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Boyle’s ‘Dream’ Awoke the Music Industry

Susan Boyle's I Dreamed a Dream didn't have enough fuel to become 2009's top-selling album, but being runner-up hasn't undercut the underdog's rocket rise to stardom.

Dream was narrowly eclipsed by Taylor Swift's Fearless. Both sold more than 3 million copies in the Nielsen SoundScan tracking year that ended Sunday; final figures will be released today. Fearless, with sales to date of 5.3 million copies, arrived in 2008, so Dream is the top-selling 2009 release.

The Scottish singer, 48, whose audition on Britain's Got Talent launched her Cinderella odyssey, had been galloping toward Swift since Dream's release Nov. 23.

After entering Billboard with 701,000 copies, the year's highest entry and the biggest debut for a female artist since SoundScan began tabulating sales in 1991, Dream racked up more than 500,000 copies in each of the next four weeks, a feat achieved by only four albums, according to Billboard. (The other three: The Beatles' 1, the Backstreet Boys' Black&Blue and Garth Brooks' Sevens.)

"If the record wasn't great and Susan wasn't special, we couldn't have done this," says Columbia Records chairman Steve Barnett.

"Even eight weeks out from the street date, we saw an incredible response," he says. "Amazon preorders were the biggest in their history. QVC gave us a shot, and it was phenomenal. The real challenge was convincing retail to buy enough CDs. We had an incredibly aggressive campaign that didn't go by rules normally associated with the record business. Then it became self-perpetuating, a record everyone wanted to give to their mom, their auntie, whomever."

The Boyle juggernaut demonstrates how in the past year "the music industry has become more proficient at marketing through all channels," says Eric Weinberg, president of Nielsen Entertainment. "At a time when there's such emphasis on digital (sales), this was almost a pure CD artist, marketed through word of mouth, TV and the Internet. Labels are challenging tradition and creating new opportunities, looking at each album as unique and tailoring campaigns accordingly."

Boyle triumphed "because everyone knew Susan. And we're in a period in this country when everyone wants a great story."

Barnett isn't disappointed that Boyle, who placed second to a dance troupe on the British talent show, landed behind Swift in the 2009 album race.

"She's done things that have never been done," he says. "And at a time people are questioning the future of CDs, she proved there is a future."

As for Boyle's future, Barnett says, "It's an open sketchbook. She can do whatever she wants."

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