MJDanegrous is reading the whole conversation and this is what he has to say about the whole debate. This goes in response to many of the comments posted in here.
A) Available buyers
"All recent studies show that since the explosion of the iPod in 2004 the average number of hours dedicated to music is much higher and that music entered among hobbies of much more people than in the past."
The link posted by Phoenix83 mentions that budget dedicated to music went down overall - that is up to regular buyers and has to do with the first category. Below is the number of hours people 8-18 listen to music in the US:
1999 - 1:48 (hours per day)
2004 - 1:44
2009 - 2:31
That is true among older people as well, with home to work - work to home transport time being the main reason of the amount of time listenning music largely increasing, plus multi-tasking while being on a computer. That is something very new, historically up to 2004 the time spent listenning to music by people always remained pretty steady, now it is going through the roof year after year.
With inhabitants largely up from the past and each of them individually averaging a larger amount of music listenned, it can only be implied that available buyers are more numerous than previously. Doing some calculations, if we assume 230m inhabitants listenning to 1:45* hours of music per day, it means some 400m hours of music listenned per day in 1983. That number increased to 310m inhabitants listenning to 2:30 hours of music per day, which means 775m hours worth of music listenning.
*I'm using the 8-18 years old figure for the amount, for the entire population real number is lower but since that is all about proportion it doesn't matter.
The conclusion is that to fullfill the demand an 2 albums are needed in 2011 while 1 was enough in 1983
About my conclusion below:
"To summarize, Adele is the first blockbuster in years but then benefits from the situation to make it look even bigger than it actually is. It would still end being as big as Titanic or Come On Over were - pushing optimism a bit it can possibly reach the level of success reached by Bodyguard and Saturday Night Fever"
I wasn't referring to raw numbers despite what has been suggested. 21 is already arguably bigger than Come Away With Me, Eminem Show or Spice Girls albums, althrough sales-wise it still hasn't crack them. Come On Over sold over 35m and I'm not expecting that much by 21 so I'm implicitely arguying it doesn't require as many sales to be considered as big. Titanic sold "only" 28m-ish, but it was a bigger blockbuster than what this figure suggest (surely 04Wayne will agree), the single went on to become one of the best selling ever and Let's Talk About Love, sold zillions of copies thanks to the same single and Titanic soundtrack sold all that with no subsequent single. To catch the size of success got by Celine Dion in the first half of 1998 is nothing than sensational and saying 21 will be on par with that era is really not disminishing its success. Bodyguard and SNF are both approching 40m in sales so again saying 21 can possibly reach their status is already a massive argument (and is not referring to raw numbers).
B) Buyers categories
As for Joao comments, I won't enter into his ad hominem remarks (especially since I haven't been listenning regularily to MJ for over 5 years and bought Adele album myself), I will focus on the core of the discussion. Actualy, there really is a bareer between regular and casual buyers. It is definitely not a line enlighted on the floor but still there is various arguments for that. It all depends which medias the artist is able to reach. Once the artist start getting covered by serious newspapers and TV shows; not only usual music channels and music-dedicated programs, it broke the barreer. It is exactly the meaning of "crossing over", just like when a Country artist cross over the main audience - when the single get aired on Top 40 Pop radios. It is pretty much a binary situation - Lady Antebellum crossed over, so did Taylor Swift, Dierks Bentley did not (for example). Same is true for blockbuster albums, an album do not suddenly start selling way beyond usual figures by chance but yes because it managed to reach medias with a wide audience that goes beyond persons looking for music by themself.
Btw, to answer Phoenix83 of course it isn't because Adele managed to sell albums to casual buyers that she hasn't achieve to sell albums to regular buyers as well, she definitely did. We can pretty much define the level of success of an album by looking at which level of audience it reached:
- Flop album: Sells to the artist fanbase only (example: Last Dido album)
- Moderate failure/success: Sells to the artist type of music regular buyers as well (example: Last Alicia Keys album)
- Successful album: Sells to regular music buyers from various genres (example Gaga's Fame)
- Blockbuster album: Sells to casual music buyers (example: Adele's 21)
The promotion is axed towards that logic. Depending on how big/small the act is, his album gets promoted to fans only (communications on fan sites etc), or to the type of music related (TV spots on MTV Dance for Tiesto for example), or to all regular buyers (TV spots on MTV main channel, in-between music TV shows) or to the overall audience (getting spots on the main country channels, on News diaries and such).
