Extreme CSPC: Introducing the ASR, Artist Success Rating
Have you ever thought that album sales of your favorite artist weren’t reflective of his real success or that a release from his label was unnecessary? All of us already wondered What if…? and felt bothered because there was no way to know what would have happened if things had been done differently. Here comes some serious food for thought that may help you find answers!
The ASR is going further than the CSPC
For two years now, we have been studying carefully records’ sales of various major artists. I reassure you: we won’t stop doing it. Nor will we change the methodology. This article will present you a sharp concept that may turn you off, but give it a chance as it is mind-blowing. It will come as a complement of the CSPC approach rather than as a replacement.
For the first time, we will tell you that 1 isn’t always worth 1. You don’t have to be afraid, I won’t introduce you to the Quantum mechanics of the music industry! Well, now that I think of it, maybe I will… But at least I’ll try to make it as easy to understand as it can be!
While we applied calculations to weight on par all formats and to balance appropriately equivalent album sales of an artist into his original recordings, the final results were nothing else than real sales. The Beatles did sell 406 million equivalent albums, Michael Jackson did sell 324 million and so on. Basically, a CSPC approach of an artist consists in 3 steps:
- to define raw sales of all records
- to weight all raw sales as per the format concerned
- to re-assign sales of all secondary packages into the original recording
Why the success of an artist differs from the worth of his catalog
What does it mean when 2 artists end on the same CSPC total? Technically, it means their respective catalog sold the same number of equivalent album units. Functionally, it means the worth of their catalogs is the same. Obviously, careers of these artists may differ in many ways. One may have released more albums, at different times with different market sizes and their recordings may have been exploited differently. If two artists sold 50 million CSPC units each, but the first one issued 10 albums and the second one issued only 2, it is rather clear that the former has been the most successful.
Should we calculate an average per album then? It would be a very bad idea. If we did that in 2005, we would have found out that Norah Jones and Dido were as successful as the biggest artists of all-time. It is something to get a pair of successful albums, it is something else to build a catalog as valuable as the one of the Beatles. Plus, an average wouldn’t help in sorting the impact of the exploitation.
The Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept defines the worth of an artist’s catalog as it stands. While it seems natural to believe that the success of an artist is defined by how much he sold, it’s only true if his full sales potential has been achieved. In real life, the exploitation of an entire catalog can’t have been perfectly optimized all along the artist’s career, there have been lost value along the road. In other words, all artists could have sold better.
What if I tell you that I found a way to identify which artists have lost the most value? A way to prove that even if an artist sold less than some other one, he is been the most successful still? I should warn you – not all of you will like the results! That’s the way it is though and as previously mentioned, our CSPC lists will stick to purely verified sales so there is no need to worry.
Now that I have set the overall idea, let’s introduce the Artist Success Rating which rates the absolute success of an artist independently of how his records were exploited by his record company. This rating uses in part CSPC results but pushes the reasoning into higher level of thoughts to make up from the lost value. Our goal today is to found a way to resolve this formula:
ASR = CSPC + LV
ASR: Artist Success Rating
CSPC: Commensurate Sales to Popularity Concept
LV: Lost Value
Case study of lost value: Bob Marley vs. Metallica
Many times, concrete examples are better than all possible explanations. Below are listed a pair of CSPC results:
24. Metallica – 139,406,000 (as of Aug 2016)
25. Bob Marley – 135,464,000 (as of Nov 2017)
Now, think about that: if you randomly ask someone on the street who sold the most records, Metallica or Bob Marley, what will be the answer? A male American in his 40s will say that both are iconic acts, but maybe Metallica sold more. The huge majority of people though, from Africa to Latin America, from males to females and from teenagers to the older generation, will instantly answer Bob Marley. Many of them will ask you who is that, Metallica? while recognizing at least 5 songs from the reggae legend.
