Do Flo Rida's multiplatinum singles and weak album sales represent a new way of thinking about the business?
When it comes to scoring hits, Flo Rida has it down to a science. In the Aug. 25 issue, the rapper's latest single, "Whistle," ended the reign of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" atop the Billboard Hot 100, climbing 3-1. Its total digital sales stand at 1.9 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Though "Whistle" loses the No. 1 spot this week to Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," Swift's digital deluge didn't beat Flo Rida's SoundScan record for the biggest digital debut week, set when "Right Round" sold 636,000 in February 2009 (see story, page 38).
"Whistle," produced by DJ Frank E and Glass, marks the first single to top the chart from his Atlantic album "Wild Ones", and his third overall track to do so. Since his first hit, "Low" (which spent 10 weeks atop the Hot 100 in 2008), Flo Rida has established himself as one of the quintessential artists of the iTunes era, consistently able to lodge multimillion-selling tracks.
But that hasn't been the case for his four albums. His first release, 2008's "Mail on Sunday", remains his strongest seller at 444,000, while "Wild Ones" entered the Billboard 200 at No. 14 and has sold only 88,000 since its release on July 3 on Atlantic/Poe Boy Entertainment, despite three platinum singles.
THE ALBUM AS SINGLES FACTORY
According to Mike Caren, president of worldwide A&R at Warner Music Group and president of Artist Publishing Group, Flo Rida and Atlantic embraced a singles-driven approach for "Wild Ones". "This particular album is like a Now! hits [set] of Flo Rida songs, because it's for an audience that wants to put an album on at a party, hit play and not have to shuffle through any songs," Caren says, noting that Atlantic hopes to release six singles from the album before the cycle completes.
In fact, the label is already four singles deep on the project: "Good Feeling" and "Wild Ones" are substantial sellers that preceded the album by many months. "Good Feeling" arrived Aug. 21, 2011, and has sold 3.5 million, according to SoundScan, after peaking at No. 3 on the Hot 100, while "Wild Ones" came out on Dec. 19 and has sold 3.3 million, reaching No. 5 on the Hot 100. A fourth single, "Let It Roll," was released June 19 and has sold 42,000.
"He consciously wanted to make an album that was just full of singles," Caren says. "He acknowledges his pop and international fan base and they love his singles, and he said, 'Why not make an album of all singles?'"
The evidence would support that plan. A Billboard examination of SoundScan numbers during the last 18 months finds that of the 25 artists who sold the most units (albums and tracks combined), Flo Rida had the highest percentage of tracks to album sales: 98.9% of his sales were tracks and a mere 1.1 % were albums.
HOW TO MEASURE SUCCESS
"Success is success," Caren says. "I definitely don't think a lot of artists measure their success only in terms of album sales, and as time goes by, as we have more singles, people are going to realize that the format of an album doesn't have to be any one format or another."
For "Wild Ones", Flo Rida took his tested approach by enlisting established DJs and producers-Dr. Luke, soFLY & Nius, Axwell, Jim Jonsin, Rico Love and GoonRock-to contribute their best hit-making fare. The resulting album comes at a manicured nine tracks, only one song longer than 2010's "Only One Flo (Part 1)", which has sold 66,000 copies. Caren notes that the decision to keep the album short was to cut down on filler and maximize potential for singles-an unorthodox approach for a major label.
But with the tracks from "Wild Ones" priced at $1.29 in the iTunes store, and the album going for $6.99, Atlantic stands to realize greater revenue from sales of six successful singles than equivalent album sales. And Caren dismisses the notion that dwindling album sales is an issue, explaining that it instead represents a shifting approach to moving units.
"From a label's perspective, revenue is revenue and sure, we want to build long-lasting artist careers. But I don't think there's one set way to do that," he says. "I'm happy with artists who sell a ton of albums and have success that way, and I'm happy with artists who sell a bunch of singles and can continue to do so time and time again."