Two detonators shortly stopped the crisis yet, both released in late 1982. The first saviour, in the musical side, was the all-time bestselling album, Thriller by Michael Jackson. The second, in the technological side, was the arrival of the Compact Disc in Japan. Yes, there is no mistake: CD appeared as early as in 1982. With the juggernaut success of 1978 soundtracks Saturday Night Fever and Grease, and now the one of Thriller, the industry got its lessons learned: the visual support was a significant marketing key to be added to radio plays.
It is time to a short side-note about promotion tool used by majors. Nowadays, rolling Tops updated every single minute like iTunes completely destroyed the perception of an efficient promotion in the eyes of the public. While historically speaking a few TV shows had success-changing impacts, notably the Ed Sullivan Show from 1948, nevertheless the TV support has always been rather minor for musical promotion. Writing press first, followed by radio airplay, have ever been the main channels of promotion and investment for majors as well as the major factors for sales increases. Every single claim we hear now about an artist having “no promotion”, barely because he/she hasn’t sung in a TV show, is fundamentally wrong. All artists, all, have promotion investments done proportionally to their selling capabilities. Often, fans of old glories feel their artist should promoted more, not understanding the appeal of their favorite act is not widespread enough anymore to justify larger investments. Maximizing sales is not the be-all and end-all of majors, they need to be profitable, they would quickly run into bankruptcy were they putting millions of dollars into acts with restricted impact. End of the side note!
Ever increasing worldwide population, new economic boom, fresher physical format, explosion of MTV, factors were numerous to put the music industry back on track. Brothers In Arms, by Dire Straits, became in 1986 the first album ever topping 1 million sales in CD format.
It took CD format six more years to become the biggest format. This happened in 1992, some 9 years after its release. While looking like a slow and painful climb of almost a decade, this is actually the fastest rise to the top a physical format ever did. One more time, music industry evolved as per the media evolution: due to CD expansion, during early 90s, they flooded the market with career-spanning Best of albums of all artists who sold large amounts of LPs (Gold by ABBA, the Immaculate Collection by Madonna, Very Best Of by Elton John, Greatest Hits II by Queen, Money For Nothing by Dire Straits etc.). The latter is an interesting case: Money For Nothing was the first major compilation aimed for LP replacement, no surprise it was released by the most-favored act of CD buyers. The title, Money For Nothing, wasn’t a complete causality due to their song of the same name; this was the beginning of a massive cash-in period for the industry.
This phenomenon of replacement of format by the consumer is crucial: This is very precisely what was going to devastate sales from mid-2000s and definitely kill physical format by 2020.
With a reliable physical formats, promotional plans fully mastered and massive financial revenues, majors used this period for geographical expansion. That’s why the 90s saw some albums (Titanic OST, Bodyguard OST/Whitney Houston, Dangerous by Michael Jackson) break every sales records in Asia, or even some artists overall (Mariah Carey).
In 1999, the music industry registered its all-time peak with a total gross of $38 billion. With huge markets (China, India etc.) yet to be explored, the future was looking incredibly promising…