The other week I was sitting at Dalva for the XLR8R monthly with my good friend Maer. We started talking about the FS model of selling full albums vs. al la carte sales of music (ex: iTunes, Napster, Yahoo!). The growing popularity of al la carte song sales reminded me of the days of the 45 rpm singles and then I get an email from Cyrus pointing me to an article that said exactly the same thing, interesting…
I don’t feel singles are bad but I don’t like the concept of pushing singles as the future model for music’s success. The beautiful thing about al la carte is that if you know what you want you can just get it. One concern I have about al la carte is that if you get only what you want will you be willing to experiment more?
I feel that a few people will, but at the $0.99 price point, the possible $2.00 price point proposed by the big 5 or $2.00+ that mobile providers are using; I don’t think most people will.
Over the years we have been hearing more and more complaints by consumers saying that they don’t want to buy whole albums because only one or two of the songs on the album are any good, the rest are filler and/or awful. This is a legitimate complaint because a lot of what has been coming out by the majors has been filler and they are pursuing the big hits, especially now that they have a growing sales model that pushes singles.
At the same time, buying only the hits you want can make you miss out on some amazing works. For example, Kanye West’s albums should be heard in their entirety. The albums are well thought out and are designed to be heard as a whole, but if you just bought “Gold Digger” and never heard another single would you be willing to pay more knowing that the majors have been putting out a lot of filler?
Another argument against al la carte is that full album purchases are beneficial to both the artist and label in helping establish a fan base. Here is an example, I heard the pre-release track “7/4 (Shoreline)” of Broken Social Scene’s newest self titled album. I had never heard of them before and my friend David told me I should check out the track. I liked the song so much that I risked it and pre-ordered the album.
I was stunned how good the whole album was. So good in fact, that I bought their first one just because the current one was so amazing. Since then I would put Broken Social Scene as one of my top favorites for 2005.
If it wasn’t for listening to the whole album and releasing how good it was I would probably not have pursued the rest of their content nor had the experience of learning the entire album. If we continue to push the al la carte this experience is lost and you could lose (or never gain) a supportive fan base and this is very important for independent labels and unsigned artist.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of benefits of singles and I think al la carte is not inherently bad, but it should not be the de facto way to purchase music like the big 5 wants. Artist take a lot of time to make an album, there is a lot of thought put into it and a well crafted album is a great experience from beginning to end.