The Curious Case Of Van Halen

The album is FANTASTIC!

At least that’s the buzz. I may have been the only person who liked “Tattoo”, but all the fanboys love the album.

But nobody’s buying it. It sold only 187,494 copies in its debut week. And it’s not lighting up the Mediabase charts either, “Tattoo” is number 26 at Active Rock and “She’s The Woman” is number 40.

But people love the album. On Amazon it’s got a four and a half star rating, which is extremely rare, even the most popular albums settle in at three and a half.

Now if you grade on a scale, “A Different Kind Of Truth” entered the chart at number two, beaten only by Adele. So, if you’re someone who enjoys rankings, you can take pleasure in this.

But the sales number is piss-poor.

In other words, the old paradigm is dead.

You know, the one that began in the SoundScan era, twenty years ago. Where your project was front-loaded, where you amped up the publicity to get a good first week number, to get retailers to stock the CD. And if you got a high number, you were on your way, if not, and you were an established act, you were dead.

But now recording income is no longer the primary revenue stream. It’s just a piece of the pie. Albums are advertisements for the tour. And based on reaction to “A Different Kind Of Truth”, Van Halen will be able to tour for years to come.

In other words, if you weren’t going to go to the show, if you’re not a Van Halen fan, you can completely ignore “A Different Kind Of Truth”. But amongst those who care, who’ll lay down a hundred bucks for a ticket, word is spreading, Van Halen is back.

In other words, if you’re playing to everybody, you’re wasting your time. Don’t worry about either pleasing or offending everybody, just think about satiating your core.

All the criticism has gone out the window. That the band recycled old riffs, that “Tattoo” was a disappointment. Now that everybody can hear something, opinion can change instantly.

And where you listen is Spotify.

Which is why you want to be on Spotify.

Because you want to have a chance for your music to be discovered. Word would not be spreading if everybody had to lay down in excess of ten bucks to hear “A Different Kind Of Truth”. Look at that sales number, most people aren’t. But fans are ECSTATIC!

1. Focus on the music.

People thought “Tattoo” sucked, but they think the whole album is great. “Tattoo” is forgotten and now Van Halen is riding a high.

2. Don’t front-load your publicity.

It’ll only be a matter of time before you read about an established act’s momentum deep into their album cycle. Music is not movies, here for a weekend. Music is forever if done right. Think about making it that way, like you want it to last.

3. The recordings are an advertisement for what else you have to sell.

Used to be the recording was the end all and be all. Hell, labels only garnered this revenue. Now the music is only the beginning. I don’t think music should be free, but given the choice between selling an album for ten bucks plus or giving it away I’d say to go the latter route. You can’t sell tickets, you can’t sell merch if people don’t hear the music.

4. Short term thinking is dead.

Don’t think about this tour, but the two or three after it. By putting out a great album, Van Halen cemented its future business. There may not be stories in the mainstream press, but the fans know.

5. Ignore the news cycle.

It’s brief and your career is long.

6. America likes to forgive.

Well, not Chris Brown. But assuming your only offense is lousy music, great stuff can change people’s impression instantly. We’re all looking for great stuff, and there’s very little of it out there.

It’s a new game. Although Van Halen got a big check from Interscope, I don’t think the label was necessary. Larry Solters could get them publicity on his own. Dave loves to talk, news outlets love to listen. And with physical retail on its last legs, anybody can get on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, et al.

As for radio… Van Halen’s never going to cross over to Top Forty, and that’s the only format that sells music in vast amounts.

And the band is not lighting up the Active Rock chart, which wants younger bands.

In other words, everything the label can provide, other than cash, Van Halen doesn’t need.

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