Facts also confirm this intuition. Indeed, he has more streams on Spotify in spite of the current tour of the band, his top seller was purchased by more people than Metallica‘s top seller and he is liked by two times more people on Facebook. He also recorded and issued more songs and albums and obviously he started selling discs many years before them. How can it be then that Metallica sold the most? To answer this question, we must wonder first who is buying their records, we need to profile the consumers of the music industry.
A wrong guess to explain why Metallica outsold Bob Marley in spite of a lower popularity would be the size of the market. Of course, the market was better during the 90s than during the 70s, but both acts sold relatively few albums during their promotional campaigns combined. The huge majority of their sales were catalog sales which occurred during the same years.
Sales figures are spread over Medias since many decades. We read them so much that we tend to forget that behind every sale there is a buyer. The key question is this one: why a person purchases a record? Instinctively, we are tempted to answer that the person wants the songs on it. A fan may purchase a compilation while owning already all its songs, just like most people will buy an album while knowing only one single. Others will pick an album because it is rated as a must-have or because they collect all recipients of the Album of the Year Grammy award.
It gets truly interesting when we notice that depending on the buyer’s profile, he will purchase a different number of records from a specific artist. We will group buyers precisely based on that: the number of records he may purchase.
Supposedly, the fan should own the complete collection of original recordings from his favorite artist. Some may even go after compilations barely because they want the packaging or to complete their collection.
The regular buyer
Part of the target audience of an artist, the regular buyer doesn’t consider himself a fan yet. He doesn’t feel the need to complete a collection, but he won’t hesitate in purchasing an album when he likes one or two singles. He will be satisfied with a greatest hits collection although as a regular buyer of the target audience he will want must-have records from the artist still.
The casual buyer
This one is outside the public of an artist, he comes from the general public. He will randomly like some of his songs and can be interested in the album containing the singer’s signature hit. A best of is much welcome for him.
How do these profiles impact up to date sales of artists like Metallica and Bob Marley? Below, we will wonder which albums each group of consumers will buy for both artists, the results will be enlightening.
Bob Marley’s buyers
The fan will need all his major label studio albums, that is 9 records from Catch A Fire to Confrontation. Live! and Babylon by Bus are also inevitable since they contain some of the most famous versions of his hits. Then for convenience purpose and for the iconic cover, a fan will necessarily pick at some point the best of from 1984 Legend. To complete his collection, he will buy a package which includes his early recordings that emerged between 1961 and 1972. The first choice for that will be the box set Songs of Freedom from 1992. Doing the math, the standard Marley fan will own 13 albums from him. Real facts valid these assumptions since all those releases sold similar numbers. Indeed, all studio / live albums mentioned range from 3 to 8 million sales to date which highlights the same group of persons buying them.
The average regular buyer wasn’t here when Marley was issuing albums. In fact, most people discovered him already after his passing so they haven’t been given a chance to buy his new albums because they liked a single airing on the radio. Undoubtedly, this public will start by purchasing Legend. As per CSPC data, we know that this package contains as much as 67,5% of the strength of Marley‘s complete catalog. If we focus on his 10 most famous songs, they are all part of this collection. The regular buyer will be more than happy with that.
Is there a must-have album on his discography? The true reggae fan will say that all his albums are must-haves, but the closest we can get to that is 1977 effort Exodus. It ranks at #169 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 500 albums ever, it is also ranked #255 among the top records ever as per besteveralbums.com. Thus, it is highly recommended but not an absolute must-have, so the regular buyer will check its content. He will notice that 5 out of its 10 tracks belong to Legend already so he won’t be interested after all. Once again, facts confirm these behaviors since Legend outsold Exodus by more than 4 to 1 while Exodus sold barely more than the likes Kaya or Uprising, so regular buyers stood with the best of only.
The casual buyer won’t hesitate a second – he will buy Legend. If there had been no compilation available, it would have gone with Exodus which is itself strong enough to interest him since it contains songs as big as Three Little Birds, Jamming, Waiting In Vain and One Love. It is confirmed by the fact that it sold very well from 1981 to 1984, between his passing and the release of Legend.
