rock vets Cake led the chart with 44,000 in sales. The act's "Showroom of Compassion" is at No. 51 this week, with close to 9,000 copies sold. In three weeks, "Compassion" has sold 68,000 copies, indicative of an album largely playing to die-hards.  

Though Lee's built himself a steady career, he is a long way from the superstars who once dominated the pole position on the chart, often for multiple weeks. A recent concert date in Los Angeles at the Music Box failed to sell out, although a Goldenvoice spokesperson notes that it was close. Nevertheless, the Music Box is midsize venue with a capacity of 1,300, and indie act Beach House has managed to sell out its upcoming two-night stand that begins on Feb. 16. 

Back on the charts, Sam Beam's Iron & Wine muscles a No. 2 in the depressed climate, scoring a career high for his "Kiss Each Other Clean." Yet the 39,000 copies sold by "Kiss" isn't all that much higher than the 32,000 sold by his "Shepherd's Dog" back in 2007, according to Billboard. Three years ago, however, sales in the 30,000-range would have likely pegged an artist to land somewhere in the 20s, as "Shepherd's Dog" bowed at No. 24.

Taken as a whole, the sales news only gets worse. Overall album sales, according to Billboard, are down 18% from the comparable week in 2010, and 13% for the year. BigChampagne's recently launched Ultimate Chart doesn't add much clarity, as its jumble of social-networking sites results in a tally that sometimes feels like little more than a popularity contest.The likes of Bruno Mars, Katy Perry and Britney Spears dot the top five, although there is one surprise at the top of BigChampagne's chart.

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'Beatles in Mono' CD box set: a lesson in collecting

Beatles in Mono cover

Judging the market for big-ticket music box sets continues to be at least as much art as it is science.

Record company executives I spoke to recently said that even though the Internet has given labels unprecedented ability to target fans of specific artists, there’s still a lot of hope and guesswork that goes into these ultra-expensive projects such as the $1,199 Miles Davis 43-CD box set and the $749 30-CD “The Complete Elvis Presley Masters” box.

Seattle indie music store owner Mike Batt of Silver Platters, for instance, noted that when EMI/Capitol Records last year issued CD box sets with the remastered Beatles catalog — one in stereo that list for $259 and one gathering all the Fab Four’s albums that were originally mixed in mono carrying a $299 list price — the company ultimately created a quagmire for Beatles collectors.

“It takes a smart buyer to know the store audience and also the future market value of these items,” Batt told me by e-mail. “If played right they can make a profit, but they can also be a large cash hole." The Beatles' mono box from last year is a perfect example. 

“The Beatles in Mono” box originally was touted as a limited-edition set for which only 10,000 copies would be manufactured. Those quickly sold out by way of pre-orders, sending collectors into something of a feeding frenzy to get their hands on copies.

“Most retail never actually had any to sell to someone that had not already preordered it [by] the day of release. Not even Amazon,” Batt recalled. “This made the actual marketplace demand so cloudy that Capitol/EMI decided to press more a month later, which then flooded the market.

“Today there are hundreds and hundreds of people trying to sell it online and just get something for it. What actually cost retailers $190 each has had a low market value of $110 online so far. Add to that a group of bootleggers and pirates that tried to jump on the bandwagon early and are now trying to recoup their losses by selling the bootlegs in legitimate marketplaces, bringing the value and consumer confidence in the item even lower.”

What’s that line? “I read the news today, oh, boy …”

— Randy Lewis

Beatles on iTunes: 450,000 albums, 2 million singles in first week

Abbey Road 
 
When Apple Inc. announced last week that the Beatles’ catalog would at long last be available for legal downloading on iTunes, many skeptics groused that the two entities had come together too late: Everyone who cares about the group’s music long ago found a way to store it on their PCs, laptops or MP3 players.

Apparently not.

Apple announced Tuesday that 450,000 Beatles albums and 2 million individual tracks were downloaded during the first week they went up online. That translates to well more than $8 million spent on Beatles downloads out of the gate, using the single album download price of $12.99 and $1.29 per song. It doesn’t take into account several double albums priced at $19.99 or the digital Beatles box set that iTunes offers for $149.

At the same time the Beatles finally joined the digital world, Amazon began discounting the remastered physical CDs that were released last year, with individual albums now selling for $7.99, double sets for $11.99 and $12.99 and the 16-CD stereo box set priced at $129.99, making the tangible versions cheaper than the virtual ones. Consequently, six Beatles titles are in the Top 100 of Amazon’s ranking of its bestselling music titles as of Tuesday.

-- Randy Lewis

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