Country music album sales are already up in 2002 over the same period last year with several powerhouse album
projects now hitting shelves or soon to be released including Toby Keith, Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Travis Tritt, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain. If the sales trend continues, country music could end the year on a high note as other musical formats struggle to maintain their share.
According to mid-year SoundScan sales figures, country and gospel are the only two music formats showing an increase over the same time period in 2001. Overall the record industry is down by 9.8%. Country's real sales numbers are up slightly from 30.1 million units in 2001 to 30.3 million units through the first half of the year. Given the overall decline, industry leaders are optimistic about country's relative position – especially given the strong year-end forecast.
Looking ahead, the top industry leaders on the CMA Board of Directors voted last week during their third quarterly meeting to adopt an updated strategic plan that focuses CMA's resources and energy on enhancing the image and growth of Country Music through CMA's franchise events – Fan Fair and the CMA Awards. The new strategic plan evolved during a two-day retreat in May attended by selected CMA board members and staff. The strategic planning sessions were facilitated by nationally known consultant Harrison Coerver, who also presented the plan to the full board on July 25.
"Our discussions covered a broad spectrum of issues impacting our industry, but as we focused on defining CMA's role–its strengths and our capabilities as a trade organization–it was evident that our ability to affect many of the music industry's current challenges is limited," said CMA Executive Director Ed Benson. "We kept coming back to our core competencies and the unanimous agreement that we should focus our attention on strengthening our franchise events as the industry moves forward over the next two or three years."
The CMA Board of Directors adopted a three-tier plan. The first priority would be to further establish Fan Fair as a world-class music festival, capitalizing on the event's successful move to downtown Nashville, increasing attendance and national media coverage. The event is a four-day, international platform for country music with family values at its heart.
"Fan Fair is a showcase of everything that makes country music resonate with America," Benson said. "We have legends, superstars and great new acts. We feature music from all corners of the format–contemporary, bluegrass, traditional, alternative and more. And it is wrapped around the unique personal relationship that the artists have with their fans. At the end of the day, it's that interaction which distinguishes Fan Fair from all other music festivals."
Secondly, the CMA Board wants to maximize the value and impact of the CMA Awards. The annual Awards' broadcast is a powerful introduction to viewers who may be occasional or non-Country Music consumers. Capturing their attention and interest by consistently showcasing country's best helps grow the market for the music. CMA will pursue this goal in several ways including further enhancing the show's production values, stronger marketing and promotion supporting the Awards and continuing to evaluate future dates and locations for optimal impact.
Finally, at the foundation of everything CMA hopes to accomplish as a trade association are relationships with the artists. The artists are the industry's most vital assets. The CMA Board recommended development of a formal outreach program to improve CMA's artist relations. Many artists are not fully aware of what CMA does and how it operates. The initiative will involve shaping CMA's artist relationships early in an artist's career; some new interaction and education opportunities; and designating CMA staff to concentrate on artist relations.
"The Board understands that CMA can't fix the economy or the overall state of the industry, but there are areas in which CMA can make a big difference for the good of everyone," Benson said. "And that is where we want to focus."