Who, Apple, Worry? — iTunes Scorecard April 5th, 2011


It’s time to check in with iTunes, and see how our friends from Cupertino are arranging their offerings in the wake of last week’s Amazon Cloud Drive announcement.

If you thought Amazon’s surprise attack would prompt a quick response from iTunes — you would be wrong. It’s business as usual, stay the course, for the iTunes store. If anything, there is less music at the top of the iTunes homepage than last week.

Here’s the latest at America’s favorite (legal) supplier of uncorrupted and down-loadable files, for uncorrupted and morally upstanding consumers.

AKA — Here’s what is for sale at iTunes today:

1st Cut SPLASHES (aka The Big Bold Banners): Songs For Japan — charity relief album, Death Cab For Cutie — iTunes Pass, Asking Alexandria, Hollywood Undead, Jim Jones.

New Release SWOOSHES (aka Minis): Songs For Japan, Hollywood Undead, Grey’s Anatomy, Asking Alexandria, Death Cab For Cutie, The Kills, Jim Jones, Diego Garcia, Tiesto, Mandisa, The Beatles –Box, The Beatles — Magical Mystery Tour.

1st Row BRICKS (aka static rectangles under the New Releases): Porcelain Black — Single Of The Week, $7.99 Classical Albums sale.

Free Single Of The Week: Porcelain Black — This is What Rock n Roll Looks Like (feat. Lil Wayne)

Did You Notice?:  Again, based on the iTunes store, it hardly looks like Apple is worrying about any music competitor.

Just look at the top of the iTunes store — real estate goes this week to The Kennedy’s miniseries, a free CBS TV show called Chaos, and the Tron movie, before iTunes shines a spotlight on any individual music act. Not only are these offerings not musical, they aren’t particularly sizzling either. Makes label-folks kind of long for simple problems, like piracy and competition from gaming, huh? At least those competitors were hot stuff.

Chart Glance: On the album chart, It’s Songs for Japan at #1, Adele #2, Asking Alexandria #3, Britney Spears #4 and Hollywood Undead rounding out the top 5. On the tracks chart, you will find Katie Perry at #1, Black Eyed Peas #2, Blake Shelton #3, Rihanna #4, and Jennifer Lopez at #5…How tough is it for Rock Tracks? Well, by my count the highest tracking Rock song on the chart is “The Cave” courtsey of Mumford And Sons. Man, it is tough sledding for you rockers these days at iTunes. And, finally, not that you necessarily asked or anything, but Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is already down to #71 on the tracks chart, and fading fast.

Hats Off: Death Cab For Cutie for getting to the homepage in great shape seven weeks ahead of their album release date, Blake Shelton for  a nicely executed single campaign, and Asking Alexandria for a great profile across the iTunes board.



Today's iTunes Scorecard — Still the King Kong of Digital Music.


This morning, Spotify’s Daniel Eck posted a nicely crafted thank you note on his blog :

So it’s with a sense of real pride and excitement that we can announce a new milestone today, having welcomed our millionth paying subscriber to the service. It’s a testament to our fantastic users who continue to support us and spread the Spotify word, either by telling friends or sharing some of the 200 million playlists that you’ve put together so far.

I love this approach… playful humility meets braggadocio.

Still, 1 million paying customers isn’t 200 million credit card supplying customers. That number belongs to our friends in Cupertino, running the iTunes store. And given these metrics, I thought we would steal just a smidgen of time away from Spotify this afternoon, and check back in with our favorite 800 pound Gorilla, the King Kong of digital music — the iTunes music store.

Below you will find the titles that appeared above the fold and in the 1st cut at iTunes. In other words, you land on the homepage today — here’s what you see:

1st Cut SPLASHES (aka The Big Bold Banners): Lupe Fiasco, Glee Vol. 5, Britney Spears (Pre-Order), Avril Lavigne, R.E.M., Sara Evans.

New Release SWOOSHES (aka Minis): Avril Lavigne, Glee Cast (2x), Matthew Morrison, Passion, Sara Evans, R.E.M., Raekwon, The Beatles — Love, The Beatles — Rubber Soul, Daniel Tosh, Aaron Gillespie, Dance Gavin Dance.