It is all down to the artist merit to have a suffisant attractiveness to reach the highest level possible of exposure/sales (as I have been arguying for years, it isn't promotion that sells but sales which generate promotion, the circle starts that way) as Adele did.
About Iron Maiden example, actualy their fans are regular buyers. We do know they are going to buy new Maiden albums - they do buy regularily albums then, just with a lower frequency than others. Of course we all live in the same world and a non-blockbuster can still reach a couple of casual buyers for any reason, but in the music industry jigsaw that isn't relevant.
C) Piracy history
Joao is obviously correct saying that it isn't because someone can buy a record that he will necessarily do it. Isn't it the main question yet - which album got able to convince the most people to buy it independantly of the background? At any point a person is forced to buy an album. That was not more true in 1965 than in 1985 or in 2005. It is also incorrect to say now people do not need to buy an album to listen to it but was in the past - copying exists for very long. The casual buyer that gets 1 album every 3 years will not really care about the sound quality, his ears aren't even used enought to notice it. For older people we can even argue it was easier at the time to get a copied cassette than today to go on a computer, open a browser, reach a specific website and download a song.
Cassette copies influence is largely downgraded today. Below is an example speaking about piracy in 1981 (example of Finland): http://books.google.fr/books?id=rSQEAAA ... &q&f=false
- 98% of 15-19 people had a cassette player/recorder
- Blank cassettes (to copy) sales exceeded prerecorded cassettes sales (albums/singles)
- Each blank cassettes was copied 2 or 3 times at least
- 84% of people said they would buy records if it wasn't so easy to copy
- In Sweden, 5 blank cassettes sold every 3 prerecorded cassettes
If we assume each blank cassette was copied on average 3 times, it means out of 18 albums listenned to by people on cassette, 15 were copied (5*3) while only 3 were bought legally.
Overall, 296 million of blank cassettes were sold in 1983 in Europe (Billboard issue 6 Oct 1984), making it 900 million albums worth of music copied. How many of them had been used to copy Thriller at the time? Obviously several millions, meaning by the end of 84 there was likely more Thriller records copied than original. Not that Thriller was a specific case (only the amounts was bigger, not the proportion pirated/original) - I'm showing just that - that piracy was already massive and largely developped 30 years ago.
Thus, it is highly incorrect to believe people 'had to' buy an album to listen to it at the time. They did not had to do it more than today. When people bought Saturday Night Fever or Thriller, it is people they loved them enough to believe they were worth the money - exactly the same reasonning as with Adele today.
Previous figures show very well the lower quality wasn't at all an issue - most people just went on with copies and were satisfied with them. Considering in the case of Thriller 25% of houses were owning it, we can also safely assume it wasn't hard to get a friend with the album to copy it. People wanted to buy the album, althrough they do had the choice to get a copy instead.
Just like the piracy during the 80s is downgraded, the current piracy is highly exaggerated today. In the US, over 8 million people downloaded legally 'I Gotta Feeling'. That number alone shows there is at least as many people downloading music nowadays than there was buying records in 83 in the US (since apart from Thriller album none single release was anywhere near reaching such an amount within a promotional campaign).
Considering single releases can get downloaded 8 million times and that single sales are past 1 billion per year, plus people buying physical stuff, the number of different people that are spending money into music is much higher than what is often assumed. We can't realistically believe most people isn't buying music anymore while every single week 30 million singles are sold in the US alone (do people realize it - 30 million?!). Around 1983, the number of houses itself was already limited to 75m - and again, loads of people were only getting copied cassettes just like now people are downloading illegaly.
