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Kenny Chesney Torn Over Digital Era

Kenny Chesney photo courtesy of Sony Music Nashville.

Kenny Chesney’s new CD, Hemingway’s Whiskey, got off to a great start — it’s at No. 1 on both the Billboard Country Albums chart and the all-genre Billboard 200.

The top of the country list is a place Kenny’s very familiar with. It marks the tenth time he has had a No. 1 country album.

But it’s also a bit of a different market than it once was. Kenny sold 183,000 copies of Hemingway in the album’s first week of release, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and those numbers are good enough to make it the fourth best-selling album of the entire third quarter, even though it was available for only the final week of that period. Still, there were other times in his career that Kenny sold more than half a million in his debut week.

As digital music has grown, fans are more and more often buying single tracks instead of albums, and that’s put a dent in the sales volume for full CDs. Still, Kenny remains convinced that musicians will continue to have well-rounded fans who want to get a broader picture of the artist than they can get through just one song.

“Obviously, the business has changed,” he says. “But I still believe that there are a percentage of people out there that want to… hear the investment the artist makes. And I still believe there’s people out there that want to hear the record, what they’re doin’ and what they’re sayin’. And, I know I do. I mean, do I buy songs off iTunes? Yeah. But I still want to hear some people’s records that are comin’ out this year.”

Kenny made his very first album in 1993, before the Internet was really a factor in social culture. He came along at the height of the CD era and has, of course, seen the entire explosion online, where he has his own website and even his own Internet music station, No Shoes Radio.

“I’ve watched it progress, and there’s some things I do like about it, and there’s some things that I don’t,” Kenny says. “I still believe that makin’ a record — a whole record — for the fans is important. I hope that never goes away, somebody wanting to hear a piece of music. It helps invest the audience into your music and into you as a person. And I sincerely hope that that doesn’t change.”

Kenny is not only selling full CDs — he’s also got a DVD version of his high-school football documentary, Boys Of Fall, coming to Walmart stores Nov. 9. That’s the day before the Country Music Association awards, where Kenny and Dave Matthews are nominated for Musical Event of the Year with their duet, “I’m Alive.”

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