1st Row BRICKS (aka static rectangles under the New Releases): Timothy Bloom/Single Of The Week “‘Til The End Of Time”, SXSW Various Free Sampler, Wiz Khalfia Countdown.

Free Single Of The Week: Timothy Bloom “‘Til The End Of Time”

Did You Notice?: Lupe Fiasco may not love his label or even his own album — but that’s OK — apparently iTunes has enough love for both Lupe and Atlantic. How so? … well, Lupe secured the lead slot on the iTunes homepage, as well as great placement on the Hip-Hop page. Gosh had I known that rejecting success could play this well, I would’ve told Eddy, Robert, & Jay that I didn’t wan’t to be successful back in my day too.

We also noticed multiple placements for Glee, The Beatles, Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne. The lesson here is that it is fab to play Pop Music and to play it well. Esperanza Spaulding & Arcade Fire may have won Grammys last month, but iTunes awards space these days pretty much based on popularity. Oh, they may vote for the eclectic stuff when the NARAS ballot comes, but that’s on CBS’s dime.

Hats Off: R.E.M for a nicely executed iTunes campaign leading into strong placements, Britney Spears for securing a big Pre-Order look in an era where pre-order heat is rarer and rarer, and Lupe Fiasco for understanding that  hot rhetoric often leads to hot sales.

Chart Glance: On the album chart, Lupe holds the top 2 slots, with Adele, Avril Lavigne and Glee rounding out the top 5. On the tracks chart, you will find American Idol judge Jennifer Lopez at #1, Britney at #2, Lady GaGa at #3, Rihanna at #4, and Katy Perry at #5. Couldn’t you just blink and imagine those five ladies hosting The View come 2019?

You Can Always Come Back, But You Can't Come Back All The Way

The Final Take: On first blush this Bain chart of  global music revenue is sobering. We have lived through a painful slide. And, no one I trust is betting on a reprise of the upward growth curve of the 90’s. That growth was a CD phenomenon.

But, if you take a breath and steady yourself, you will note that we are seeing a business still driving substantial revenues — equal revenues to the early 1990’s. This despite being tied to a badly outdated business model –a model overly dependent on selling individual copies of pre-recorded CDs & ala carte digital files. This is a business plan that hasn’t really changed since 1992.

So, how will this chart start heading upward again? If I knew that with 100% clarity, I wouldn’t be blogging tonight, I’d be collecting on my bets. So while I don’t have 100% clarity, I do see some light. People still love music. The amount of music-related YouTube and Facebook posts alone are staggering.

Here’s what I do in times of confusion; I think about Bob Dylan. And since we are talking about the 1990’s, playing the Dylan card works nicely. In the early 1990’s Bob Dylan was washed up and counted out — he was knocked out loaded. Rambling and seemingly incoherent performances, indifferent albums, and no discernable strategy. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he (or someone close to him) remembered “Bob Dylan Is Important”. Let’s position him as important. In the early 1990’s, as CDs were booming, Dylan made two under-the-radar but critically lauded blues records. Tours got much better. He dressed up like a squire. Dylan got proud again. This all led to Time Out Of Mind, which won the Grammy for Best Album in 1998, and cemented Dylan’s comeback. Then for an encore to Time Out Of Mind, Dylan capped the decade off and summed the whole thing up, with this classic line from the song “Mississippi”,

You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

That’s what I see when I look at this chart. A music business that seems, for now, like Dylan in the 80’s. Positively knocked out loaded.

But perhaps, with Social Networking, Hack-Days, New Artist Deal Models, and above all a real embracing of technology — the business can find some way to get proud again.

Like Dylan, the music business can come back, just not all the way.

Here Come The Hits — Some Are Even Music. (iTunes February 1st 2011)

Last week I asked if Apple still had The Beatles locked up tight, and when in the world would we see some hits? Well, good morning — your answers are here — in this weeks iTunes Scorecard.

Below you will find the titles that appeared above the fold and in the 1st cut at iTunes. In other words, you land on the homepage today — here’s what you see:

1st Cut SPLASHES (aka The Big Bold Banners): The Beatles, Linkin Park, Red, John Legend & The Roots Live From Soho, Dr. Dre.