To resume this issue while catching back my previous point of buyers categories, Joao mentions a 5th category exist:
1) Fans of music overall (regular buyers largest frequency)
2) Fans of his type of music (regular buyers medium frequency)
3) Fans of an artist (regular buyers lowest frequency)
4) Not fans of music (casual buyers)
5) Not putting a peny into music (will never buy a thing)
That 5th category definitely exists. For money/age/health problems or simply because they don't care, there is a part of people never buying music. Joao mentions correctly that piracy add people to that category. Where I do not join him anymore is when we argue that 5th category is massively bigger today than in the 80s, figures of piracy from the past show that it is a very old and very large problem even way before downloads. Cassettes got copied, CDs got copied (I was myself selling CDs of Play Station games and music for 30F/about 5€ when I was a teenager at school, about 12 years ago since I had a CD recorded very early, selling about 20 of them per week), digital tracks get downloaded. It is really nothing new.
What changed is that before we were only copyed stuff we really want, now everyone can download a mass amout of music, making the problem look bigger than before while actualy the number of people illegaly downloading is in proportion unlikey higher than the number of people copying cassettes during the 80s.
D) Charts evolution
As for chart placing, it has been said that now sales are much more froatloaded, which is true and due to internet which enabled much more awareness. Soundscan-like charts also changed the deal. Most people aren't aware about how charts (and sales as well) evolved yet: They were much more spread over a certain period, that is for sure. It does mean that Blake Shelton for example would have never been #1 in the 80s unlike it did last year - on that specific week, Adele would have been above and secure one other week at 1. But that also means Gaga, which sold 1.5m in a month, instead of not reaching the top at all as this was supposed (how?!) would have been at the top for at least 6 weeks during the 80s, while in 2011 Adele was able to dislog her by the 3rd week of Born This Way release. Indeed, Gaga getting the same number of buyers but more spread through several weeks (since the promotion would have been axed on several weeks period instead of the release date) would give 200k, 350k, 375k, 300k, 200k, 125k during her first weeks. Only after that Adele would have got back bigger sales than Gaga, but Beyonce would be the new #1 (released 5 weeks after Gaga).
If we look at Britney vs Adele at Britney album release for example (to save me time i'm using HDD figures):
1. Britney - 277k
2. Adele - 94k
1. Adele - 88k
2. Britney - 77k
Over a period of 2-weeks, Britney sold 354k, Adele 182k. Spears would have been most likely about 2 weeks at 1 before the internet age, while now she got only 1 week and so did Adele. Then consider Chris Brown, Drake, Coldplay, Gaga, Beyonce, Lil Wayne, Lady Antebellum etc, all those acts would have got 2-6 weeks at the top during the 80s (all of them and more outsold Adele during at least a 2-weeks total period). It wouldn't be hard to re-write 2011 chart toppers acting as we were still on 80s chart background and look how many weeks at the top Adele would have got (roughly without really checking likely about 14-16 up to now).
E) Conclusion - Where does 21 stand for then?
While I'm answering to points that were enlighted which are mainly "pro-Adele" making my answers look "anti-Adele", I do still want to make clear I'm hardly reducing the success of Adele. Had I to put into groups blockbusters, I would say:
A League: Thriller
B League: Bodyguard, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Bridge Over Troubled Water
C League: Tapestry, Come On Over, Rumours, Titanic/Let's Talk About Love, Brother In Arms
D League: Purple Rain, Born In The USA, Bad, Jagged Little Pill, But Seriously, One, The Wall, Joshua Tree, Dangerous, Falling Into You
E League: Come Away With Me, Millenium, Baby One More Time, Dirty Dancing, Music Box, True Blue, Faith, No Jacket Required, Happy Nation etc.
I'm voluntarily ignoring the Beatles because the market was so much different that it is hard to compare with those albums. I'm also focusing on success upon release, not considering catalog sales.
To me, 21 is already ahead of the D League and catching the C League. The most realistic scenario IMO is that she will end there, along the likes Brother In Arms or Rumours, which has such is already outstanding since that makes it one of the 10 biggest blockbusters of alltime. Then, we will have to wait a few more months to see if the album reaches the B League, which in my point of view will be achieved if she sells 33+ million by year end.