With the Backstreet Boys’ sales slipping behind those of ‘N Sync and questions increasing about the long-term strength of teen pop, the jokes have begun about a merger of the rival boy bands.
Why not? That’s the business model for record companies, with the former Big Six distribution groups becoming the Big Five two years ago and now teetering on the brink of shrinking to a Big Four. The planned merger of EMI Music and Warner Music Group was nixed by European Union authorities, but an EMI-BMG marriage is now on the table--although the Dec. 22 death of Rudi Gassner, who had been tapped to step in as BMG chief executive in the new year casts a shadow on those talks.
The obsession among music acts about bigger and faster numbers rose to surreal levels this year with ‘N Sync’s “No Strings Attached” selling 2.4 million copies in the U.S. in just its first week--sales once considered fantastic for the whole life of a hit album. It’s a situation in which the 1.6-million first-week sales of the Backstreet Boys’ “Black & Blue” are seen by some as a disappointment.
At the same time, Universal--which at the start of 1999 swallowed PolyGram--became the first music corporation in fiscal year 2000 to break the $1-billion mark in the sacred EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). That’s because Universal dominated with 28.03% market share of the more than 500 million copies of newly released albums sold in the U.S. this year, and 26.75% of the 763 million albums sold including catalog items.
If size is all that counts, then it’s easy to see who the winners and losers were this year. Of course, it’s much more complex than that--a company could have huge sales but little future development, for example. Market share does not tell the whole story.
But it is good for bragging rights. Among the labels, Universal’s Interscope Geffen A&M--which; merged two years ago--and Sony’s Columbia share the boasting privilege for 2000. Interscope was the top label in the top corporation, with an 8.97% market share of all new releases, trailed by Columbia’s 8.04% share. Those two labels flip-flop, however, if you look at the broader category of new releases combined with sales of older titles (or “catalog” sales), with tradition-rich Columbia taking 7.85% of the market and Interscope claiming 7.46%.
Here’s a roundup of how the major labels fared in 2000, organized by distribution group. The sales figures are from SoundScan through Dec. 24, with rankings based on new product. Total sales, which include older catalog items, are also noted.
Market share: new releases, 28.03% market share; total, including catalog, 26.75%.
* Interscope Geffen A&M;: Eminem and Limp Bizkit carried the company to the top, while Sting (whose 1999 “Brand New Day” soared to new life in 2000) and U2 were there to balance the bile a little. Complaints continue that the company is understaffed for its number of releases and gives up on albums that aren’t smash hits (the Wallflowers, Marilyn Manson). But it’s hard to argue with the total numbers.
Biggest 2000 album: Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP,” 7.8 million. Number of albums in the year’s Top 200 sellers, through Dec. 24: 13. In 2001, keep your eye on: Preparations for the impending exit of President Tom Whalley, set to move to Warner Bros.’ chairmanship at the end of 2001.
* Island Def Jam (includes Capricorn, Rounder): R&B; and hip-hop continue to rule, with late-'99 albums from Sisqo and DMX and two Jay-Z titles leading the way--though the Bon Jovi resurrection adds an unexpected change of pace.
Biggest 2000 album: Jay-Z’s “Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter” (released Dec. 28, 1999), 2.2 million. Albums in the year’s Top 200: 11.
* MCA: The year ends on a high note with Shaggy’s multi-format hit, while Avant (on Magic Johnson’s subsidiary label) made a promising debut. But Mary J. Blige and K-Ci & JoJo have been sluggish, leaving Blink-182’s 1999 “Enema of the State” as the only MCA album to sell more than a million in 2000.
Biggest 2000 album: Shaggy’s “Hot Shot,” 1.5 million. Albums in the year’s Top 200: 6.
* Universal Records Group: St. Louis, rural Mississippi and Italy? Those are the homes of Universal’s top three acts of the year--rapper Nelly, rock band Three Doors Down and novelty Euro-poppers Eiffel 65, respectively. The company’s deal with rap label Cash Money continued to pay off in cash money via Big Tymers and Juvenile. But boy band 98 Degrees still hasn’t reached ‘N Sync and Backstreet heights.
Biggest 2000 album: Nelly, “Country Grammar,” 4.9 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 10.
* DreamWorks: Artists such as singer-songwriter Elliott Smith earned the company critical respect, but hard rock has provided its sales breakthroughs. Last year, it was Powerman 5000, and this year, it’s Papa Roach, hitting a company-record 2.6 million with its debut, “Infest.”
Market share: new releases, 19.47%; total, 16.32%.
* Arista (includes Bad Boy, LaFace): Santana’s “Supernatural” momentum continued from ’99 for sales this year of more than 5.7 million, helping smooth the transition from forced-out founder Clive Davis to new President and CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid. Meanwhile, Reid’s own LaFace imprint provided new hits from Toni Braxton, impressive debut sales from Pink and an exploding breakthrough from rap duo OutKast. And thanks in part to a prominent sample by Eminem, English techno-songstress Dido’s 1999 debut has passed 1 million in sales and is gaining strength.
Biggest 2000 album: OutKast’s “Stankonia,” 2.1 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 15.
* RCA Music Group: At this hottest sales time of year, RCA has just three entries in the current Top 100--two from Christina Aguilera (her 1999 debut and her recent Christmas collection).
Biggest 2000 album: Vertical Horizon, “Everything You Want,” 1.1 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 5.
