Two thousand reasons why a Top 40 hit is nothing to sing about

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The Independent Culture

It has never been easier to have a hit record. Singles sales have slumped so low that just 2,000 copies are enough to crack the Top 40. The figure is less than a third of what it would have taken to make it into the chart as recently as six years ago, and is a clear sign of the decline of the singles industry.

It has never been easier to have a hit record. Singles sales have slumped so low that just 2,000 copies are enough to crack the Top 40. The figure is less than a third of what it would have taken to make it into the chart as recently as six years ago, and is a clear sign of the decline of the singles industry.

The number one, long viewed as the ultimate prize in the music business, reached a new low last week when Swedish DJ Eric Prydz had the worst sales ever recorded for a chart-topper.

His song "Call On Me", a cover of Steve Winwood's "Valerie", shifted just 23,519 copies, a figure which a decade ago would not have made even the top five.

There may be worse to come tonight. Dismal sales earlier this week mean Prydz or the Manic Street Preachers are on target to hit number one with even fewer sales when this week's chart is announced.

Some believe the chart is now a farce. Paul Rees, the editor of Q magazine, said: "It's become devalued. A number one which sold such a derisory amount is just a joke."

Last week's combined Top 40 sales amounted to just 287,900 - little over half of the 553,000 for the equivalent week in 1994. Average sales for the number one in 2004 have amounted to just 61,000 so far, and only four weeks this year have seen sales over 100,000. It contrasts sharply with the past when average sales were well above 100,000 each year between 1995 and 2002. Last year the figure was down to 70,175.

Last Sunday while Prydz was at the top, the cult band Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster scraped into the Top 40 with sales of just 2,419 with their track "Rise of the Eagles". Ten years ago the number 40 record would typically sell 6,700 copies, but such sales last week would place it at number 15.

Poor sales are a long-term trend for singles, and also come in the wake of the launch of an official download chart last month.

Paul Rees said: "I think sales are now so low that with enough money behind you, anyone can have a Top 10 single. What will happen is that the download chart will carry far more currency than the singles chart.

Getting to number one is just a vanity thing now. You look at someone like Robbie Williams and he has to get a number one with each single, or what does it say about his career?"

The long gap between first radio play and release date is also thought to have affected singles sales. In the past, tracks would be played only on release but can now be aired two months in advance.

Alan Jones, a chart consultant for the industry magazine Music Week, said people were also opting for different formats.

"People's interest in singles is high, but they now buy them on compilations or they buy them on albums. The price difference between singles and albums has never been smaller."

Many in the industry believe that a new version of the Band Aid single will help to revive the market. The charity song sold more than 3.5 million copies when released in 1984.

Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesman for the HMV chain, said: "We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the poor sales might represent a blip, and that one really good single can help reverse that.

"If Band Aid III is released for Christmas, it might not reach the fervour of 1984, but it could easily sell over a million copies and stimulate interest in the single again. "

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