Op-Ed: Sales-Week Ending 10/21/12 – By Bob Lefsetz

1. Jason Aldean "Night Train"

Sales this week: 409,303

Country is about careers. The artists may not write their own songs, but they've got personalities and are positively three dimensional. Unlike in pop, it's about the act, not the track. Which is why these country albums debut so high. Granted, they only continue to sell with radio hits, but the big stars rarely falter, their handlers make sure the songs are great.

Unlike the "world domination" pop stars, country acts are satisfied speaking to their core, they need no one more. Which begs the question whether country will forget about Taylor Swift after she has gone pop. This is what happened with Shania Twain. Country needs to own you, it doesn't want to share you. Then again, Taylor Swift has become the voice of her generation. Deservedly so, based on her honest, confessional songs of the past. As for this new album, can you believe how quickly "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" burned out? Top Forty radio, unlike its country cousin, is not loyal. If callout isn't spectacular, if they sense a shift in the winds, they drop you. In other words, play in the Top Forty world at your peril.

2. Mumford & Sons "Babel"

Sales this week: 73,583
Weeks on: 4
Percentage change: -23
Cume: 938,380

Justin Bieber's album "Believe" has been on the charts for 18 weeks and has sold 945,560 copies (14,043 this week, it's number 24 on the chart.) In other words, there are more Mumford fans than Beliebers. Think about that for a minute. Despite all the hoopla, all the press, all the reams of publicity, Bieber is being outsold by a group with no hunks, almost no identifiable players, making music most people still have not heard. The future is with Mumford, not Bieber. Publicity does not pay. Airplay, sales and touring do. And the goal is to be able to do it as long as possible. Which is usually based on not only hits, but credibility. Mumford is hiding in plain sight. The teen phenoms and the oldsters get all the publicity, but it's Mumford who's winning.

4. Scotty McCreery "Christmas With Scotty"

Sales this week: 40,786

How cynical can you get. Usually Christmas albums are a victory lap after a significant career, a rip-off of fans too dedicated to say no. You might say this proves "Idol" still has power, I'll say it's more about country than "Idol" but I'll also say Scotty McCreery still doesn't have a career. Hell, a goose could fart Christmas carols and have a successful holiday album. This is meaningless.

Then again, the powers that be will do their best to help Scotty sustain. The infrastructure has much more power in country.

5. Jamey Johnson "Livin' For A Song"

Sales this week: 32,028

Impressive number, but expect this to fall off the chart instantly.

I'm not sure why Jamey took this left turn now, covering someone else's songs… Jamey is one step away from breaking through. He's the new Steve Earle, the new Ryan Adams…then again, country didn't know what to do with those "outlaws."

Really, Jamey's rock and roll.

But rock and roll is now spandex and shoegazers, but if only the audience could hear Jamey, they'd embrace him.

6. Pink "Truth About Love"

Sales this week: 31,073
Weeks on: 5
Percentage change: -15
Cume: 493,716

Singer or circus performer, you decide.

At least Madonna knew not to repeat herself. To quote the latest issue of "The New York Review Of Books":

"One thinks of Picasso's belief that the most dangerous trap facing the artist is the temptation to repeat himself; even plagiarism, he claimed, was preferable to repetition."

Innovate or die. In music as well as tech.

10. Metalocalypse: Dethklok "Dethalbum III"

Sales this week: 19,513

And who says TV no longer sells albums, ha!

Then again, cartoon characters are much more honest and three dimensional than most humans these days. In other words, there's more truth on "The Simpsons" than there is on a sitcom.

12. Donald Fagen "Sunken Condos"

Sales this week: 18,007

I bet you didn't even know this came out.

Oh what a difference a decade makes.

We were waiting for new Steely Dan music and now most people have no idea Fagen is making new music.

Just because you were someone once, it doesn't mean you're anybody today, other than a has-been who can play your own hits.

