Now That’s What I Call A Compilation

best country everWho 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.

Happy Compiling!

(written while listening to “The 50 Best Country Songs Ever” by Various Artists)


John K Hall

Good article Phil – and this is a good starting place for those wishing to start compiling tracks. But, of course, there is much more to creating compilations than these few points.
Having spent many years creating compilations for Reader’s Digest in the UK, (and still compiling today, freelance) there are many knowledgeable music industry people out there who think that creating compilations is the easiest thing for anybody to do, and I’m afraid your article encourages that myth.
So many compiulations today are no more than a way of ‘cashing in’ on the compilations boom, and few are well thought through, and successful as the ones you mention. The NOW series, for example, has been compiled by experts with a a wide knowledge of the pop music scene, and more importantly, a deal in place with the major music licensers that enable them to use the best and latest hit recordings.
Some of the other genres you mention, need a great deal of experience to be able to put together a financially viable group of recordings.
Of course, if you’re just making up a compilation for non-profit, such as a Spotify playlist, or your own ‘mixtape’, then there is no experience neccessary, but for more financial rewards, a more experienced hand is needed, if only to negotiate the minefield of rights owners and permissions.
Still, thanks for your article, it may stop some of those awful sets that are compiled randomly or (and I kid you not) alpabetically, as I have seen in the past.


This idea seems very well thought out, but will this really work with unknown type artists, suggested by one of the other comments?


joey welz

We are one of the pioneering labels to introduce compilations to radio on our CANADIAN AMERICAN WORLDWIDE RADIO SINGLES and our MIDEM ARTIST SAMPLER starting in 1990. IT SAVES MONEY OVER RELEASING INDIVIDUAL ALBUMS, AND PINPOINTS AND FOCUSES ON THE TRACKS WE ARE PROMOTING. IT ALSO IS CHEAPER TO MAIL IN PLACE OF MANY BULKY ALBUMS IN A JEWEL BOX, LOADED DOWN WITH TRACKS THAT WON’T MAKE THE CUT,Think of it as a lost leader item, drawing attention to new artists and music. If they like the single cut, they will search the ORCHARD and buy the whole album. OUR COMPILATION CDS HAVE BEEN VERY SUCCESSFUL AND SELL WELL ON THE ORCHARD,as well as appearing on many worldwide RADIO CHARTS….. Check us out , JOEY WELZ ceo and ARTIST


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