Ev­ery­one wants to be my baby – now that’s what I call mar­ket­ing

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

AR­I­OUS ARTISTS are do­ing very well for them­selves. For the first time, sales of com­pi­la­tion al­bums have over­taken artist al­bums. Tra­di­tion­ally a niche mar­ket that is shunned by both the mu­si­cal purist and the two-al­bums- a-year buyer, com­pi­la­tion al­bums have had a huge leap in sales, and it’s all down to the care and at­ten­tion now taken in how they are cu­rated.

The big suc­cess story here, re­leased in Jan­uary, has been Be My Baby, a three-cd box set of clas­sic 1960s girl groups and singers. There’s not a filler in sight, just The Supremes, The Crys­tals, Dusty, Aretha et al do­ing their won­drous thing. Sell­ing in the hun­dreds of thou­sands and one of the rare com­pi­la­tion al­bums to out­sell the mighty Now That What’s I Call . . . se­ries, Be My Baby’s pop­u­lar­ity is down to its price and its track-list­ing.

If you shop around you can get it for ¤10 (and that’s for 70 songs). The track-list­ing ap­peals be­cause, apart from the songs you’d ex­pect, there are also a bunch of lesser­known tracks and some that rarely turn up on com­pi­la­tions from the era, such as Noth­ing But a Heartache by The Flir­ta­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the team be­hind Be My Baby, the suc­cess of any com­pi­la­tion is down to “the con­cept/the art­work/the track­list­ing/the price and the tim­ing of the re­lease”. This one ticks all those boxes.

On the tim­ing ques­tion, it’s no co­in­ci­dence that all of to­day’s big-sell­ing fe­male stars (Adele, Bey­oncé etc) are drop­ping the names of these 1960s women in al­most ev­ery in­ter­view they do. The po­ten­tial for a se­quel is also im­por­tant, and Be My Baby 2 is be­ing pre­pared even as we speak.

Among other big sellers are the Dream­boats and Pet­ti­coats se­ries. The most un­ex­pected suc­cess story of the past few years is now on its fifth re­lease. The first Dream­boats al­bum (juke­box clas­sics from the 1950s and 1960s) sold mil­lions and spent three years in or around the top of the com­pi­la­tion charts. It even spawned a hit live stage show. An­other com­pi­la­tion­selling in huge amounts is Amer­i­can An­thems. Loaded with tried and trusted hair­rock an­thems, it is now onto

its sec­ond col­lec­tion, with a third due later this year.

The clever mar­ket­ing be­hind these al­bums – whereby they don’t even bother fid­dling around with tra­di­tional mu­sic me­dia cov­er­age, but just shove an ad on prime-time TV – en­sures that even peo­ple who don’t nor­mally go any­where near a record shop are buy­ing al­bums.

If the nor­mal artist al­bum is see­ing its sales migrate to the com­pi­la­tion al­bum, then it’s all the fault of itunes. Once peo­ple were freed up to pick and choose only the two or three songs they wanted off an artist’s 12-track al­bum, there were al­ways go­ing to be re­tail con­se­quences. But he com­pi­la­tion al­bum gets around this by hav­ing such a tight track-list­ing that cus­tomers want the full re­lease. And be­cause of the highly com­pet­i­tive pric­ing, com­pi­la­tions are seen as a “value” re­lease.

It may dis­tress some that a ti­tle such as Now That’s What I Call Run­ning! (a com­pi­la­tion from the Now! sta­ble aimed at the jog­gers’ mar­ket) can and does out­sell “wor­thy” al­bums, but you just can’t ar­gue with putting out 60 well­known songs – most of them chart hits – for around ¤12.

In the past, the sec­tor never re­ally sold dig­i­tally, but if you still think the com­pi­la­tion al­bum is only there as a Mother’s Day or Fa­ther’s Day present, the cur­rent fig­ures show that it’s the 18-25 de­mo­graphic who are boost­ing the dig­i­tal sales. Now That’s What I Call Run­ning! achieved al­most 50 per cent of its sales dig­i­tally.

For any­one still cling­ing to the no­tion that own­er­ship of a TVad­ver­tised com­pi­la­tion al­bum au­to­mat­i­cally gets you ex­pelled from the “real mu­sic fan” club, just take a lis­ten to Be My Baby – one of the best-as­sem­bled re­leases of this or any other year.

Com­pi­la­tion queens: The Supremes

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