* Zomba Group (includes Jive, Volcano): ‘N Sync . . . Backstreet Boys . . . Britney Spears . . . if you’re the parent of a teen, you might as well just set up a direct payment line between your bank account and Jive--though it’s gotta sting that the Beatles’ hits collection soared while the Backstreet Boys’ “Black & Blue” dipped as Christmas approached. R. Kelly, Mystikal and Joe each also broke the seven-figure mark for Jive.
Biggest 2000 album: ‘N Sync, “No Strings Attached,” 9.8 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 10. Keep an eye on: Volcano (run by powerhouse managers Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch), which is ready to erupt with a long-awaited album from hard-rockers Tool in April.
* Wind-Up Entertainment: Creed’s October 1999 release is selling stronger than ever now, making it the biggest rock album of the year, with 6.4 million in 2000 for an overall total of 8.4 million.
Market share: new releases, 15.3%; total, 15.09%.
* Columbia: The hit machine kept churning them out in R&B; (Destiny’s Child, whose 1999 album, “The Writing’s on the Wall,” sold 3.7 million in 2000), pop (Savage Garden), teen pop (Jessica Simpson) and Latin pop (salsa singer Marc Anthony’s 1999 “Marc Anthony”), while a new deal with Loud Records (with Xzibit’s new “Restless” taking off) bolstered the rap roster. There were some disappointments, though, with Ricky Martin’s “Sound Loaded” off to a relatively slow start and the Offspring’s “Conspiracy of One” stalled.
Biggest 2000 album: Savage Garden’s “Affirmation,” 1.4 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 19. Keep an eye on: Destiny’s Child and Lauryn Hill, who are both working on new music.
* Epic: Sade’s strong return is the top story for Epic as the year ends, but the 2000 headline was the 2.6 million in sales for Macy Gray’s late-1999 debut, “On How Life Is.” And now Jill Scott may follow in her path. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “BTNHResurrection” joined Sade as the label’s other 2000 million-seller.
Biggest 2000 album: Sade’s “Lovers Rock,” 1.5 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 13. Keep an eye on: Michael Jackson. Will he finish the album he’s working on? Also Jennifer Lopez, who is following up her hit debut.
Warner Elektra Atlantic
Market share: new releases, 13.54%; total, 15.58%.
* The Atlantic Group: Kid Rock’s 1999 “Devil Without a Cause” and his 2000 anthology, “History of Rock,” combined for more than 4.7 million in sales this year. Matchbox Twenty’s “Mad Season” has a long way to go to reach the 7 million in sales of the band’s 1996 debut--but it’s still sold more than 2 million. And the company has scored solid diversity and development points with hard-edged Christian rockers P.O.D. and smoother Christian soul group Plus One, who have both crossed over to the secular market.
Biggest 2000 album: Matchbox Twenty’s “Mad Season,” 2.5 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 10. Keep an eye on: Stone Temple Pilots, with singer Scott Weiland now apparently in control of his life. The band is poised for a big return with a new album.
* Elektra Entertainment (includes East West): Elektra had no million-seller in 2000 and currently has just two albums among the top 100 sellers (1999’s “Mountain High . . . Valley Low” by Yolanda Adams at No. 94, and “Didn’t See Me Coming” by Keith Sweat at No. 97). Third Eye Blind, following a 3-million-selling 1997 debut, didn’t reach the million mark with 2000’s “Blue.” And rap dynamo Busta Rhymes has jumped ship for Clive Davis’ new J Records.
Biggest 2000 album: Third Eye Blind’s “Blue,” 819,000. Albums in year’s Top 200: 7.
* Warner Bros. (includes Reprise): In limbo (again) while waiting for Whalley to move over from Interscope, Warner Bros. had a solid year led by 1999 carry-overs Faith Hill (2.6 million of her “Breathe,” for a total of 4.7 million) and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (2.1 million of “Californication” for 4.4 million total), with Madonna’s “Music” and the Eric Clapton/B.B. King “Riding With the King” collaboration making for strong 2000 releases. Veteran rock trio Green Day’s “Warning” could use a boost, but newcomers Disturbed and Linkin Park are both developing into rock radio hits.
Biggest 2000 album: Madonna’s “Music,” 1.7 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 13.
EMI Music Distribution
Market share: new releases, 8.6%; total, 9.6%.
* Capitol Records Group: No shame in having your best-selling music come from the ‘60s when it’s by the Beatles. If only that success spilled over to the label’s current acts. Press acclaim and fan adoration gave Radiohead’s “Kid A” a No. 1 opening week, but finding momentum without radio’s embrace has been tough. Seven of Capitol’s 10 top sellers of the year are from its ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s catalogs (Beatles, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Steve Miller, Poison).
Biggest 2000 album (besides the Beatles’ “1"): Everclear’s “Songs From an American Movie Vol. 1--Learning How to Smile,” 790,000. Albums in year’s Top 200: 5. Keep your eye on: more merger developments and expected changes in the executive offices.
* Virgin: Even with the merger uncertainty--or the U.S. flop of the Spice Girls’ “Forever"--Virgin had a solid rebuilding year led by successes in R&B; (D’Angelo), hip-hop (“Romeo Must Die” soundtrack) and rock (A Perfect Circle)--and Lenny Kravitz’s “Greatest Hits.” Virgin also made promising moves through deals with producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Limp Bizkit), Barry Hankerson’s Blackground Entertainment (Aaliyah) and the Beastie Boys-owned Grand Royal (which brought rockers At the Drive-In).
Biggest 2000 album: D’Angelo’s “Voodoo,” 1.5 million. Albums in year’s Top 200: 7. *
Steve Hochman is a regular contributor to Calendar.