Can't Buy Me Album Sales

Some artists have aggressive marketing campaigns, and some artists go platinum - but the correlation isn't always clear.

A few weeks ago, a publicity campaign was launched to promote Shiri Maimon's new album "Just Before." It appears that the aggressiveness of the campaign, which includes frequent television spots, can compete only with the marketing of Maimon's opponent on "A Star is Born" - Ninet Tayeb. It seems new lines have been crossed in both campaigns.

Nevertheless, advertising does not always translate into album sales. Tayeb's debut album, which was launched amid a huge media storm in 2006, went golden as soon as it was issued - an achievement that aroused objections in the industry, given that the album sold 20,000 copies before it reached stores - but it never went platinum. The first album by Ran Danker and Ilay Butner, "Equals," which came out in September and has been accompanied by massive public relations, still has not made gold. ("From hit to hit and from television program to television program, the album is reaching more and more audiences and the work is proving itself," says Gadi Gidor, deputy CEO for content at NMC United.)

One could blame the disappointing CD marke,t were it not for other artists, some of them unknown, who have shuffled the cards and conquered the sales charts. One outstanding example of such a success was chalked up by Habanot Nechama, with their debut disk. The album, which was released before the group was known, is approaching platinum, and more than half of the copies were sold within a month.

Quite a few other albums have climbed in the sales charts without commercial sponsorship or a massive marketing campaign. These include Ovadia Hamama's latest album, "Heaven and Earth," which came out a year ago and has sold more than 20,000 copies, and Kobi Aflalo's debut album, which gained momentum thanks to the hit "Coming from Silence."

Years of fieldwork

Despite the many possibilities the marketing world offers, record companies and PR teams have yet to find that elusive factor that sends consumers to the music store. Surprisingly, even a radio hit - and the Danker-Butner duo has had several - is not considered a sales guarantee. There is no dearth of big hits - including Dudi Levi's "David," Chemi Rudner's "The Big Song Machine," Sharon Roter's "I'll Run to You," Shahar Even Tsur's "Naked" and of course Uri Banai's "Butterflies" - that gave rise to meager album sales. However, "Simple Love Song" and "Summer" by Aya Korem, who was unknown until she was adopted by Galgalatz Radio, led to the golden album.

Ronit Arbel, who works in PR, says radio hits are often preceded by many years of work. "Those who have succeeded usually have not relied on one hit, but have appeared often and accumulated an audience. Everyone was terribly surprised by the sudden success of Knisiyat Hasekhel, but does anyone know how long they worked before they achieved this recognition? Or how long Shotei Hanevuah warmed up for Mosh Ben Ari at Genesis festivals before they were played on the radio?"

Gadi Gidor of NMC United mentions Shlomi Shaban, who has also sold about 10,000 copies of his last album, as an artist who does not owe his success to radio. "He didn't have a big hit, but he had been appearing around the country and has picked up listeners with tweezers, as Shlomo Artzi did. Seven years of work under the media's radar brought amazing results," he says.

Ofer Menachem, public relations director at Hed Artzi, agrees that live performances have a cumulative effect. "Habanot Nechama didn't go platinum thanks only to the single 'So Far' being played on the radio or to newspaper coverage, but rather from years of intensive performances."

PR professional Moran Paz, who represents many "marginal artists," including Noam Rotem and The Biluim, tries to explain how hits are translated into good sales. "A song that sends you to a store is usually one that has very much moved you," she says. "Songs like 'This Song' by the Pik Sisters can be fun to listen to, but in my experience, only something that touches you deeply will make you go out and buy the album."

As an example, Paz mentions the surprising success of Noam Rotem's new album "Help Is on the Way," which has sold nearly 10,000 copies without any big hits on Galgalatz, a television appearance or an advertising campaign.

Rotem, who himself was surprised by the album's success, agrees with Paz. "For a consumer to buy a disc nowadays, his connection to the artist has to be a lot deeper than it used to be, because buying is almost a symbolic act," he says. "I don't know Miri Masika's audience, but I have a feeling that she hasn't sold 40,000 copies thanks to a radio hit or a newspaper article, but rather because she creates a strong emotional connection with the audience.

