Halloween is just around the corner, but for the music industry, “fright night” comes every week, when the latest sales reports come in. Not one album released so far this year has sold a million copies. The top-sellers that have come out this year are Coldplay’s Ghost Stories, which has sold 732K copies in the U.S. since its release in May, and Eric Church’s The Outsiders, which has sold 730K copies since its release in February.
Things would be really bleak were it not for the Frozen soundtrack, which was released in November 2013. The album has sold 3,158,000 copies so far this year, bringing its total U.S. sales to date to 3,496,000.
Why has Frozen defied the downward trend in album sales so dramatically? There’s a built-in market for family-friendly soundtracks. The soundtrack to an earlier Disney animated movie, The Lion King, was the best-selling album of 1994. The soundtrack to TV’s High School Musical, a Disney Channel franchise, was the best-selling album of 2006. Two other soundtracks have wound up as the year’s best-seller in the Nielsen SoundScan era (which dates to 1991): Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard (1993) and Titanic (1998).
Another soundtrack to a family-friendly hit movie, Guardians Of The Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1, also ranks among 2014’s top-sellers. It has sold 543K copies since its release in July.
Even so, Frozen’s 3.5 million sales tally in this extremely challenging sales climate is phenomenal. It’s a bit like Adele’s 21, which has sold more than 11 million copies in the U.S. since its release in early 2011. In both cases, these hits prove that blockbuster sales are still possible—just extremely hard to achieve.
This doesn’t mean that music has lost its mojo. It just means that today’s fans are perfectly content to stream their favorite music—and increasingly reluctant to buy it.
The Recording Industry Assn. of America instituted platinum albums (signifying 1 million sales) in 1976 because gold albums (signifying sales of 500K) were becoming so commonplace. For an album to go gold now is again a big achievement.
Other best-selling 2014 releases include Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour (655K), the Now 50 compilation (642K), Brantley Gilbert’s Just As I Am (591K), Pharrell Williams’s GIRL (533K), Ed Sheeran’s X (520K), 5 Seconds Of Summer’s 5 Seconds Of Summer (499K), Miranda Lambert’s Platinum (484K), Barbra Streisand’s Partners (445K) and Michael Jackson’s posthumous hit Xscape (435K).
The Smith and Sheeran albums are likely to garner Grammy nominations in marquee categories, which will help keep them on top into 2015.
The success of the Church, Gilbert and Lambert albums shows that country continues to be one of the most dependable genres.
Several other albums that were released in 2013 (or even 2012, in the case of Imagine Dragons) have posted big numbers in 2014. Those albums, and their 2014 sales tallies, include Beyonce’s Beyonce (784K), Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city (774K), Lorde’s Pure Heroine (764K), Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die (699K), Luke Bryan’s Crash My Party (643K), Katy Perry’s PRISM (539K), Florida Georgia Line’s Here’s To The Good Times (525K) and Imagine Dragons’s Night Visions (513K).
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