Calvin Harris just kind of broke the way Sony reports album sales

This is a nice little illustration of the music business’s ongoing quest to bridge the new world and the old world.

Calvin Harris hasn’t released an album for nearly three years – since 2014’s Motion, which went top 5 on the Billboard 200 and to No.2 in the UK.

He’s released a lot of tracks, though.

Last year, there was This Is What You Came For featuring Rihanna (US No.3; UK No.2), Hype featuring Dizzee Rascal and My Way, on which Harris took lead vocals (UK No.4).

Already this year there’s been Slide featuring Frank Ocean and Migos (UK No.10; US No.34) and latest single Heatstroke featuring Young Thug, Pharrell Williams and Ariana Grande (UK No.25).

Five singles in two years… and no sign of an album.

Last year, UK tabloid The Sun reported that Harris was giving up on the idea of recording LPs and instead focusing on perfecting a regular string of single releases.

“Calvin has always been a forward-thinker and believes just releasing singles is the way forward,” said a source. “Albums are time-consuming and limit artists to cycles rather than having a persistent presence in the charts.”

This presents a mini-corporate headache for Sony Corp. – a microcosm of a wider industry discussion point.

Album purists, look away now.

Every quarter (and every year), Sony presents a list of best-selling albums to its shareholders, based on revenue generation in the period.

At least, this used to be a list of best-selling albums. The goal posts are shifting.

Last year, Sony categorised the list as being comprised of ‘recorded music releases‘.

It was still a Top 10 of biggest-selling albums, essentially, led by Adele‘s 25 – but the Japanese company explained that it was made up of ‘albums and digital tracks included in albums’.

This year (for FY2016 – the 12 months to end of March 2017), Sony has instead labelled the list as a group of ‘recorded music projects‘.

Its explanation: “Projects are the aggregation of revenue from albums and digital track exploitation. Revenue within the quarter may also include revenue from individual tracks not associated with an album, or associated with a future album.’

Why was this subtle change necessary? Calvin Harris.

Harris put out Sony’s fifth best-selling global ‘project’ of FY2016 – but the thing is, it wasn’t really a single ‘project’ at all.  It was a sporadic series of tracks.

Indeed, the title of Harris’s ‘project’ in Sony’s latest fiscal filings is simply – brilliantly – annotated as ‘Collection of tracks’ (see below).

Respect to the individual who plumped for this say-what-you-see approach.

What’s more, The Chainsmokers released Sony’s second biggest-selling ‘project’ worldwide last year – but it too wasn’t an album.

According to Sony, this ‘project’ was a combination of the duo’s EP Collage plus a track from another EP (New York City).

(Sony’s list is led by Beyonce’s Lemonade, which according to the IFPI sold 2.5m copies in calendar year 2016 outside of streaming.)

So… what’s an album, what’s a ‘project’ and how the heck do you categorise what Calvin Harris is doing when he seems to just release singles whenever he likes?

Welcome to the difficult-to-define record business of 2017: when you never know if you’re dealing with an album, a mixtape, a ‘playlist’ or a ‘collection of tracks’.

Sony Corp, of course, won’t care too much either way – so long as whatever it is keeps bringing in the big bucks…

Music Business Worldwide

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