"Ocean Eyes" - the major label debut from Owl City - wasn't the best-selling digital album of the year. In fact, it ranked 16th. But what's notable is that unlike other artists with higher-ranking albums on the digital sales chart, "Ocean Eyes" did not have corresponding placement with physical album sales. The album placed 119 on the physical charts. That's the biggest gap between digital and physical sales for any release in the Top 20 digital albums of the year.

That's little surprise to Owl City's manager Steve Bursky of Foundations Artist Management. Prior to signing with Universal Republic in late 2008, Owl City was the quintessential D.I.Y band. The bulk of its promotional and fan communication activity took place on MySpace, and as a result sales were overwhelmingly digital.

"All the commerce was being conducted online, because that was the only place to get it," Bursky says. "The fans were incredibly young, and still are, and they are iTunes buyers."

iTunes, not surprisingly, drove sales for the new album as well. Apple selected "Fireflies" as the single of the week in early July, even though management and the label were considering different tracks as the lead single. That decision forced Owl City's support team to rush the availability of the album. It originally was meant to street the first Tuesday of September, but was pushed up to July 14 to capitalize on the Single of the Week promotion.

That threw a wrench in the broader promotional plan, which was to release an exclusive single not on the album the first Tuesday of every month for four months leading up to the original street date. As it turned out, only two of those ultimately were made available.

Other digital promotions included exclusively premiering the video for Fireflies on MySpace, making it available as a free download for the mobile game Tap Tap Revenge 3, and previewing other tracks on sites like AOL Music and Spin.com to drive fans to the iTunes page.

What's notable is that the strength of the single "Fireflies" still drove album sales, whereas for many acts such a promotion results in strong single sales but little conversion to album sales. Two other tracks-"Hello Seattle" and "Bird in the Worm"-were single-worthy as well, which helped drive overall album sales.

"The whole story of his discovery, self-generated success and then partnership after the fact with the [label] is very representative of 2009," sums up Bursky. "Ten years ago, a kid from Owatonna, Minn. Would never have been discovered by Universal Records. The opportunity for bands to be discovered from the digital market and convert an online following into commerce would not have existed back then."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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