None of the ancients can sell a record. Because they just aren't hungry enough. They just want to bitch that the old days are through.

Forget albums you oldsters. Just cut one track so good it will go viral amongst your constituency.

But you won't do this. You keep talking about the "album," the statement, the cover, the vinyl, the way it used to be. You're still waiting for a deejay to embrace you when your audience listens to talk radio if they listen at all.

Just go on the road and play your hits and forget it.

Or social network and work two hundred days a year and open for Dave Matthews and try to gain a new audience.

But this is anathema to you.

14. Kiss "Monster"

Sales this week: 16,989
Weeks on: 2
Percentage change: -70
Cume: 73,384


If Gene Simmons were so damn smart, if he truly wanted to be relevant, he'd hook up with Dr. Luke or Max Martin. Hell, Kiss cut a disco track, they could get away with selling out. Gene's not making any money here, and it's not helping him sell tickets, what he needs is a hit, to draw attention to the band, to go on another victory lap. But Gene is too smart to listen, he knows everything.

17. Muse "2nd Law"

Sales this week: 16,653
Weeks on: 3
Percentage change: -46
Cume: 150,008

Bad buzz. The audience thinks they've changed.

26. Ellie Goulding "Halcyon"

Sales this week: 13,853
Weeks on: 2
Percentage change: -59
Cume: 48,016

The new Lana Del Rey. With more cred but less catchy material. Interscope specializes in this, trying to break seemingly credible artists through media manipulation. Laura Marling will be around longer and mean more. I mean when I read about you more than I hear your music, that's a problem.

32. Green Day "Uno!"

Sales this week: 12,988
Weeks on: 4
Percentage change: -16
Cume: 196,908

Speaking of a tsunami of press. How many times did we hear there were gonna be three albums? Turns out most people don't even care about one!

If Green Day were smart, and they're not, they'd realize they're now old, despite playing punk-influenced music. And when you're old, you're no longer flavor of the moment, kids don't care. So if you want to be relevant, you create an event. An event for an old act is a Broadway play. Yup, Green Day and the rest of the ancient should focus on legitimate theatre. Creating a work of art that stands alone that debuts on the Great White Way or Vegas or Branson. Let the people come to you. A play doesn't go stale, it's not forgotten, people still talk about it because you have to go to it, you plan ahead, therefore your new project lasts and lasts instead of falling off.

If the Eagles wanted to be relevant? They'd write a musical. Hell, about the Hotel California or politics or who knows what.

And the rest of the classic rockers should follow this paradigm too. This way, with a play, when you give it your best shot it doesn't die overnight. And if it does fail on Broadway, when you tour it at least people will expect new music.

This is perfect for Bon Jovi. Six months on Broadway doing the play and then the road for years. That way people will be interested in the new music, the fans will show up and overpay, it will be a great victory. But like all the rest of the classic rock acts, Bon Jovi is chasing dollars today at the expense of both relevance and its career tomorrow.

Then again, at least Bon Jovi has a career.

34. Ben Gibbard "Former Lives"

Sales this week: 12,192


Phil Collins may have broken out from Genesis but he made a great album.

Stay with the group. Metallica has this one right.

It's hard enough to have traction today, you don't want to dilute your essence.

Then again, speaking of former lives, if he could only get Zooey to feature his songs in her TV show…

37. Van Morrison "Born To Sing: No Plan B"

Sales this week: 11,654
Percentage change: -31
Weeks on: 3
Cume: 57,983

If Van the Man would come down off his high horse, interact with his audience, be accessible, never mind know who his fans are, he could sell a whole hell of a lot more than this.

He's burned his fans so many times it's ridiculous. Bad albums, overpriced shows where he played obscure material…

But people still have faith in him, they still think he can deliver.

I'll let you decide if he did here. But by detaching himself from his audience he's working with one hand behind his back.

46. No Doubt "Push & Shove"

Sales this week: 8,629
Percentage change: -25
Weeks on: 4
Cume: 160,733

If you come back, you've got to be better than great.

