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Country Music Wraps 2005 On Strong Note
By Mi2N
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While the bulk of the music industry slumped with an across-the-board decline of 7.2 percent for music sales in 2005, Country Music finished stronger than every format except Latin, with a more modest 3.3 percent drop, according to figures released by Nielsen SoundScan.

"As an industry we face the same challenges as all musical formats, but in 2005, we had some advantages, too," said Tammy Genovese, CMA chief operating officer. "Country Music received a lot of national attention with Carrie Underwood winning 'American Idol,' the Johnny Cash biopic 'Walk the Line' hitting movie theaters, network television specials for Kenny Chesney and Faith Hill, and of course the CMA Awards one-time visit to New York City. With all of these important factors impacting the marketplace right before our fourth quarter sales season, we were able to carry that momentum through the end of the year."

In fact, sales of Top Current Country Albums were strong in the holiday sales period (the last six weeks of 2005), finishing ahead of the same period in 2004 by 8 percent, while sales of the Top 200 Current Albums fell 16 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan's annual tally.

During the busiest retail week of the year (Dec. 19-25), 11 Country albums scanned more than 100,000 units each including Carrie Underwood (400,625); Kenny Chesney (268,898); The Legend of Johnny Cash (177,548); Rascal Flatts (172,369); Faith Hill (145,498); Trace Adkins (134,157); Reba McEntire (124,086); Keith Urban (122,780); Martina McBride (121,099); Big & Rich (119,323); and Sugarland (117,476). Gretchen Wilson was close behind with 98,366.

Overall, the number of albums sold in 2005 was 75.3 million down from 77.9 million in 2004, but Country's market share increased in 2005 from 11.69 to 12.7 percent. Frustrating the number watchers is the fact that Garth Brooks' box set, which was sold exclusively at Wal-Mart, was not included in the Nielsen SoundScan count. The retail giant has said that more than a million copies have been sold, but estimates place that figure as high as 2.5 million.

"If those numbers had been included in the final SoundScan figures, we would have ended the year on the positive side of the equation," Genovese said. "Still, Country Music held its own during a very tumultuous period for the music industry. The creative depth of our artistic community, loyalty of our fan base and the breakthrough success of some of our bright new talent all contributed to this achievement."

Contributing to those gains in 2005, was a diverse slate of performers representing the broad terrain of the format from newcomers Underwood and Sugarland to legacy artist Cash; cross-over superstar Faith Hill to one of the premiere entertainers in the industry Kenny Chesney; Toby Keith, who continued to sell strong in 2005, to trio Rascal Flatts, who broke into the upper sales ranks across all formats for the first time. The trio's album Feels Like Today sold 2,511,209 units in 2005, claiming the No. 7 best selling album of the year spot among all genres.

"The diversity of these performers illustrates the strength and future potential of the genre," Genovese said. "Country Music is strong as a format, when you have artists at virtually every phase of their careers selling albums at this pace."

Album Sales

The Top 10 Country albums of 2005, according to Nielsen SoundScan (Dec. 28, 2005 YTD):

Top 10 Country Albums (in millions)

1. Feels Like Today, Rascal Flatts 2.5 million
2. The Road & The Radio, Kenny Chesney 1.8 million
3. Be Here, Keith Urban 1.7 million
4. Some Hearts, Carrie Underwood 1.6 million
5. Fireflies, Faith Hill 1.5 million
6. Twice The Speed of Life, Sugarland 1.5 million
7. Honkytonk University, Toby Keith 1.4 million
8. Here for the Party, Gretchen Wilson 1.2 million
9. Be As You Are, Kenny Chesney 1.1 million
10. Vol. 2 Greatest Hits, Toby Keith 1.0 million

Albums making simultaneous No. 1 debuts on the Billboard 200 and Country Albums Charts in 2005 included Kenny Chesney's Be As You Are and The Road and the Radio; Faith Hill's Fireflies; George Strait's Somewhere Down in Texas; and Gretchen Wilson's All Jacked Up.

Garth Brooks released Garth Brooks: The Limited Series box set exclusively at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club locations on Nov. 25. Wal-Mart announced the box set sold more than 500,000 copies on its first day of release, making it the top-selling musical component in Wal-Mart history. In the second week after its release, Wal-Mart announced the box set had sold more than one million copies. RIAA has not yet announced a certification of these sales. These sales are also not reflected in the Nielsen SoundScan figures.

Country female newcomers Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood made their mark in 2005. Lambert's debut album Kerosene and Underwood's Some Hearts both entered the Billboard Country Albums Chart at No. 1. At the end of 2005, Lambert got her Christmas wish when her album went Gold. Underwood's Some Hearts sold 314,000 units in its first week, making it the biggest first week sales of a debut album by a new Country artist in Nielsen SoundScan history. The album was certified Gold after only two weeks in stores, and was certified Platinum soon after. The album continued to be a strong seller throughout the holiday sales period and into the new year, with more RIAA certifications sure to follow in 2006.

RIAA Album Sales Certifications

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified 35 Gold, 22 Platinum and 15 multi-Platinum (including 1 Diamond) Country albums. Gold indicates sales of 500,000 units; Platinum indicates sales of 1 million units; multi-Platinum is for each successive million units sold; and Diamond indicates sales of 10 million albums. The RIAA continues to award these rankings throughout the life of the album; an album does not have to be released in the same year it achieves one or more of these rankings.

The legendary Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits album received the Diamond award for reaching 10 million units sold in 2005. After more than 40 years, the Country Music Hall of Fame member's music continues to inspire and entertain new generations of fans.

Big & Rich (Horse of a Different Color) received their first multi-Platinum album certification in 2005, selling over 2 million albums. Dierks Bentley (Dierks Bentley); Chris LeDoux (20 Greatest Hits); Sugarland (Twice The Speed Of Life); and Carrie Underwood (Some Hearts) received their first Platinum album certifications in 2005. Jason Aldean (Jason Aldean); Rodney Carrington (Greatest Hits); Josh Gracin (Josh Gracin); Miranda Lambert (Kerosene); Sugarland (Twice The Speed Of Life); and Carrie Underwood (Some Hearts) received their first Gold album certifications in 2005.

In 2004, RIAA launched the Digital Sales Awards, reflecting sales of singles downloaded from legal online music sites. RIAA Digital Gold Sales Awards were given to 34 Country singles and a Platinum Sales Award went to six singles in 2005. Single tracks are awarded Gold (100,000 downloads), Platinum (200,000) and multi-Platinum (400,000+) certifications. Platinum Digital Sales certifications went to Big & Rich's "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy;" Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying;" Rascal Flatt's "Bless The Broken Road;" Keith Urban's "You'll Think Of Me;" Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman;" and Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance."

In addition, the RIAA certified five Gold (50,000 units sold) and four Platinum (100,000 units sold) Country longform videos. Platinum Country longform videos included Trace Adkins (Video Hits); Big & Rich (Super Galactic Fan Pack); and Keith Urban (Video Hits and Livin' Right Now).

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