New Release SWOOSHES (aka Minis): The Beatles Love, Red, Linkin Park, The Beatles Box, Glee, John Legend & The Roots, Dr. Dre, Valentines Day 2, Bob Marley & the Wailers, The Jane Dear Girls, Panic! At The Disco, 2011 Grammy Nominees, The Boxer Rebellion, Ricky Martin, Nelly, George Michael.

1st Row BRICKS (aka static rectangles under the New Releases): Single of The Week : The Civil Wars “Barton Hollow”, 69cents Love Songs.

Free Single Of The Week: The Civil Wars ‘Barton Hollow’

Did You Notice?: The Beatles are back where Steve Jobs likes ’em — lead slot, big graphic, first darn thing you see when iTunes launches. This time, the iTunes exclusive is two, uh, new songs (“Girl” and ‘The Fool On The Hill”) from the Cirque du Soleil/Remix project Love. Interestingly, all the tracks on Love are available album only. While there is certainly an artistic case to be made here for Love being digested as a uninterrupted listening experience — Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson and even Linkin Park, not to mention their business managers and accountants, might find this Beatles treatment less than fab. Then again to Cupertino’s credit, The Beatles are only available, at least digitally, at iTunes…As if you needed any more evidence that iTunes loves The Beatles, note that Love is even positioned ahead of The Social Network movie, a somewhat inexplicable NFL/Superbowl video offering, and a multi-platform Girl With The Dragon Tatoo page. All this, plus the Linkin Park live, and another Dr. Dre single, brings some name-recoginition back to the iTunes homepage.

Hats Off: Linkin Park for extending the life cycle of their latest album with a smartly-timed exclusive iTunes EP, to John Legend & The Roots for a well-timed and well-positioned (Black History Month) iTunes Live from Soho release, and to The Beatles, yet again.

Chart Glance: On the album chart,  #1 Amos Lee, #2 Mumford & Sons, #3 Red, #4 Barton Hollow, and #5 The Black Keys. On the singles chart, #1 Pink, #2 Bruno Mars, #3 Wiz Khalfia, #4 Pitbull and #5 Far East Moment & Ryan Tedder. Do you think Wiz Khalfia may have a rooting interest come Sunday?

"Doug and I are Going To Get More Hits" — iTunes Scorecard January 25th 2011

We are three weeks into the year, digital sales growth has flattened, and the industry is looking for a solution.

The landscape reminds me of the famous early 80’s Ahmet Ertegun story, chronicled in Fred Goodman’s excellent book Mansion On the Hill”:

Steve Ross CEO Time Warner: “Mr. Ertegun, Mr. Morris — have you prepared your strategy for next year?”

Ahmet Ertegun: “Yes, Doug and I are going to get more hits”.

Unlike the labels, iTunes & Apple have diversified business models that aren’t fully dependent on hit music. Apple’s diversification has been well chronicled —  hardware, mobile products, advertising — all wrapped in a culture of cool. iTunes, as a subset of Apple, was once a pure music application play. That’s long over as iTunes has diversified into Apps, Movies, TV, Podcasts, Books etc.

So, while iTunes certainly wants big hits, they are not nearly as dependent on them as the labels and publishers are. And given the diversification at Apple and iTunes, picking a few choice artists for the homepage simply because they seem cool, is 100% on strategy.

Back in label-land, it’s tonnage and superstar releases that still rule the day. But, if  you’re looking for those things this week at iTunes, good luck. On the other hand, if the oxymoron of “Major-Label-Indie-Rock” fits your perception of cool, well then based on this week’s iTunes homepage, you’re likely in a state of Nirvana. Or at least in a state of Iron and Wine & Cold War Kids.

Below you will find the titles that appeared above the fold and in the 1st cut at iTunes. In other words, you land on the homepage today — here’s what you see:

1st Cut SPLASHES (aka The Big Bold Banners): Iron and Wine, Cold War Kids, Amos Lee, 2011 Grammy Nominees, Talib Kweli, Taylor Swift (new video + album sale).

