Time for Reflection: R&B Album Sales in Perspective

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    album covers TheLavaLizard
    A collection of R&B album covers

    When Fantasia’s Side Effects of You debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 this week with over 91k copies sold, R&B music fans celebrated the small victory for the struggling genre. Yet, how does her accomplishment really appear in the grand scheme of the music industry? To answer that question, we need to take a look back at R&B US album sales during the last year.

    For the purpose of this discussion, I have gathered the top highest-selling records of the last 14 months – starting with albums released since March 2012 – and included recent sales totals. All of the information was obtained via the Nielsen SoundScan report associated with the Billboard chart date May 11th 2013. In other words, these are the official sales figures so don’t shoot me if they upset you.

    Now, before we kickoff our discussion, check out the latest R&B album sales below:

    Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience (March 19th 2013) – 1.67 M

    Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire (November 27th 2012) – 669K

    Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE  (July 17th 2012)- 547K

    Usher – Looking 4 Myself (June 12th 2012) – 475K

    Chris Brown – Fortune (July 3rd 2012) – 447K

    Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream (October 2nd 2012) – 395K

    Trey Songz – Chapter V (August 17th 2012) – 370K

    The Weeknd – Trilogy (November 13th 2012) – 330K

    Keyshia Cole – Woman to Woman (November 19th 2012) – 329K

    R. Kelly – Write Me Back (June 25th 2012) – 242K

    Ne-Yo – R.E.D. (November 6th 2012) – 239K

    Monica – New Life (April 10th 2012) – 190K

    Brandy – Two Eleven (October 16th 2012) – 182K

    Melanie Fiona – The MF Life (March 20th 2012) – 156K

    Emeli Sande – Our Version of Events (June 5th 2012) – 141K

    Album sales are at an all time low throughout the music industry and there is no denying that R&B has been one of the hardest hit genres. With the exception of Justin Timberlake, who is the only major white artist on this list – read more about how his race affects his chart impact here – R&B artists are definitely struggling.

    For instance, Alicia Keys launched a massive promotional campaign to support her Girl on Fire project but the album has sold a humble 669K copies to date. Compare those figures to the 742K units that her As I Am record sold during its opening week in November 2007 and feel your lower lip tremble like her vocal cords.

    Fantasia also made several significant media appearances prior to the release of Side Effects of You, including a widely publicised spot on American Idol, but the album still didn’t top 100K copies sold in its first week. By the way, Girl on Fire opened with 159K units so just imagine what the Side Effects of You total will be at the end of the usually slow summer months.

    Of course, as I previously discussed during our R&B case study, proper promotion isn’t the only factor needed for chart success. Rather, the quality of the music is also key so have these artists delivered? Once again, Keys’ Girl on Fire presents a fantastic example of a solid album that simply didn’t click with her target audience. Even Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream and the grossly overhyped channel ORANGE by Frank Ocean, which was dwarfed by the media focus on the crooner’s sexuality, have yet to top the 600K sales mark.

    Still, it is important to note that the US is just a single music market and that some R&B artists are excelling oversees. This is typified by Emeli Sande’s blockbuster Our Version of Events album, which has sold north of 1.82 million copies in the UK alone, despite moving less than a tenth of that total in the US (141K) as a result of her relatively lacklustre promotional efforts in the latter region to date.

    Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream could have been widely successful in the UK as well if he plugged the record on the media circuit instead of with a very short tour. In fact, of all the albums listed above, his work has the most potential to be a hit in the US, UK and even Japan but he clearly lacks the label support to advance on the global scene.

    Conversely, most of the listed albums are blatantly targeted to domestic fans without any consideration for other markets. Keyshia Cole’s Woman to Woman and Brandy’s Two Eleven both scream “US fans only” whereas Trey Songz’s Chapter V is universal garbage that only charted because of the weight of his name alone.

    If you missed the main points of this conversation then let me be clear: most R&B albums aren’t selling because most of them lack proper promotion, they entail less than impressive material or they are targeted to niche markets. Also, Fantasia’s Side Effects of You did good enough but it hardly reflects an upturn, especially when compared to the greater sales of her peers. Let’s hope the next 14 months are more productive or else the genre will continue to slip further into oblivion.

    The truth hurts so much!

    Thoughts?