“There is something about platinum,” country superstar Miranda Lambert sings on her 2014 album, ironically named “Platinum.” Lambert knows a little something about platinum records, considering that her first four albums were certified platinum, but she and all other musicians may be hard struck to reach that milestone again.
Up to the date of Tuesday, Nov. 4, not a single album had gone platinum this year. For those that don’t know, going platinum is one of the largest measures of success for a record because it signifies selling one million copies of an album. In the first 10 months of the year, no artist or band has felt this success, despite wildly popular albums being put out. The best-selling albums of 2014 are actually albums released last year. Beyoncé sold 776,000 copies of her “surprise” album, and Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” has sold 754,000. The best-selling album, too, was actually released in 2014, country singer Eric Church’s “The Outsiders.”
This platinum drought was broken last week by none other than Taylor Swift’s “1989,” which sold 1.287 million copies in its first week of release. She did what no other artist has been able to do in an entire year. Why was she able to do this? Well, simply enough, because she is Taylor Swift. Despite some negative opinions, no one can doubt that that woman knows how to sell music. The more important question to ask then is why is it so hard for other artists to cross the million-sold barrier?
A big part of the answer to this question lies in the technological advancements of our time. Very few people actually drive to the store and buy a copy of a CD anymore. If people are buying music, they are usually doing it on the computer — more specifically, on iTunes. According to an article released by NPR, iTunes sales are down 13 percent since 2013, and that number is only going down. If people aren’t buying the albums physically or digitally, they aren’t buying them at all.
It is safe to say that people are still listening to music, so they must be doing it other ways. The major theories that exist are that people listen through online sites like Spotify and YouTube, or they are simply downloading music illegally. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), the sanctioning body that decides when albums go platinum, says “Music theft is a real, ongoing and evolving challenge. Both the volume of music acquired illegally and the resulting drop in revenues are staggering.”
Swift talked about these alternate ways of acquiring music in an interview with Yahoo Music, saying “the landscape of the music industry itself is changing . . . everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment. And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music.”
Swift does not have her album available on Spotify, and we must wonder if that doesn’t play into her platinum status. Those that aren’t willing to illegally download her album can’t get it through these ethically questionable but legal avenues like Spotify, and, therefore, have no other choice but to buy it. And they did buy it. 1.287 million times.
Should artists start pulling their music off sites like Spotify? Should the government and institutions like the RIAA crackdown on piracy? If we want albums to go platinum, they might have no other choice.