New Release SWOOSHES (aka Minis): Iron and Wine, Cold War Kids, Amos Lee, 2011 Grammy Nominees, Corrine Bailey Rae, Talib Kweli, Destroyer, The Beatles (The Beatles Box), Nicki Minaj (deluxe version), James Vincent McMorrow, The Beatles (The White Album), Nicki Minaj (standard version), Taylor Swift, KT Tunstall, Joe Nichols, Tech N9ne & DJ Whoo Kid.

1st Row BRICKS (aka static rectangles under the New Releases): Randy Montana/Single Of The Week “1,000 Faces”, Best of the 2000’s/$7.99 Albums.

Free Single Of The Week: Randy Montana “1,000 Faces”

Free Music Video Of The Week: Fritz And The Tantrums “MoneyGrabber”.

Did You Notice?: The year started slowly for Movies, TV shows etc, but now that February approaches, music owns less of the homepage. This week new music releases are sharing real estate with Movies & TV — Red, Undercover Boys, The Kardashian’s — and the 10th billion App download. iTunes values cool, but make no mistake, they will spread their eggs in a number of baskets…Other notable observations: The downplaying of album pre-orders continues, you have to scroll well down the homepage to find the pre-order from Hillsong United, and you will have to dive deep into the genre pages for pre-orders from Bright Eyes, R.E.M., The Jane Dear Girls, and The Boxer Rebellion. Similarly, there seems to be a cooling off on prioritizing the “iTunes LP” format, with most of the new albums this week dispensing with the platform…Lastly, despite the mixed press response, iTunes is holding to their guns and promoting the heck out of their Ping social network, as Ping retains its homepage prominence this week.  If you’re a label exec or manager willing to give the content up to Ping, well then you’ve got a “friend” in Cupertino.

Hats Off: Amos Lee for leveraging a Discovery Download giveaway into great positioning, Taylor Swift for a well executed video roll-out complete with “Who Is That?” imaging, and Iron and Wine and Cold War Kids for getting out in front of the Spring release schedule pack.

Chart Glance: On the album chart, it’s almost a clean sweep for that major-label-indie-rock: #1 Amos Lee, #2 Iron and Wine, #3 The Decemberists, #4 The Script, and #5 Mumford & Sons. On the singles chart, #1 Pink, #2 Bruno Mars, #3 Pitbull, #4 Wiz Khalfia and #5 Diddy. Seems like America likes her football, not to mention a gal with sass.

Not Lip Service–iTunes Gives Rock Some Mouth To Mouth Resuscitation

As 2010 gave way to 2011, there was more than a little rumbling about the sorry state of Rock music.  Chart watchers were especially vocal, as a quick holiday glance at the iTunes charts showed a whole lot of Ke$ha, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift — but hardly any Rock and Roll. The full 2010 year end numbers were also not especially rockin’.

But perhaps with this weeks iTunes store turn, that is about to change.

Certainly, it looks like the guys and gals making the editorial decisions at iTunes, as well as the label release schedules, are all about Rock.

Here, then, the iTunes Scorecard  for January 18th, 2011.

Below you will find the titles that appeared above the fold and in the 1st cut at iTunes. In other words, you land on the homepage today– here’s what you see:

1st Cut SPLASHES (aka The Big Bold Banners): The Decemberists,The Script, James Blunt, R.E.M.,the Hold Steady Live From Soho, My Chemical Romance Celebrity Playlist Podcast.

New Release SWOOSHES (aka Minis): The Decemberists, James Blunt, The Script, Social Distortion, Pearl Jam, White Lies, Brandon Heath, The Hold Steady Live From Soho, Smith Westerns, Gregg Allman, Chromeo Live From Montreal, Simone Dinnerstein, Kidz Bop, Joy Division.

1st Row BRICKS (aka Static Rectangles under the New Releases): Classic Rock Albums $7.99 sale, Whatever -Hits Of The 90s (Rhino compilations).

Free Single Of The Week: Donnis “Gone” (Live version)

Free Music Video Of The Week: The Downtown Fiction “I Just Wanna Run”.