The fan of Metallica will own all their 10 studio albums from Kill ‘Em All to Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. The live record S&M also offers new versions of their recordings, just like the cover album Garage Inc. That makes it 12 albums to purchase.
Unlike with Marley, the regular buyer of Metallica can’t have it all with one compilation only since they never released one. A second difference is that he discovered the band during the promotion of the black album from 1991, so he has got the chance to buy a new album 7 times so far. There is 3 of them with one of the top 10 hits from the group, Metallica (includes 5 of their top 10), Reload (Fuel) and Garage Inc. (Whiskey In The Jar), plus Load which was the immediate follow up to their blockbuster album, the regular buyer would have bought all of those.
Then, their first four albums are all charted among the best 5 albums of their respective year on besteveralbums.com, all of them were also part of the Top 40 best Metal albums ever published by the Rolling Stone Magazine and all include one big hit of the band. They are therefore must-have albums for people from their target audience. If the band had a 14-tracks compilation like Legends, their first 4 albums would have from 1 to 3 tracks each on it, but since they don’t, their regular buyers need to go by their original studio albums to get these essential songs. Obviously, if they haven’t already bought it during its first couple of years, the public also went for Metallica at some point since it is their number one must-have record.
To sum up, the regular buyer of hard rock music will buy at least 8 albums from the band through the years. One may wonder, why not going for S&M then? Firstly, because while it does include most of the band’s biggest hits, they are live versions only, which do not have the prestige of the originals. Secondly, because it arrived in 1999 while most of them already owned the main 4-5 albums which downgrades a lot the interest to this package. Thirdly, because it is a double-album and thus more expensive. Fourthly, because it isn’t as widely available on retailers as their main studio outputs.
What about casual buyers? For them too, S&M could be a decent second choice. After all, it is the only package that contains all songs they are looking for. They will be satisfied with Metallica though. In fact, it contains 5 of their 10 most widely popular songs, including the top 2 so it is a kind of greatest hits by itself for someone that isn’t that much into hard rock music.
The impact of lost value
What happens if we assume that both acts have the same number of fans, regular buyers and casual buyers? For the purpose of the example, we will go with 3 million fans, 10 million regular buyers and 25 million casual buyers.
With the exact same popularity, Metallica sells nearly twice as much as Marley. You must wonder what it takes for the latter to sell almost the same as the former. Just for fun, on below table I have set the number of casual buyers to the number of persons who liked them on Facebook, then I adjusted the fanbase and regular buyers population to get their real CSPC units.
With more lovers from all type of consumers, Marley still sells less. With no Legend, fans would have bought 1 album less, but regular buyers would have bought all 7 studio albums with at least one widely popular song, one live album and one compilation of early recordings. Results would have looked as below:
Astonishing, isn’t it? The lost value created by Legend is incredible – some 84 million sales as per these figures. Of course, to reach these results we did various assumptions. Is it possible to prove the logic though?
For the matter of the example, we used a highly simplified model. We ignored all singles-related formats and we also used grossly rounded numbers. What we did point out is that the structure of a catalog changes the amount of records required to meet the needs of a buyer. When you put most of the value of a catalog into a single disc, you automatically reduce his long-term sales while a discography which is well-balanced will sustain purchases much better.
We conclude that some records are worthier than others. We already knew that an album is worthier than a single, but our conclusion goes further: an album may be worthier than another album. What if we weight all units sold not by their format, but instead by their worth? Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t about judging the quality of the music but instead about the worth of the record in relation to the catalog of the artist…
EDS: Equivalent Discography Sales
Thanks to our CSPC approach, we can establish the relative appeal of every song of an artist’s discography. They are expressed in cumulative Equivalent Album Sales (EAS) generated through every format, including as part of studio albums and compilations. By extension, we can also define the share of the appeal of a catalog that is contained in every record. For example, as we said previously, when you buy Legend you buy 67,5% of Marley‘s catalog. Cumulative EAS of its songs add for 91,4 million which would make it the second most valuable album ever after Thriller if it was a studio record. On its side, the purchase of Kill ‘Em All will only provide you 5,6% of Metallica‘s discography.
