In 1984, over 360 million units of recorded music got sold in the US.
In 1986, about 280 million units of recorded music got sold in the US. A huge reduction from 2 years ago.
By 1988, about 300 million units of recorded music gold sold in the US. Still a reduction from 1984, but an increase from 1986.
By 1990, about 320 million units of recorded music got sold in the US, with the majority of sales made up from CD purchases.
Between 1984 and 1990 there was a reduction of 11% in overall sales of recorded music however a big increase in dollars as CDs started to replace vinyl and had a better return for the labels which they kept in their balance sheets as a return on investment.
So if a band moved a million units of vinyl in 1984, and provided they still stuck together, you would expect their album in 1990 would sell about 890,000 units based on the trends.
And that same band who moved a million units in 1984 had a high chance of selling 834,000 units for their next album in 1986 because the reduction was even greater between these two years.
In relation to hard rock and metal, some bands had bigger reductions in sales than the 11%, some bands didn’t make it to 1990 and some bands bucked the trend and had an increase in sales.
Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister and Ratt are three bands that come to mind which followed this kind of trajectory. High selling albums circa 1983/84 to low selling albums or to just ceasing to be even together by 1990.
“Out Of The Cellar” by Ratt sold 2 million units in 1984 and “Detonator” their most solid album, only sold 500K by December 1990.
Van Halen’s “1984” album sold 4 million by October of the same year. “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” sold 2 million in 1991 when it came out.
“Eliminator” from ZZ Top came out in 1983 and by the end of the year it had sold a million units and by the end of 1984, it had sold 4 million units which means it moved 3 million units for that year. “Recycler” only moved a million units in 1990 when it came out.
Meanwhile, Bon Jovi went from a band who couldn’t move 500,000 units of their debut album in 1984 to selling 3 million units in 1986 with “Slippery When Wet”.
So when you think about the 22.2% reduction in sales from 1984 to 1986, Bon Jovi went against the trend here. With a reduced music buying public, they grabbed a larger share of it, more so than the other bands. And that large share, still provides Jovi with his victory lap.
And Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze Of Glory” album moved 2 million units in 1990.
And when fans of Quiet Riot heard “Condition Critical” and “QRIII”, it was a no brainer to jump ship and move to a better sounding and catchy band like Bon Jovi and Europe.
Actually Europe in 1986 didn’t sell much in the US, however by the end of 1987, they moved 2 million units in the US of “The Final Countdown” album.
However their “Prisoners In Paradise” album, didn’t even get to 500K units in 1992.
Motley Crue didn’t buck the trend either as their peak was “Shout At The Devil”. “Theatre Of Pain” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” became album’s to get the band back on the road because bands on occasions have low selling albums but tours that do great business at the box office. It wasn’t until “Dr Feelgood” hit the streets that Motley Crue went against the statistics and sold a lot more than others.
Iron Maiden is a band who didn’t sell multi millions of an album, but they cashed in on the live business and merchandise. Kiss as well.
In the end the base of hard core music consumers in the 80s who purchased music has stayed on average year after year. The only difference is we kept on shifting our allegiances.
The cost of purchasing music increased with CD’s and there was a period when CDs started to takeover people sort of stopped purchasing because of the price.
However when the 70s and 80s generation had grown up and started to repurchase their vinyl collections in the 90’s you get to that magical summit that the record labels always allude to when they talk about pre Napster. Between the years 1999 and 2002, CD units stayed above 900 million units.
And through it all, the record labels and the artists had no idea who their fans were. All they knew was a sale happened. If that sale led to the person listening to the album thousands of times or just once was not known.
So even though an artist might have sold 30,000 units in a city, it didn’t correlate to 30,000 fans. Hard rock bands in the late 80s had to cancel shows or play to half full arenas in cities where their record based on sales stats, sold well. But streaming stats tell the artist who is listening and from which city they are listening. A connection is made immediately.
P.S. Sale stats by RIAA Gold and Platinum database.
P.S.S. The total units sold came from the graph in this Spin article titled “Did Vinyl Really Die In The 90s”.
P.S.S.S. I started this post a while back and kept on returning to it, doing a little bit more than previously and sometimes I struggled with it.
And it all made sense how you can use a little bit of math to get your point across. So thanks to the WordPress Bloggers for posting and sharing their minds.