Did You Notice?: Rock, Rock, and more Rock dominates iTunes placements this week. Five of the six big homepage banners (aka “Splashes”) go to Rock, — with R.E.M., Pearl Jam, My Chemical Romance and The Hold Steady leading the way. It is an interesting time for the industry, and an especially interesting time for iTunes. Historically, iTunes has tilted to Alternative Rock in their preferences, and in their programs. Exclusive content vehicles like Live At Soho, Sesssions, Live At The Palms, iTunes Originals, Season Pass, lend themselves better to Rock than they do to Pop and Hip-Hop. It’s hard to consider audio products like “Live Britney” or a “Ke$ha Sessions”, as potentially great offerings. All this leaves iTunes with a problem…do they continue to place big homepage bets on quality Rock acts like The Hold Steady, Patti Smith, Counting Crows etc? These are artists who no longer move big units, although they certainly make compelling music. Or does iTunes adjust their own programs to better address Hip-Hop, R&B and especially Pop, which are the genres most consumers are spending their money (and their mindshare) on. I have seen iTunes focus on under-performing genres in the past. iTunes has done an admirable job focusing on Country over the last two years. Their role in Taylor Swift’s ascent was tangible. Right now, though, there is a disconnect between what programs are in their strategic arsenal, and the programs iTunes needs to develop to address the Pop, Hip-Hop, Dance and R&B content that consumers increasingly want to grab.

Also, this week marks the first week that the Beatles are not prominently placed on the homepage. I’ll be watching to see if the iTunes/Beatles exclusive has run its course, or  if this is just a breather before the next set of tactical Beatles/iTunes happenings….Hats Off to original Southern California punk survivors, Social Distortion, as they sit at #3 on today’s album chart, and also have multiple looks on the iTunes homepage. Hats Off also to Rhino for their clever roll out of a new digital “Whatever” series of compilations.

Chart Glance: On the album chart, #1 The Decemberists, #2 The Script, #3 Social Distortion, #4 Country Strong, and #5 Mumford & Sons. On the singles chart, #1 Britney Spears (expect a big Soundscan number tomorrow for Britney), #2 Bruno Mars, #3 Katy Perry, #4 Enrique Iglesias and #5 Wiz Khalfia. Did You Notice — “H.A.M.” from Kanye West & Jay-Z parked at #16 — something of a disappointment, so far.

You Get Mail: Yeah, But Do You Open It? — New Music Email Scorecard

I get a lot of emails urging me to buy and stream music.

It makes sense, as I regularly buy music at iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and a handful of other touch points.
I subscribe to Rdio, Mog, Pandora and Rhapsody.
Like I said, I get email.

This got me thinking…

Which companies are doing the best job at crafting relevant emails? Does it matter when I get them?  How many of them, if any, actually cut through the clutter?

Let’s take a look at what happened with my email this past week and see.

DMI Email Scorecard:

Sender: eMusic. Email delivered Friday Jan 7th 3:58am.

Subject Line: “Exciting New Arrivals to eMusic. Robyn, Freddie Gibbs & More”

Above The Fold: Navigation bar, prompts urging me to like eMusic on Facebook, and to follow eMusic on Twitter. Generic Editor Picks call-out.

What Did I Do? I love eMusic, but I just opened this one 15 minutes ago, as research for this post.

Sender: Amazon MP3 Store. Email delivered 1:22 a.m. Tuesday January 11th.

Subject Line: Download Newsletter for Jack Isquith: New Cake, Steel Magnolia, Tapes ‘N Tapes, $5 Albums, Free music and more.

Above The Fold: Cake, Tapes ‘N Tapes, Prince ($5 Album), Bloodshot Records (Free Sampler).

What Did I Do?  I opened this one to check out the $5 album offer. I never dug deeper.

Sender: Mog. Email delivered Tuesday January 11th 8:42am.

Subject Line: Listen to new Cake, Steel Magnolia, Cage The Elephant.

Above The Fold:  Minis and streaming prompts for Cake, Steel Magnolia, Cage The Elephant, Wire, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

What Did I Do? Opened, and listened to the first couple of tracks from Cage The Elephant.