This is where an incredibly powerful and fascinating approach strikes in: the Equivalent Discography Sales (EDS). In fact, we always define the value of a catalog in equivalent album sales. We can analyze data deeper to establish how many equivalent discography sales an artist attained.
The application of the method is simple: for every pure unit sold, we factor it with the percentage of the artist’s discography value that the record’s songs represent. Streams are weighted with a 1/150 factor to be on par with singles as it is a song-consumption.
- 1 unit of Legend = 0,675 EDS
- 1 unit of Metallica = 0,297 EDS
- 1 unit of Kill ‘Em All = 0,056 EDS
- 1 unit of Nothing Else Matters physical single = 0,089 EDS
- 1 download of Enter Sandman = 0,097 EDS
- 1 stream of Enter Sandman = 1/150 * 0,097 = 0,00065 EDS
You may feel concerned by the fact that singles are on par with albums. In reality, they are organically weighted down by their own content. Since they include much less tracks than albums, their EDS are necessarily lower.
One more concern when we discover this approach is, is it really needed? We already mentioned the case of two artists who sold 50 million EAS each as per the CSPC methodology, the first one with 10 albums, the second one with only 2. You will no doubt agree that while the cumulative worth of their catalog is on par at 50 million EAS each, the second artist has been more successful. There is several issues of this kind who are fixed by the EDS concept. Let’s review them!
Who will be impacted?
Organic weighting of the size of the discography
To better understand the power of this method, here is the aforementioned fictive case detailed. We assume that both artists sold exclusively albums to make it very simple.
As mentioned, both artists sold 50 million albums. The artist B did it with 2 albums only while the artist A did it with 10 albums. Our EDS indicator confirms that the Artist B is the most successful. It has sold 29 million times the value of its entire catalog, mostly thanks to 35 million sales of a record which contains 70% of its catalog’s worth. The artist A’s albums sold the same but through lower shares of his catalog, which are owned by less people, which means his popularity is weaker than the artist A.
Organic downgrade of features
Many of you pointed out the issue of features. Nowadays, songs involve more and more singers and a couple of lines give you nearly as many units as releasing your own song. The EDS indicator fixes this flaw. How?
Sales of all records are weighted with their worth in terms of EAS. How is the EAS counted? It adds:
- Physical Singles units * 0,3
- Digital Singles units * 0,15
- Audio Streaming * 1/1500
- Video Streaming * 1/11750
- Shares of album sales of all packages containing the song
This bolded element explains why Love The Way You Lie brought 3,18 million EAS to Rihanna‘s total, but 5,21 million to Eminem‘s total since he also sold tons of copies of Recovery thanks to this song. Since this EAS is used to define the worth of all recordings, the strength of features into an artist’s discography will go down. Indeed, we will see on final results that the EDS of Rihanna‘s authentic songs are over 20% higher than EDS of songs on which she is only featured.
Organic adjustment of the market size
I’m sure you must wonder how an indicator which is based on record’s sales can off-set the evolution of the market size. It’s simple: artists popular when the market was healthy amassed tons of sales thanks to tiny shares of their catalog. As we will weight them with these shares, their value will go down.
The best example may be Madonna. Her regular buyers were there from her first eras and then they have been given tons of chances to buy her new albums. Her main greatest hits collection for most of her career covers only the first part of her discography while she also sold various singles. Finally, her second major compilation included distinct songs from the first one, meaning they weren’t cannibalizing each other. Basically, her buyers have been consuming her discography bit by bit which fuels her comprehensive sales. Logically, all artists who peaked during the 90s and issued various records in these years have a success indicator lower than their CSPC ranking.
