Opinion: Measuring fan integrity

Neville Hardman is a sophomore magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.  Contact her at [email protected]

Neville Hardman

Yeezus,” “Random Access Memories” and “AM” are all examples of popular albums that breathed life into 2013. As the early months of 2014 begin to chip away, music junkies can only inquire which new releases will make a slam dunk onto the charts next. But a more haunting question that goes beyond light and fluffy subjects like waiting for a hit single has been making the music industry sweat: will album sales continue to be a relevant way to measure band popularity?

This question, proposed by Alternative Press in a poll this week, raises an interesting point.

Album sales have always been used to show a band’s popularity and value to the public. Listeners respond to its content to let artists know where they stand and what they should improve on, sometimes with extremely harsh comments. Putting out a good album means everything, and there’s nothing more disappointing than when your favorite band goes through a dry spell.

As music lovers, we crave epic, blood-pumping, purpose-giving songs that make us feel like our lives aren’t a sad diary page. We want something that will have us believing that we are absolutely indestructible for three minutes. Yet there are still people who disregard that feeling and try to put a dollar sign on the meaning of success and popularity.

For example, “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” sold 1.73 million copies, according to Billboard. It sold for $11.99 on iTunes, but “The Greatest Generation” by The Wonder Years sold far fewer copies for only $9.99, even though the content is just as good. Take a moment to read the lyrics and see for yourself. The Wonder Years are hugely popular within their own pop-punk scene but get little media attention compared to Eminem. The definition of album success and popularity cannot just be limited to what gets a spotlight in the media and what does not.

Even piracy cannot hinder the success of an album. If people like an LP, they’re going to find a way to get it for free. The band will bring in less profit, but piracy is a problem the music industry has been facing for years and is going to have to continue dealing with it until there is a way for the practice to be terminated permanently. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded between 2004 and 2009 alone. But again, success does not equal a big bank account. It can simply mean a fantastic crowd response and sold out venues.

Album sales are still relevant and will be for many years to come, but the meaning is definitely changing. Determining a band’s popularity is expanding outside of sales statistics. It’s starting to mean how many people trek out to a venue to see a show. It’s the number of hits on their YouTube videos. It’s the number of likes the band has on its Instagram page. One thing that will always remain solid is that album sales don’t just reveal profits; they measure fan loyalty.