Sender: iTunes. Email delivered Tuesday January 11th 6:56 pm.

Subject Line: New on iTunes: Britney Spears, The Social Network, College Survival Apps, NFL Playoffs 2011 + more.

Above The Fold: Britney Spears, Cage The Elephant, Cake, Avril Lavigne, Lecrae, Darius Rucker, The Social Network.

What Did I Do? Opened it and eventually purchased the Britney single.

Other:  I don’t seem to get “New Release” emails from Rhapsody, Pandora or RDIO (RDIO does sends me email when new people start following me, a la Facebook, which I think is a great idea). Perhaps I opted out of these above-mentioned emails and don’t remember, perhaps they are caught up in spam, or perhaps they come irregularly. In any case, I don’t have an ongoing email relationship with these three companies.

The Final Take: First the bad news. Email marketing is tough work. It’s not easy for any company to consistently craft compelling emails that produce good open rates and drive monetizable actions from the receiver.  But, we all know a great email when we see one. Here are three:

“10 Things in Tech You need To Know” (SAI Insider)

“The Morning Scoop — “Did Laughner’s parents Know About His Mental Illness?” (The Daily Beast)

“60% Off The Economist” (Groupon)

I opened all three of these emails. They were compelling.

So just where does that leave companies selling music and music experiences? 99% of their releases are available elsewhere. As Lupe Fiasco says…”legally or illegally”. Certainly, when they do have an exclusive (ex-iTunes with The Beatles, or the new Britney single)  email is a effective platform to broadcast that exclusive. So, if music is basically a level playing field where everyone has the same product, then it’s down to timing, price, calls to action, and emotional intangibles.

And remember, this is a space where not only illegal P2P, but also a simple Google or YouTube search is arguably a cannibalizing competitor.

There is some good news. In the face of these challenges, Hats Off to eMusic and Amazon for being timely, to Mog for a good call to action (“listen”), and to iTunes for securing the Britney exclusive and amplifying it through email. All these companies are employing a few solid tactics.

But you know what, I don’t think any of these emails are spectacularly crafted. They all feel a tad rote, despite the fact that some proved more effective than others. It’s going to take a deft hand, some real marketing expertise, and focused commitment to make a genuine impact in a space so noisy and overrun with this many options for the music fan.

1/14/2010 update: Rhapsody responds, and forwards this email blast. No question, this one is among the best of the lot:

Britney To The Rescue: iTunes Holds It Against Her, Gladly. (iTunes Scorecard Jan 11th 2011)

What would you hope for if you were running the iTunes store? Well, with digital music sales slowing, howzabout a shiny new Verizon iPhone deal and new singles from Britney, Kanye & Jay-Z for starters?. Biggie said “more money, more problems”, but in Cupertino, I’d venture to guess a chant of “more iPhones, more superstar releases” sits just fine.

But, at least for today, there’s a rub.

For this iTunes store turn, two of the three big drivers remain missing.

The iTunes store will not feel any Verizon uplift until February 10th…the day the Verizon iPhone is first available. While Apple usually announces products and consumer experiences that are available immediately, this one month waiting period hardly feels traumatic. You will probably remember there was a similiar run-up to other iPhone releases, and that strategy has seemed to work just fine.

But where is the new Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration, “H.A.M.” ?  As of 1230pm PST, the song seems to be available on Facebook and the blogs only. No sign of it yet in the store. Perhaps the strategy here is to force fans to Facebook, where they must “like” the song to hear it. Maybe it is a play to grow a database to market the album, and subsequent singles to. Perhaps it’s just logistical. In any case, it feels odd to have such a high-profile release, from two superstars, unavailable for sale on iTunes.

On the other hand, there is Britney Spears. Not only is “Hold It Against Me” her best pop song in years, but Britney and her manager took to Twitter and the blogsphere yesterday to support the launch and amplify the iTunes release today. “HIAM”, positioned as a iTunes exclusive, shot immediately to #1 on the iTunes track chart. iTunes has Britney positioned in all their homepage lead slots…I would too.  iTunes needs big hit songs, from superstar acts, to drive excitement, traffic and sales. Certainly on Britney, that is all happening.

