Indies Come Out to Play: Andrew Bird, Animal Collective Topping iTunes

We’re a month into 2009, yet we’re still listening to 2008.  This is usually the case with post-holiday charts — the big fourth-quarter releases tend to dominate the scene as shoppers cash in their gift cards.  Recently, however, a couple of smaller label releases have started making a big mid-January splash.

On the digital side, as of January 23rd, Animal Collective’s album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, was #2 on iTunes, while Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast took the #3 spot.  According to independent physical retail authority Streetpulse, Animal Collective is top of the heap, while Andrew Bird’s standard version of Noble Beast grabs the #2 slot.  A bonus version of Noble Beast (which includes a disc of instrumentals titled Useless Creatures) follows closely behind at #4.

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Andrew Bird, a singer/songwriter/violinist/whistler, began promoting his new CD early (March 2008), when he participated in a year-long New York Times blog called “Measure for Measure,” chronicling the making of the album.  He was also the inaugural artist on ABC’s new music webcast, “Amplified.”  For a short period, you could listen to either the CD (on NPR.org) or the bonus disc (on Andrewbird.net).

Andrewbird.net also implored fans to purchase the record through iTunes from 3pm-9pm on January 21st in order to hit the #1 spot by the following day.  Utilizing both high-brow (NPR) and low-brow marketing (gaming the iTunes system), Andrew Bird is leaving nothing to chance.

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Animal Collective, an electronic-based band, has a rabid, internet-savvy fan base. A track from the then-unreleased record was posted on another band’s website in early December 2008, drawing attention from Animal Collective’s label and Web Sheriff, a copyright infringement policing company.  But the slip set off a blogging groundswell that increased when the album leaked around Christmas.

By the time of the January 6th digital and vinyl release date (with the CD release following two weeks later), the comment sections of music blogs such as Idolator, Stereogum, and BrooklynVegan broke down into two groups: Animal Collective super-fans and Animal Collective enemies. The undecided were able to listen to a live stream of the CD on NPR.org or read an interview on highly-regarded music blog PitchforkMedia.com.

Of course, both of these releases benefited from not having to go up against, say, a new Lil Wayne offering. In fact, many of the January 20th releases were by other indie-minded acts and there’s certainly a fair amount of interest overlap.  In general, smaller labels often promote by using niche markets or an established fan base, while hoping for a trickle into the mainstream. It may be on a lesser scale than getting an artist on Oprah, but for now, it’s outselling even the mighty Beyonce.

Story by analyst Shalewa Sharpe.  Chart data and information collected through an exclusive alliance with BigChampagne.  Stay tuned for more chart- and data-related reports and offerings.