Music Article

Cashing 'N

Fallout from 'N Sync's success--With the outrageous record-breaking sales of ''No Strings Attached,'' who wins and who loses?

Want to get a fix on just how huge 'N Sync's first-week album sales were? Imagine this: Stack 2.4 million CDs on top of each other, and they'd be taller than 60 — that's 60 — Empire State Buildings. Or, to put it in terms 'N Sync fans can understand, the CD tower would outdistance 274,000 tubes of Clearasil. Such is the feat of No Strings Attached, the teen quintet's sophomore album, which, since its March 21 debut, has smashed records right and left (first-week sales more than doubled the Backstreet Boys' previous record), knocked Santana's Supernatural out of the top spot, incited countless high-pitched squeals, and shaken up the music industry.

''When we got the first-day numbers, we were in shock,'' Barry Weiss, president of 'N Sync's label, Jive Records, says of the first 24 hours' 1.1 million albums sold. ''It's absolutely off the scale.'' In fact, it's so far off the scale, there are those who fret for the funky-haired Fab Five. ''This is one of those good news-bad news situations,'' says Tom Calderone, MTV's senior VP of music and talent. ''How do you follow this up? It's going to be tough because of the amount of pressure that's going to be on them. That's something that you don't wish on anyone.'' Relieving some of the pressure: Strings' second-week sales dropped to 811,000 albums. Other fallout:


Winner: Jive Records
With 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears on its roster, the label is the current king of smartly marketed bubblegum music. And Jive's Weiss is justifiably pumped about his latest triumph: ''We had a great first single, an amazing first video, a phenomenal setup. This has to go down in history as the best setup job in the history of record business: The 10 weeks of radio and video, the marketing, the TV campaign, the online campaign, the press onslaught. Everything was poetry.'' Caveat: Jive, with its relatively small stable of performers, arguably has yet to vault into the big leagues occupied by the likes of Columbia and Atlantic. ''This gives them a moment of market share equal to a major [label],'' says the head of one ''real'' major label. ''A major has to have a diverse artist roster and catalog. Jive doesn't have that yet.''


Loser: RCA Records
The label released 'N Sync's first album in 1998 but lost the band last year in a high-profile legal battle. ''I'm sure they were gritting their teeth the whole week,'' says one music-industry insider. ''How can it not hurt? A lot of the people worked to build the band, and now they can't reap the rewards of their hard work.'' Caveat: RCA, which declined to comment, still has diva-in-training Christina Aguilera (not to mention Elvis, the real king of teen pop).


Winner: Internet boosters
Tracks from Strings were illegally leaked onto the Net before its release, yet the album still managed to smash sales records. Which means the biz — panicky that Net piracy will spell the doom of retail — can breathe a temporary sigh of relief: Fans apparently still crave the packaging and liner notes. ''I think [the Internet] helped a lot.... People had the opportunity to hear more than just the single the radio was playing,'' says 'N Sync manager Johnny Wright. Adds Elizabeth Brooks, vice president of marketing at MP3 exchange hub Napster, ''Exposure is a good thing.'' Caveat: Wait a few years: Internet bootlegging is just booting up. And at the recent South by Southwest music conference, some were buzzing about the problem of pirated album artwork, especially in Europe.

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