Let’s see what else iTunes is up to, in terms of store positioning this week, the second week of 2011.

Here then, the second iTunes Scorecard of 2011.

Below you will find the titles that manifested above the fold and in the 1st cut at iTunes. In other words, you land on the homepage this morning — here’s what you see:

1st Cut SPLASHES (aka The Big Bold Banners): Britney Spears, Your Favorite Artists/Their Favorite Beatles Songs feature, Darius Rucker, Cage The Elephant, Wretchers & Jabberers (soundtrack/proceeds to charity), and Cake.

New Release SWOOSHES (aka Minis): Britney Spears, Cage The Elephant, Wretches & Jabberers, Darius Rucker, Cake, Chevelle, Lecrae, Nikki Yanofsky, Avril Lavigne, Kristian Stanfill, Edie Brickell, Melanie Fiona, Louis C.K., Wavves, Best Coast & No Joy.

1st Row BRICKS (aka Static Rectangles under the New Releases): Young The Giant, Greatest Hits+Classic Albums $6.99 Sale.

Free Single Of The Week: Young Giant “My Body”.

Free Discovery Download: Tennis “Marathon”

Did You Notice?: Another mostly quiet week for Movies, TV, and Apps leaves plenty of homepage room for Music. Hats Off to Britney Spears for jumping big into that vacuum, and for unleashing a campaign that treats the launch of a digital single as a major event, not just as a step towards an album release date. While iTunes certainly gave the Britney single lots of  love, you can’t help but wonder if there was even more possible here. Artists and labels share the responsibility for generating excitement and innovating, and while the Britney “Hold It Against Me” roll-out was big, it was mostly by the book. Other notable observations — The Beatles string remains unbroken, they have been above the fold on the iTunes homepage every week since the November deal was done…the Classic Album sale is positioned around a $6.99, not $7.99 price point…..the Black Keys return, yet again, to the top 5 on the album chart driven by their SNL appearance…iTunes deep investment in Cage The Elephant (ex-Single Of The Week two weeks ago) pays off as the band is holding at #1 on the album chart today.

Chart Glance: On the Album Chart, #1 Cage The Elephant, #2 Lecrae, #3 Country Strong (Original Soundtrack), #4 Black Keys, #5 Country Strong (More Songs From…). On the Tracks Chart, #1 Britney Spears, #2 Bruno Mars, #3 Katy Perry, #4 Black Eyed Peas, and #5 Enrique Iglesias. Will Britney  Spears top 200k singles sold this week?…Stay tuned.

People Listen To Music In Cars?– CES 2011 Scorecard (So Far….)

Let’s take a look at the early happenings at CES 2011. Who is up and who is down, as Digital Music intersects with Consumer Electronics around the biggest trade show of the year.

CES 2011: The DMI Scorecard so far:

PANDORA:-UP: With Joe Kennedy, a CEO with deep automotive experience, at the helm, Pandora Radio makes the biggest noise so far with a meaty Toyota deal and a BMW integration, hot on the heels of their previous Ford announcement.

MOG-UP: After announcing the roll out of “Mog Fusion” (easy API integration for any interested automotive 3rd party), Mog quickly unleashed the news yesterday of a pre-bundled Verizon deal. Mog will come preinstalled on all Verizon Android 4g phones, with a billing option directly through consumers’ phone bills.

RDIO-UP: RDIO announced a deal that integrates them with the  SONOS MUSIC SYSTEM, the elegant home streaming play.  Sonos already encompasses offerings from Rhapsody and Napster; now RDIO joins the party.

CLEAR CHANNEL -UP: Late last year Clear Channel announced their Toyota in-dash integration for the iheartradio App, now they are showcasing a play with the iHome clock radio player.

SONY– UP: The Sony  QRIOCITY Music service, which is notably integrated into 2010 and later versions of Playstation, Bravia Televisions, and Sony Blu-Ray players, is picking up attention. After the disaster of Sony Connect, there is a long road ahead for Sony, but the impressive Sony hardware base and its more open ideology, is picking up coverage.

RHAPSODY – DOWN: Conspicuously quiet. So far.