"Nowadays people are looking for added value, which the record companies are desperately trying to grasp," he adds. "That added value resides in the feeling that you are getting a complete work of art that is greater than the sum of the songs, and demands an emotional commitment from the listener. This is what I believe happened in the case of 'Algier' or Rona Keinan's first album."

Like Arbel, Paz and Rotem also say live performances are important for promoting sales, yet are undervalued in the industry. "When you can download an album by pressing a button, something in a one-time performance impels the viewer to buy the album as an act of homage," says Paz. "The growing sales of Israeli albums as compared to foreign albums prove that a sense of closeness and personal connection to the artist make the audience buy."

"I have sold hundreds upon hundreds of discs at performances," adds Rotem. "Nowadays people don't have any reason to spend money on a disc, and they buy the album at the end of the performance to serve as a kind of souvenir."

Paz adds that artists who radiate modesty and arouse empathy often bring sales. She cites as examples Rotem and Meir Banai (whose new album, "Hear My Voice," has sold more than 15,000 copies, according to NMC figures).

"The moment you come across as greedy for money or publicity, the audience's intuition is not to be kind to you," she says. "Therefore Rita, who recently has come across as a victim and aroused a lot of sympathy, should thank [Yedioth Ahronoth supplement] 7 Nights."

And indeed, it is evident that this unsympathetic article about Rita did not harm sales of her new album, "Hints," which came out five years after her dud album "Oxygen." Yesterday the label Hed Artzi announced that "Hints" had gone platinum in two weeks. In this case, there is no doubt that the singer's public relations, which included a press conference after the article and a Channel 2 television special, "Rita Talks," which garnered high viewership, helped promote the album.

"I pushed for a war, not for an embrace," says Arbel, Rita's PR representative. "We didn't try to enlist empathy. The empathy was engendered by itself because people are tired of reading evil."

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that not only the disgust with "negative journalism" has contributed to the public affection for Rita, but also her vulnerability in the wake of her public divorce from Rami Kleinstein. In the case of Rotem, too, the release of the album was accompanied by a painful interview in Yedioth about his wife's cancer, which was the background to writing of the album.

A soulful song

Nevertheless, an artist who cannot arouse identification or affection, and who lacks good songs, cannot be helped by even the most massive public relations campaign. A good example is Ninet Tayeb's debut album. Music industry sources say the blame ultimately resides in the music.

"Has any song remained from Ninet's album? No. There wasn't a single really strong song there that entered the soul, that people have taken with them," says a senior record company source.

He says the combination of the quality of the album and the quality of its public relations worked to its detriment. The album has sold about 35,00 copies, according to Helicon.

"The product was not perfect, it was slaughtered by the critics and it wasn't successful on the radio, and the public relations tilted the discourse toward the persona. The result was that Ninet was not perceived by the public as a singer, but rather as a celebrity who also sings. This made them recoil from the album."

Arbel says, "In Ninet's case, Tmira Yardeni chose not to deal with the usual arena. She did not market her as a musical product, but rather as a multi-talent. Disc sales were not her chief concern."

In any case, "The first thing that you learn in business school is that even the most brilliant campaign will not help a product that isn't good," says Gidor, who holds a master's degree in marketing from Harvard University. "To get sold in today's market, an album has to be excellent. A middling album isn't going to sell."

Arbel adds that in many cases, an overly aggressive marketing campaign is even liable to harm an album's success. "A disproportionate campaign can be damaging. The expertise nowadays is finding the fine line - and it is microscopic - between very aggressive marketing and preserving the art of the person you are representing." As an example of a failed marketing campaign, Arbel mentions Mashina's album "Futuristic Romance," which came out in 2005 under the sponsorship of Cellcom.

"In that case, the connection was suffocating, and neither side gained," she says. "The album was good, but instead of releasing a single and waiting, Cellcom pressured them to release the album quickly and then come out with a performance immediately afterward. The music was not given a chance to sink in. Afterward, people learned to create the commercial connection without damaging the artistic language."