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The changing musical landscape

Country Standard Time Editorial, January 2006

The music industry did not enjoy a good 2005 at all, and that ought to bode for even more change in how the music business operates this year. CD sales dropped about 8 percent for industry-wide, the worst year since 2000. For country music, sales declined 3.3 percent with the number of country albums sold 75.3 million versus the 77.9 million of 2004. However, the 2005 figure did not include sales of Garth Brooks' "The Limited Series" box set because it was only available through Wal-Mart.

Brick and mortar record stores are not working like they once did, and while digital sales increased dramatically in 2005, though not enough to offset slow CD sales thus far.

Copying and unexciting music contributed to the downturn, some industry wags contend.

The country music industry, along with the industry overall, continues to be in a state of flux. The major labels did not enjoy a particularly strong year. Some majors, such as Warner, had very few releases, and at 1.5 million copies sold of Faith Hill's "Fireflies," the label can't be jumping for joy. Those are great numbers for a newer artist, but for a veteran star, not really.

Gretchen Wilson's "All Jacked Up" earned good reviews, but this was not the blockbuster hit her debut was. And her Sony label suffered a huge black mark in the public's eye with problems about putting anti-copying software on CDs, only to make computers susceptible to viruses.

With major labels relying on blockbusters, an interesting sidelight of 2005 was the emergence of several small independent labels, particularly Equity and Broken Bow. Each enjoyed several hit songs and albums from Little Big Town, Craig Morgan and Jason Aldean. Neal McCoy seemed to do fairly well with his album on his own label.

A few more labels are stepping into the fray in 2006 - Big Machine and Show Dog Nashville, the labels started by Scott Borchetta and Toby Keith in a joint partnership of sorts. The general intent is to change the way Nashville does business. If the quality is there, then there could be a few more players on the country music landscape.

The labels, especially majors, who move slowly in adapting to the changing scene, will have to also deal with the new media market of the internet, podcasting and who knows whatever else will develop. Some don't seem to be moving so fast in getting their arms around the medium.

The industry can hope for a strong 2006, but chances are the landscape will continue to change whether the Capitols, Sonys and Warners of the world adapt or are left behind.