SPOTIFY – DOWN: Conspicuously absent.

TRADITIONAL TERRESTRIAL RADIO-DOWN: With the notable exception of Clear Channel (see above), terrestrial radio sits and watches as the dashboard is taken away from them.

Final Take: So far, Hats Off to Pandora and Mog for making the biggest noises on the front end of CES 2011. Panodora’s 1-2 punch of Toyota and Ford announcements is fueling good free PR, and is making sure that Pandora is prominent as the bigger “Battle for the Auto Dashboard” story unfolds. And Mog has impressed, especially against direct competitors Rhapsody and RDIO, with a high-profile Verizon deal on top of their Mog Fusion announcement. The Mog/Verizon deal is especially interesting to label & industry partners, as it features preinstallation and the holy grail of monetization…..automatic carrier billing.

This isn’t the final take for CES 2011. Look for more announcements, skuttlebutt, and PR positioning in the days to come.

Update: Veteran media and radio consultant Fred Jacobs weighs in on Pandora and CES. Fred  makes interesting points around investing in infrastructure ahead of other choices, and quantifying cool. He also touches on my point regarding just how much ground terrestrial radio is ceding. Read the whole piece here.

The First Soundscan Of The Year — Looking A Giftcard In The Mouth

If you make your daily bread from throwing around acronyms like  SEO, SEM, AJAX, API, CMS, HTML5 etc….chances are you can simply skip this post now.

And even if core tech speak isn’t your thing, you probably are more focused on Music charts that go well beyond sales. You want some Social, Streaming, & YouTube in your mix, right? Witness the growing importance of Big Champagne’s Ultimate Chart, MTV’s Music Meter, and even The Billboard Social 50.

Still, we are creatures of habit.  In 2011 the Soundscan  charts may only tell a partial story on who’s hot, and who’s not in music, but they still drive much of the closely tied power players in the industry….Labels, Radio and Retail.

So let’s take a look at what the Soundscan tally reveals about these crucial two weeks for the Music Industry that dovetail around Christmas and New Year’s. Otherwise known as “Gift Card Season”.

Here are the four singles that sold more than 600,000 units in the last two weeks, sorted by this weeks Soundscan chart position:

#1Bruno Mars “Grenade”:  TW 424k / 2 week Total = 983k

#2 Katy Perry “Firework”:   TW 398k/2 week Total = 906k

#3 Kesha “We R Who We R” TW 319K/2 week Total = 730K

#6 Rihanna “What’s My Name?” TW 262k/2 week Total= 605k

By contrast, last year we saw these 5 singles top 600k in a comparable 2 week end-of-the-year period:

Kesha “Tik Tok” 2 Week Total: 1.1

Lady GaGaBad Romance” 2 Week Total: 748k

Iyaz “Replay” 2 Week Total: 710k

Owl City “Fireflies” 2 Week Total 601k

Jay Z & Alicia Keys “Empire State Of Mind” 2 Week Total 604k

The Album Chart toppers show a similar pattern of slowing:

This year there were only 2 albums that broke 200k total units (physical + digital) for the 2 week period:

#1 Taylor Swift: 2 Week Total = 353K

#2 Eminem: 2 Week Total = 201k

By contrast, last year we saw 7 albums top 200K units:

Susan Boyle: 2 Week Total = 847k

Lady GaGa: 2 Week Total = 251k

Alicia Keys: 2 Week Total = 359k

Mary J Blige: 2 Week Total = 392k

Taylor Swift: 2 Week Total = 284k

Justin Bieber: 2 Week Total = 208k

Andrea Bocelli: 2 Week Total = 301k
The Final Take: Well, first off…the slowing of recorded music sales most certainly continues. We are seeing for the first time digital erosion as well as physical.

Secondly, this all points to increased motivation from the labels, who hold the most leverage in licensing, for models that challenge traditional retail.

Does Spotify gets licensed quicker in the U.S., or do Apple & Google get cloud traction before the Spring, or do we even see a curve-ball emerging that better ties the labels to Rhapsody, Mog, RDIO or even Pandora?….this all remains to be seen.

One thing that is for certain….here comes change.