It’s no secret that Minnesotans love to celebrate the successful artists who were born within our borders and rep our state far and wide. Go forth, ye talented ones, and regale audiences worldwide with tales of the magical land of sky blue waters! But when we talk about a musician’s “success,” what are we really talking about, and what does it mean for them and for the music industry at large?
As the inner-workings of the industry flexes and adapts to the realities of the digital age, it’s getting harder and harder to pinpoint just what that success means. A song could enjoy a few weeks on the Billboard charts, for example, but quickly fade into obscurity, while a single that doesn’t chart as highly might achieve cultural dominance through placement in advertisements, movies, or television.
Even as the music business rises and falls, however, there is one metric that remains a fairly reliable indicator of a musicians’ cultural and financial impact: cold, hard album sales.
Whether their music was released on 78s in the 1940s, 45s in the ’60s, cassettes and CDs in the ’80s and ’90s or as the digital downloads we are most frequently purchasing today, Minnesota artists have consistently sold enough albums to chart again and again. And while the cost of music has obviously fluctuated over the decades, that bottom line number—known as “shifted units” or “certified sales” in the biz—makes it surprisingly easy to compare the popular artists of today with those making music nearly a century ago.
This week we’re taking a close-up look at success in the music industry as it relates to album sales. I’ll be rolling out our findings all week long, culminating in an hour-long Current Presents special on the best-selling Minnesota artists this Sunday night, February 23, at 10 p.m. I’ll be counting down the top-performing albums and singles by Minnesota artists, and I’ll speak with the songwriters behind three of our state’s biggest hits about what that success meant for them and how the changing industry has affected an artist’s ability to make money.
But today, I want to hear from you. Perception is everything in the entertainment world, and I’m curious what you think our most successful songs and albums have been. Your participation in these two little polls will help to inform my work this week as I attempt to answer the question: What does it really mean to be “successful” in music?
Register your guesses for the top-selling single first, and then move on to album sales. No need to sign in or anything, just select your top 5 for each below and click “vote.”