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Country music sales counting on late releases, NYC award show

Updated:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Country music sales are off 10 percent from last year.

But with releases by Kenny Chesney and Big & Rich still to come and the Country Music Association broadcasting its annual awards show this month, no one is panicking.

``We still have a chance to make it up and get up to last year's final tally,'' said Bill Kennedy, vice president of sales for Capitol Records Nashville.

Through the week ending Oct. 2, country music sold about 45.2 million units, compared to 50.2 million units for the same period last year _ a 10 percent drop, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

But country isn't the only genre struggling in 2005. Across all genres, music sales fell from about 445.5 million units to 414.6 million units _ a 7 percent decline.

The 2004 calendar was packed with albums from blockbuster acts Toby Keith, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban, as well as the surprise showing by newcomers Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich.

``We realized we'd be down as an industry this year,'' said Joe Galante, chairman of RCA Label Group/Nashville. ``We didn't have the same caliber of releases and in the same quantity.''

Recent albums by Keith, Faith Hill and George Strait have sold more than a million copies each, and several others have reached the 500,000 mark, including Brad Paisley, LeAnn Rimes, Dierks Bentley, Trace Adkins, Brooks & Dunn and Trisha Yearwood.

New releases by Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Wilson should do well during the holiday shopping season, as should upcoming albums by Chesney, Big & Rich and Reba McEntire.

Last year, Music Row executives were encouraged by Wilson and Big & Rich because it signaled that the industry was producing a new crop of superstars. Wilson sold 4 million copies and Big & Rich 2 million.

This year's breakout has been the Atlanta trio Sugarland, who sold 1 million units. Many expect similar results from ``American Idol'' winner Carrie Underwood's upcoming album.

Underwood's record comes out Nov. 15, the same day as the Country Music Association awards show, where she'll perform the single. The show, which will be broadcast live on CBS, always provides a boost in sales. After it aired last November, the Billboard top 75 country albums chart had a 166 percent weekly increase, according to the CMA.

Even with a generous sales bump, though, it will be tough to match last year. Besides being soft in major releases, 2005 also saw hurricanes demolish parts of the Gulf Coast _ a prime market for country music _ and drive up gasoline prices.

``I think the hurricanes have in some areas had catastrophic results for music sales,'' said Ben Kline, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Universal Music Group Nashville. ``Gas prices probably hurt us more than other genres. That extra trip to Wal-Mart or Target (major country music retailers) is probably not being made, and our records feel the sting more from that.''
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