It's hard to find good economic news anywhere these days, and the music industry was no exception in 2008.
According to Nielsen SoundScan figures, album sales plummeted this year by 14 percent. That's bad news for labels. Of course, there was good news for artists. Downloads of single tracks topped the 1 billion mark for the first time and revenue for concerts increased 13 percent worldwide in 2008, according to Billboard Magazine. The majority of that money goes into the pockets of the artists, however, so the labels are still suffering. But it's time to look ahead to 2009, and here are some of my hopes:
Taylor Swift continues to enjoy success. Swift sold more than 5 million copies this year of her self-titled debut and her current album, "Fearless." In fact, her new album sat atop Billboard's all-genre Top 200 Albums chart last week, selling close to 250,000 copies. In recent years, the ladies of country music have been in the shadows of the men, but not anymore. Swift and Carrie Underwood are the dominant forces right now.
Shania Twain returns. She was at this year's Country Music Awards in November, vowing to be back soon with new music. Her return would be a huge boost for the industry. Swift is putting up big numbers, but Shania's "Come On Over" has sold more than 34 million copies worldwide.
Kenny Chesney gets back to his roots. Yes, 2008 was a good year for Kenny. He grossed $86 million in concert revenue, according to Billboard, but he missed the mark with his current album, "Lucky Old Sun." With its heavy emphasis on his life in the Caribbean, it hasn't sold nearly as well as his recent albums. Country needs the CMA's Entertainer of the Year to focus on what his fans want - music they can relate to.
Country fans continue to give Darius Rucker a chance. The former frontman for rock band Hootie & the Blowfish put out one of the best country albums of the year. It's already produced one number one, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," and "It Won't Be Like This for Long" is racing up the charts. There are probably three or four more singles that could be hits.
New acts get a shot. When labels are struggling, they are more reluctant to give new acts a shot, but there will still be some acts to watch this year. The Zac Brown Band has been around a while, but they just broke through with their chart-topper "Chicken Fried." Their current album, "The Foundation," has critics raving. Another solid album is "Anything Goes" by Universal South artist Randy Houser. The title track climbed to No. 16 on the radio charts, and he has at least a couple of tracks on the album that might do even better as singles.
Continued success of local concerts. It will be interesting to see what shows the new arena in downtown Toledo lands in the fall when it opens. It will be the nicest venue Toledo has had for concerts, so there should be some great shows. And, of course, Country Concert in Fort Loramie, Ohio, is always the top country music festival in the area. A full lineup hasn't been announced, but so far, Sugarland, Little Big Town, Blake Shelton, Montgomery Gentry, Phil Vassar, Rodney Atkins, Luke Bryan, and Keith Anderson are some of the acts scheduled for the July 9-12 event.
Brian Dugger's column on country music runs the last Saturday of every month.
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