The opposite situation is true for a band like the Eagles. Their early albums were issued when albums sales were notably lower so less people bought them during their promotional campaigns. Instead, they picked best of compilations when they got into buying music meaning that their catalog was consumed through worthy packages, all at once.
Organic adjustment of the catalog structure
It is the first impact that has been mentioned as it was highlighted by the comparison between Bob Marley and Metallica.
A natural though to contradict this impact would be that without Legend, there is no evidence buyers would have go on to buy multiple albums from Marley. I’ll take a couple of minutes here to go into that case. Nobody buys a complete discography in one time. We must wonder how have bands like Metallica, AC/DC or Led Zeppelin sold their full catalog to so many people? You first need a trigger, a banger single that will bring a large amount of people to one of your albums. We are talking about hits like Enter Sandman, Back In Black and Stairway to Heaven. This trigger will push the regular buyer to go after Metallica, Back In Black and IV. He plays these records multiple times and likes them, he feels this was a worthy purchase.
The regular buyer as part of their target audience also listens to rock radio stations, so he knows they got additional hits that he also likes. Thus, once he is done playing the big smash album of each he will buy Highway to Hell because he likes the title track, …And Justice for All because of One and II to get Whole Lotta Love. The virtuous circle is created. The loop goes on and on and on and after a few years, he will own most of their records.
The one who would have gone after Exodus would have known and liked Is This Love, ending up buying Kaya. Then Natty Dread to get No Woman, No Cry. Then he goes after Uprising because he likes Could You Be Loved and Redemption Song. Two more essential songs, Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot the Sheriff are part of Burnin’. Stir It Up comes with Catch a Fire. After a few years, someone appreciating Marley‘s songs and regularly buying albums would have got several of his records too, if it wasn’t for Legend which contains all popular songs. Since that’s the way buyers act for all artists with no compilation, there is no reason to believe they would have done otherwise for him. The assumption would be the opposite, claiming that a regular buyer wouldn’t have bought more records from the singer when they contain popular songs!
Case Study of the concept: Adele
Let’s apply this concept to a real case. Below table provides EDS of all records of Adele. Please keep in mind she has registered so far 84,15 million EAS so this figure is calculated to define the Catalog Share of its content for all lines of the table.
When we mix together all products as if they were the same, Adele sold 223 million records. Thanks to the CSPC, we removed flaws related to formats and concluded that she sold 84,15 million EAS. Now, thanks to EDS we see that they sold 39,2 million times the cumulative worth of her catalog. It’s like saying that consumers purchased 39,2 million times her catalog through various combinations of 5,70 records or 2,15 equivalent albums on average.
These last ratios are fundamental: consumers effectively got the full value of Adele‘s discography every 2,15 EAS which isn’t surprising giving the small size of her catalog. The needed 5,70 purchases to do so because of cheap downloads and streams.
The EDS of all studied artists
If we do the math for remaining artists, you can see that it requires only 3,04 EAS to get Bob Marley‘s catalog strength, mostly because of the super-strength of Legend. It means that every time a consumer bought an album of the artist, he got 32,9% of the appeal of his complete recordings. What about Metallica? Consumers bought 100% of their catalog’s value every 5,23 EAS. We ended to prove that while both sold the same, Marley has been the most successful since he managed the same cumulative sales in spite of a discography structure which requires his fans less purchases to be satisfied!
Lovers of the Beatles had to buy 6,31 EAS to own 100% of their catalog’s value while the fanbase of Madonna committed on 6,12 purchases. It was expected since her fans have been buying her records through the years as they came out. As for the Beatles, EMI had the brilliant idea to release singles and albums which weren’t contained in each other, creating two discographies living in parallel. When you buy the 30-songs compilation One, you still get 0 tune from their classic albums Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White Album. This forces their regular buyers to invest into multiple purchases.
