I don’t pay a lot of attention to chart success, but occasionally something will grab my interest. This past week there were two things! First off, I couldn’t help but notice that David Bowie’s album Blackstar went to #1. I can’t imagine I’m the only one out there struck by the thought that this is his first #1 album ever. Really?!? (yes, really!) Secondly, I saw that Paper Gods re-entered Billboard at #45. The year 2016 seems as though it might be full of surprises…
It wasn’t the fact that Blackstar hit number one that surprised me. In many ways, I anticipated as much, and truthfully I think it would have disappointed me had it not charted that way. No, what really surprises me is that this is his very first #1. I just don’t get it. I’ve seen all of the love, the devotion, the sadness, the pure emotion…and yet there’s not been a number one hit for Bowie until this album. I guess that really just goes to show how incredibly screwed up the charts and sales can be. I am sure that I could invest many hours of time looking over the past charts, finding out what albums/singles did hit number one during the same periods of time that David Bowie had albums release….but I won’t. I think we all understand, or we all should understand by now, that artistic merit doesn’t always equal commercial success…in fact it is rare when it does. On one hand, I’m thrilled to see Blackstar making its way into the playlists of so many (including my own), and on the other, there’s a niggling bit of sadness that it took so long and came so late. One might wonder if there would have been the same outcome had it not been for Bowie’s death two days after the album’s release. Another might say that we can’t think that way, because we will never really know. Truthfully, both thoughts run circles in my head today. I suspect the real journey of Blackstar is only beginning, regardless of how that interest was originally fueled.
Then there’s Paper Gods and it’s chart success. Honestly. Sometimes, I just have to sit back and watch in wonder when it comes to this band. It’s no wonder I am rarely bored when it comes to Duran Duran. When this album first came out, I realized it would chart well, at least initially because of streaming and the sheer force of promotion. Katy’s hard work did not go unrecognized, and the album was #10. It was a thrilling, welcome moment for the band, whether we fans want to admit that or not. When the album exited the top of the charts just as quickly, I tried not to notice or pay attention.
I know many fans will say chart success doesn’t matter, that they don’t care – they just love Duran Duran and the rest doesn’t matter. I get that. Fans are lucky in that respect. We can like what we like and not worry about the commercial aspect. I don’t personally believe it’s something that the band can or should try for when writing, but we’re all kidding ourselves if we think it doesn’t matter at least in some aspect. Sales matter. Money matters. The album needs to be able to pay for itself, otherwise we’ve all got problems. Let’s be honest: Duran Duran would like to know the album is getting out there to the people. I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the music industry, but I do understand the basics. Gotta sell the music, whether by albums, by ticket sales, or something else… to make it all work. I don’t think Duran Duran sees the whole “music thing” as a hobby, and so there’s not much point in doing all of it for free. Hence…charts matter, at least to a limited extent to the band and their management. Let’s all take a moment to be thankful they don’t have to matter to the music lovers out there….
I don’t really know how “The Powers That Be” see the success of Paper Gods, at least not yet. I’d quietly wondered if they’d written it off when it left the charts, not knowing what they were planning next (keep reading). I knew we’d never really see (at least not until much later) if there was any disappointment, because it’s obviously not to the benefit of the band to mention worry when it exited the charts so quickly. In protection and promotion of the band, staying positive is key. Paper Gods hit #10. A Duran Duran album was in the top 10 for the first time in twenty years. Those are not bad notes to hang one’s fedora on, some thirty years into a career, and we cheer those things on. Even so, I had to wonder what the band was feeling. Does it ever get a bit irritating to know you’ve worked your ass off, put out what you feel to be some of your best work ever, and have it drop off the radar so fast? Is that the way it happens with most bands? I don’t pay enough attention to really know….and we can’t all be Adele all of the time, can we? Nick has mentioned a few times that there’s just so much out there, it’s difficult to get the music heard. He’s right. For all the good that the internet does, I know that even personally, I feel like it’s a constant flood of information. I miss things. I don’t hear every single bit of new music that’s out there, and talk about being overwhelmed? Oh yes. Very. How can they possibly get their music heard? Land-based radio sure as hell hasn’t helped, so what can be done?
Enter in ticket sales. Remember those Ticketmaster or Land Nation purchases we all just made (and probably have now seen on our credit card statements)?? Each ticket came with a copy of Paper Gods. Obviously someone in marketing is fully committed to the success of Paper Gods. At the time, I wondered out loud to Amanda if those albums would in fact count towards album sales. To be completely fair, I am still not entirely sure…but from the reading I’ve done, it appears that yes, they would. I think. The “rules” seem sketchy at best, and they seem to vary based on chart. That said, the proof seems to be in the pudding, and Paper Gods re-entered the charts last week at #45…12,000+ units having been sold. Was it the upcoming tour that really provoked the sudden buying spree, or was it that the tickets each came bundled with their own copy of the album that are counting towards those chart sales, and… is it artificially inflating the chart position if in fact that is how those CD’s that came bundled with the tickets are being counted? Does it matter?
For what my own opinion may be worth, I think any time Duran Duran is able to get themselves onto the charts, it is ultimately good. I have no issue with “artificially” inflating the charts because the bottom line is that if a copy of the album was purchased – then it was purchased, whether with a concert ticket or without; whether due to an upcoming tour or not. The method makes little difference. After all, what is really the difference between buying an album with a concert ticket as a bundle or going up to the merchandise booth after a show, or going to iTunes, and buying a copy? All DD has really done is speed up that buying process, and given someone the opportunity to listen. Truthfully, this is indeed the playing field the band has been set on in the year 2015 and 2016 – they have got to get their album heard by as many people as possible. Never mind that I personally have approximately seven extra copies of this album that I really do not need. The idea, of course, is visibility. The band cannot possibly hope to get the album noticed unless they do something to force that exposure. Putting the album in the hands of people who cared enough to buy a tour ticket but maybe didn’t care enough about the new music to make the purchase seems reasonable. Will it convince a casual fan to put the CD in their music player and tell others? Those chapters have yet to be written in the tale of the Paper Gods, but I look forward to seeing where it all goes.