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ON RECORDS: SALES, SALES, ON SALE

Or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Help Artists’ Careers

Just last week, for the first time in the digital era, a label employed a once-derided strategy—putting a sale price on a single—as the ultimate hammer. RCA was battling for a #1 position on the monster Sia single “Cheap Thrills” and chose to lower the price for a few weeks. This significantly helped the label achieve the top spot on the charts in a tight, top-heavy field.

While we all look for sales on many consumer products that we buy—and don’t think less of merchants who put a blanket, towel, washer-dryer, refrigerator or groceries on sale—it’s long been seen as a sign of weakness to reduce the price of a single on iTunes. Well, that antiquated thinking has recently been replaced by an active analysis of the market and the use of a lower price to supercharge songs in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace.

We’ve always recommended sale pricing for songs with airplay that comes in quickly. Such a situation presents those songs with the difficult task of competing with tracks that have a high chart position—and have a chance to have “baked in” sales and research. Many times, when radio programmers really like a song, it moves too quickly to a place where it can’t compete without marketing and sales tools being expedited as well. Reducing the price of a single to 69 cents can then be used to push the song more quickly up the sales charts; this strategy has long been viewed by many as “faking” the sales position.

But is it really faking?

Overcoming the consumer’s reluctance to make a purchase—persuading him/her to actually push the BUY button—is significant, no matter how it’s achieved. If lowering the price and putting the record “on sale” is the final metric required to ease the active buyer, so be it.

That buyer will then tell all their friends about what they did—and how smart they were for doing it—and that others should follow immediately. This has always been the best way to start a fire. If we see a great movie or hot new HBO series or read a great book, or if we get a bargain on a purchase we enjoy from the supermarket, we can’t wait to tell our friends about it. We become the alpha as we share something special that others will enjoy. Their enjoyment is ours as well.

So over time, more and more labels have jumped into the 69-cent pool, using it to help push songs up the chart more quickly, accelerate the awareness level and get over competitive airplay humps—to fight as hard as they can to use every tool in a marketplace where it’s harder and harder to expose new talent.

Island/Republic have used it expertly (discounting in some weeks and toggling back to $1.29 in others) in the breaking of Bishop Briggs, whose brilliant first single is now deservedly on the cusp of the Top Five at Alternative radio. It’s also been and is being used to help burgeoning new-and-developing artists like Flume (Mom+Pop), Marc E. Bassy (Republic), The Strumbellas (Glassnote), Phantogram (Republic), KONGOS (Epic), William Michael Morgan (Warner Music Nashville), Ben Rector (Aptly Named/Caroline/CMG) and many more. It is now a natural element and often considered to be a staple of marketing and sales strategy.

Even those who have raised the objection that lowering prices brings music closer to free are beginning to recognize the strategic advantage of doing so. We feel RCA’s canny use of sale prices to score a #1 banishes any remaining thoughts of negativity related to the tactic. It’s enough to put a smile on Sia’s unseen face.

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