U.S. recorded music sees biz up from last year

A correction was made to this article on July 1, 2004.

At the half-way mark of the year, the beleaguered music industry has something to smile about: Sales are up 19.8 million units — about 7% — from last year’s midway point and digital downloads are on track to break 100 million songs sold this year.

After 26 weeks, U.S. recorded music sales hit 305.72 million units, a rise from last year’s sales of 285.88 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Compact discs represented 98% of the sales, with the rest coming from cassettes, LPs and DVDs.

Paid digital downloads, which have been tracked for only a year, have seen considerable growth. In the first six months, 53.8 million tracks were downloaded; the first period tracked, June through December 2003, saw a total of 19.2 million.

Among distribs, the big winner this year has been BMG, whose market share has climbed to 19.8%. Company, with its merger with Sony Music pending, is in second place among the majors behind Universal at 28.6%. Sony Music is at 12.8% and EMI has 10.7% of the market.

Jazzed for classical

Broken down by genre, classical saw the biggest CD sales spikes (24.5%), followed by Latin (17.3%), alternative rock (12%) and country (11.2%). Slumping are new age (-26.3%), jazz (-20.5%) and soundtracks (-16.1%).

Growth in the recorded music industry is expected to continue over the next several years, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers. In “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2004-2008,” PwC projects that this year will see only a small increase in music sales but that spending will rise about 3.2% per year through 2008. At that point, U.S. spending on music is projected at $13.98 billion — a $2 billion jump from 2003′s spending level. The increase will not enable it to exceed 1999′s $14.58 billion, however.

Licensed digital distribution sales — only $71 million last year — are expected to hit $2.2 billion by 2008, becoming the financial driver of the industry.

This year, which boasted the largest non-holiday sales week ever in February, has seen two artists post first-week sales of more than 1 million: Usher and Norah Jones. Usher’s “Confessions” (LaFace) did 1.096 million from March 23-28, and Jones’ “Feels Like Home (Blue Note) sold 1.022 million from Feb. 10-15. Usher is now at 4.45 million; Jones has sold 3.1 million. Ten albums have had first week sales of more than a quarter-million.

Jadakiss at No. 1

Rapper Jadakiss just missed the quarter-million mark this week in album sales as his sophomore disc “Kiss of Death” led four new entries into the top 10. His Interscope disc, which displaced the Beastie Boys’ “To the Five Boroughs,” did 246,000 in sales for the week ended Sunday, according to SoundScan. “Confessions” (LaFace) held onto the No. 2 slot with sales of 149,000, a dip of nearly 20,000 from the previous week.

JoJo, the teen tyro singer from Boston, sold 95,000 copies of her Da Family/Universal debut to land at No. 4, followed by Prince’s “Musicology” (Columbia), which saw an 11,000-unit sales spike to 92,000. Prince played four shows during the SoundScan period, including three in St. Paul, Minn., at which the CDs were given out to attendees. His tour is on hiatus until July 12, when he returns with three consecutive nights at Madison Square Garden.

Columbia/Sony Music Sountrax’s soundtrack to “Spider-Man 2,” released eight days before the Sony pic hit theaters, sold 82,000 copies in its first frame. Sales are expected to catapult considerably in the wake of Wednesday’s opening; its chief competition this week will come from G-Unit rapper Lloyd Banks’ “The Hunger for More,” Brandy’s “Afrodisiac” and Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter.”

Columbia act Switchfoot, whose track “Meant to Live” appears on the “Spider-Man 2″ soundtrack in all territories except the U.S. and Canada (Daily Variety, June 21), saw its “Beautiful Letdown,” repackaged with a DVD, shoot up 28 places to No. 16 on sales of 45,000.

Wilco leads Warner

At No. 8, “Ghost Is Born” (Nonesuch), from alt-country pioneers Wilco, posted the highest sales of any disc in the Warner Music family, moving 81,000 copies. Label has been shifted to Warners from Atlantic on the distribution side. Wilco’s “Yankee Foxtrot Hotel,” their first Nonesuch release after years with Warners’ Reprise, sold 56,000 copies in its first week two years ago.

Among the handful of debuts were Erick Sermon’s “Chilltown NY” (Universal), selling 19,000; Heart’s “Jupiter’s Darling” (Sovereign Artists), 12,000; Young Rome’s “Food for Thought” (Universal), 11,500; and Brian Wilson’s “Gettin’ in Over My Head” (Rhino), 11,000.

Gretchen Wilson’s “Here for the Party” (Epic), Velvet Revolver’s “Contraband” (RCA) and Avril Lavigne’s “Under My Skin” (Arista) held onto top 10 positions in a week that saw sales dip 11% from last week but rise 6% from the same period last year.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more