ABBA fans bought only 2,38 EAS on average in spite of the strength of their catalog and their massive success during their active years. The cannibalization effect of their compilations, which have been released quickly after their studio albums, is obvious.
The below table provides results of the calculation for all artists with more than 100 million CSPC units:
Michael Jackson‘s discography will soon become the first to sell 100 million units. This shows the how widespread the appeal of the artist is. The table proves a lot of thoughts we had. Bob Dylan is the highest CSPC / EDS ratio showing that his fans collected a lot of his albums, which is only natural considering he has been active for more than 55 years. The highest ratio Records / EDS is Eminem which translates the insane digital sales of the rapper. We can also see that artists like the Eagles and ABBA have low CSPC units in comparison to their EDS, this is the result of compilations eating too much of their discographies’ values. The management of their label is undoubtedly responsible for this situation.
So this is it, Queen and ABBA are bigger than the Beatles? It isn’t the way you should read it. Figures tell us that the strength of their respective catalog has been sold the equivalent of 68 million, 66 million and 64 million times, but Beatles‘ catalog is worthier as proved by CSPC data. Selling 64 million times a catalog worth 406 million EAS highlights more success than selling 66 million times a catalog valued at 157 million EAS.
How do we move from CSPC-EAS / EDS data to the Artist Success Rating?…
ASR – Artist Success Rating
Up to now, we highlighted two meaningful indicators:
- The CSPC which defines the value of a catalog
- The EDS which tells us how many times the catalog has been consumed
To establish the final Artist Success Rating (ASR), we need to factor both indicators together. The CSPC tells us how much consumers invested into an artist: it is a demand-oriented indicator. On its side, the EDS reflects how much value was put into each record: it is an offer-oriented indicator. Thus, the factor of both is the ultimate tool to define the success in absolute terms of an artist.
To be more precise, since both indicators are based on weightings of the artists’ sales figures, rather than both indicators we need to factor their square root. This will prevent us from widening artificially gaps between all artists. No worries, all calculations are already done!
ASR = √CSPC * √EDS
Please keep in mind that this ASR is a pure key performance indicator, it isn’t a number of units sold or whatever. Thus, for readability purpose we have set it on a Base 1000.
In the end, the 287 million equivalent album sales of Michael Jackson through a mere 5 eras, in spite of various compilations putting their worth into a single disc, took the Beatles down. The latter act has the most valuable catalog ever, but the former has been the most successful. Maybe more than the first place of the Moonwalker, the most impressive result is the tremendous lead of these two acts over anyone else.
Queen comes in at #3, themselves with a comfortable lead towards the remaining classic rock bands. It isn’t a surprise since they sold as much if not more than the likes Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd even if their catalog was exploited in a much less efficient way.
Interestingly, we found out that Michael Jackson, the Beatles and Queen are the 3 most successful acts – studied so far – ever, precisely the same 3 who own the biggest ongoing catalog on streaming platforms among deep catalog acts.
The success of both The Eagles and ABBA is rewarded. The mania around the latter group has been widely communicated by Medias. At last we have an indicator which proves that indeed they were truly massive.
The enduring success of Madonna, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones and Elton John helped them to amass large amounts of sales. Their extensive catalog is no doubt successful, but the popularity of these artists is slightly lower than suggested by their CSPC ranking. Don’t get me wrong: they still belong to the very top part of the ladder with only Elvis Presley left to push one of them out of the all-time Top 10.
More than ever, feel free to comment and / or ask a question!
Would love to see this get updated about more than a year from now
84 million less for Bob Marley? If so, all bands or songwriters should sue record labels… 😀
What position do Elvis Presley and Aerosmith hold in the ASR rankings?
An updated list is available here:
Garth Brooks seems too high considering how many know him outside the US
Garth Brooks higher than Guns, Springsteen and Metallica seems very difficult to me…
The Aerosmith in the ASR table on page 6 are missing, in what position are they ?