Justin Timberlake is feeling the love after his most recent album, “The 20/20 Experience,” boasted nearly one million units sold in its first week. The album’s success is a personal best for Timberlake and is also the highest selling album of this year. As we’ve watched the music industry struggle to maintain sales after the globalization of the Internet, we can’t help but wonder how JT got it right this time. The harsh reality is that we haven’t seen first week album sales like this in years.
Instead of keeping his record secretive until it undoubtedly leaked before it’s release, “The 20/20 Experience” was available via iTunes for an online preview. Users were able to stream the entire album for free. Most artists steer away from streaming services, but in an unstable economy they are forgetting a simple fact: people aren’t spending money anymore without research. By streaming the album for free, Timberlake built solid buzz and market value. Once music fans heard the album, they soon agreed that it was worth the purchase.
In 2011, iTunes began to preview albums with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album entitled “I’m With You.” The preview accounted for the digital sales of their first single that doubled once the preview became available. It’s surprising that more artists haven’t tried this method. Programs like Spotify allow users to constantly stream songs and “The 20/20 Experience” was streamed nearly 7.7 million times. Users of iTunes were given the opportunity to preorder the Timberlake album before it came out. Streaming services like this are getting close to replacing the radio because they give the power to the users, who can skip songs that they don’t like and replay songs that they enjoy. Users can often easily purchase songs or albums from these streaming services, too.
Websites and applications that offer streaming services bring in substantial ad revenue, but little money goes to the artists. Spotify pays artists less than half a cent per listen. Out of the 7.7 million hits that Timberlake garnered on Spotify, only about $30,00 will actually go back to the artist. This means that streaming an album isn’t really worth it if your album isn’t very good. Perhaps unknowingly, Timberlake has set a new music industry standard. If you create a solid album, build buzz, and allow it to be streamed, music aficionados will indeed pay for it. It’s a win-win situation for the music industry. Here’s hoping that other artists are taking note.