Who doesn’t love a great mixtape? A collection of handpicked songs that represent the best of the best of whatever genre, activity, theme, emotion, season, holiday, or mood those songs embody. And while many music lovers may say that compilations erode the value of the album, it cannot be refuted that compilations provide tremendous value to music consumers and help record labels revive back catalogue whose sales may be waning. And they are great on road trips… and for dance parties… and for introducing music lovers to rarities and unusual sub-genres. They’re just great, got it?
And the business of compilations is doing very well. In fact, The Official Charts Company in the UK reported an increase in compilations sales in 2012 of 7.2%, bringing sales of the format up to 21% of all recorded sales. They are one of the fastest growing sectors of recorded music.
So, you ask, how do you make a great compilation?
That’s easy. You pick a theme, license (for super cheap) the absolute best songs ever to fit that theme, order those songs in the most inspiring and interesting way possible, then create the most beautiful, eye-catching art that will make it stand out from the millions of others on the digital shelf, and price it at just the right price so that consumers see more value in purchasing the album than just a few tracks off the album.
Or you could just call it “NOW That’s What I Call Music.” Those seem to sell well.
In all seriousness, though, there are 4 basic things you need to consider when creating a digital compilation:
The songs — and the order of those songs — are the most important aspect of the compilation. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is worth emphasizing. You can have the coolest looking “Best of Soul” compilation out there, but if it doesn’t have James Brown on it, it will never sell as much as one called “Worst of Soul” that does have James Brown. Ok, that might be extreme, but I’ve made my point. Do your homework, scour your catalogue for the music that fits, order those tracks in a thoughtful way, and it will pay off.
Unless you already have a strong brand (NOW! or Ministry of Sound), the title of your compilation can have a huge impact on sales. Inserting a few key words that consumers search for will help your album gain some visibility in an already crowded digital marketplace. Do some research. Do people search for “Flamenco Guitar Music” or “Spanish Guitar Music” more? “Swing” or “Doo Wop?” “Christmas Music” or “Holiday Music?” “Songs” or “Music?” “Best” or “Greatest?” Some of this will be trial and error, but running these phrases by Google Trends will prove helpful.
How much the cover art of a compilation matters certainly depends on the genre or theme. But in my experience, while artwork matters, it matters to a lesser extent than traditional albums. It is likely that a consumer LOOKING for a nice compilation of “Latin Jazz Music” or “Surf Rock Songs from the 60’s” is ok buying something that LOOKS like a compilation. This means that it doesn’t have to look like a rare work of art, but should look sharp, professional, and not too Photoshop-y. Simple, easy to read text next to an iconic image that conveys the music on the album works very well.
Once you have created a great compilation, don’t ruin it by pricing it incorrectly. Compilations are typically value purchases for music shoppers, which means they look for something with more tracks than a typical album, and at a very attractive price point. 20 songs for $8, 30 for $10 — something in that range. Obviously, mechanical royalties and whether the master recordings are owned or licensed play into this pricing decision, but at the end of the day most compilation buyers want a good amount of music for a low price.
(written while listening to “The 50 Best Country Songs Ever” by Various Artists)