Word on the street is this album just isn't that good. Kind of like the Stones track, a monetary exercise to sell other 50th Anniversary crap. If it's not "Jumpin' Jack Flash," never mind "Start Me Up," why do we need it? We clicked to hear it on YouTube, and to the degree that track whose name we've already forgotten went viral was to tell all our friends how much we were disappointed.

47. Mika "Origin Of Love"

Sales this week: 8,518

A disaster.

If he had any fans, he didn't know how to reach them.

You're building a community. And press and even a hit track or two will barely help you do this. Dave Matthews lets everybody know he's got a new album and he has a high debut, despite most people thinking he makes crummy music and he gets little airplay… But Dave knows it's about the fans. (Meanwhile, DMB has sold 413,356 albums in 6 weeks, "Away From The World" is number 36 on the chart…a far cry from the old days, but pretty damn good today.)

51. Trey Anastasio "Traveler"

Sales this week: 7,741

Shouldn't he just be giving this away?

His audience trades live MP3s and he's saving it up for a studio album release?

Trey should do a live gig with Gary Clark, Jr. and give it away, put it up on Spotify for people to stumble upon.

Trey should make even more music.

Only the truly faithful care. Let them separate the wheat from the chaff, let us know what the rest of us should spend time with.

It only gets worse from here. Oldsters selling compilation albums and youngsters selling close to nothing.

Why is everybody still clinging to a dying model?

Unless you're creating an event, like a Broadway play, you've got to get in the flow and be constantly creating, constantly releasing. While you're home polishing the turd, your audience has forgotten you, they can't even find you, they don't even know you've got a new album out.

Set your sights really damn low. Forget about press, forget about radio. Just focus on building and satiating your audience.

The only metric that counts is your bank account. Can you give up your day job? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have health insurance? Once you've got those, focus on music. Keep making it and playing it. Keep yourself interested as opposed to selling the same damn thing, burning out your fans in the hope of finding someone new to love you. Your fans are the direct route to more listeners! Give them ammunition. Give them intriguing material. Give them a great show. Hits are irrelevant if you deliver live.

The entire music business is up for grabs. But because Lucian Grainge and Universal and Live Nation and AEG get so much ink you think it's the same as it ever was, but it's not even close to that!

If you're in it for the money, give up, there's just not enough of it. Become a banker, go into tech. If you're not in it for the tunes, now's not the time to play music, because oftentimes that's all you've got, the music itself. You've got to love to play, even if nobody is listening.

Music costs almost nothing to make and nothing to distribute. And if you think otherwise you're trying to create radio masterpieces that will never hit the airwaves anyway. Don't strive for perfection, strive for magic. Hell, if Springsteen cut one track in his bedroom tonight, an acoustic paean to his wife or a comment on the election, we'd light up the Interwebs spreading the word about his honesty, catching lightning in a bottle, tomorrow. Instead, every couple of years the Boss puts out another album like "Magic" that gets a ton of ink that almost no one listens to that fades away almost instantly upon release. This is death, not life.

You're a troubadour. A gunslinger. If you don't have a personality, you're never gonna make it. Hell, we care more about Taylor Swift's romances than the songs herself. She's running around naked emotionally and you're busy running around naked physically. The latter is a train-wreck that might garner some eyeballs but it's the former we're truly interested in.

Don't think fame, think life. Think emotion. Think soul.

If some of the most successful artists of all time can barely dent this chart, what makes you believe you can?

But those artists are playing the old game. One complete album of dreck every couple of years when even ten year olds are overbooked and challenged for time.

It's a land of opportunity out there. Instead of complaining you can't win, reinvent the wheel, do it your way, truly be creative. Take chances. If they don't work, pick yourself up and do something new the following week! Wear your failures as a badge of honor. Keep striving for excellence.

Don't be like everybody else.

The greats never were.