Mike and I have an interesting take on the state of record sales. He believes the game has become that much harder to be successful at because of the access people have to downloading free music. While I agree with him on that point, I think people insist on downloading free music not just because it's accessible, but because it keeps them from spending money on mediocre projects.
When cd's weren't more than $12 at any given time, the investment was worth it if you were truly a fan of the artist or simply curious about their project. But somewhere along the line things started to take a turn. People either got greedy or they were losing money and needed to make up ground. If you wanted to get a cd for less than $15 you had to grab it the week of its release or risk a light wallet. However, for the better part of the last decade the music hasn't matched the price tag. If I'm paying premium prices for your cd, I expect a quality product when I pop it in.
In return for the slimmer wallets and weak overall music, consumers started turning to their computers. One or two song downloads turned into entire albums. Extreme song leakage made it even easier for consumers to slap record labels and artists in the face for making us pay for less than their best effort. Yea there have been some nice projects sprinkled in, but there have been so many artists who put out crap that it's hard to be mad at people when they don't spend their money.
Either people stopped buying music, forcing the prices up in return, or prices went up and caused people to find less expensive means to get their music. Regardless of how you see it, record sales have gone down. Even formerly successful artists are having a hard time selling. 50 Cent turned to full time actor after taking relative hits on his last couple of projects. It took Trey Songz like 53 1/2 singles before he saw gold on his current project yet he's getting the most radio spin of his career.
Somebody's to blame for the current state of album sales. But unfortunately, just like everything else that changed with the digital age, there's no way things go back to how they used to be.