We’re not even a month in and 2011 has not been kind to the recording industry. Without getting all apocalyptic about it, there’s enough going on to make any observer wonder if the Mayans weren’t talking about the world of music.

CD sales are off to a bad, bad start
The year started with Taylor Swift holding on to the #1 position on the Billboard album charts by selling just 52,000 copies of Speak Now. That entire week saw just 5.4 million units sold across the entire US, an all-time low. And then it got worse. The following week, Cake’s Showroom of Compassion ended up at #1, selling just 44,000 copies. Aggregate sales were 4.9 million units. That’s beyond ugly. Things aren’t any better in Canada, with sales trailing last year by around five per cent already. And last year was rubbish.

Sales of digital releases and vinyl are leveling off
While digital sales were up significantly around the globe in 2010 -- by six per cent or so -- sales growth is starting to level off. Same thing with vinyl—which, albeit a miniscule part of the overall market, was a bright spot. And any growth in these areas hasn’t been able to offset the margins lost with declining CD sales. Global recorded music revenue fell about nine per cent last year.

Dearth (death?) of rock
The anemic 1-2 finish of Cake and Cage the Elephant on the Billboard charts a couple of weeks ago was the first time we saw two rock records at the top since—well, I can’t remember when. Scan any album chart in the world and you’ll see precious few rock releases in the Top 50. Rock is almost completely absent from the singles charts. Hope is on the way—Coldplay, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden and other superstar acts all have releases in the pipeline which might get the public excited -- but for the moment, the idea of rock being the prevailing style of popular music sales is over.

The future of the concert industry
Declining CD sales mean that acts have to tour more to make up for the lost revenue. But touring is expensive and exhausting. Economies of scale allow superstar acts to make buckets of money, but it’s really, really tough for young, developing acts. Who’s looking after their interests?

Then again, it’s early. Maybe things will improve. Maybe.