Singles or Albums? Downloads Change the Market

By Jason Didner

Uh, oh. The record's stuck!
Uh, oh. The record’s stuck!

When I was a teenager in the ’80s, my father, an expert in making computer tools more user-friendly, predicted that one day we’d press a button on a computer in our own homes to buy anything we wanted: clothes, books, gifts, you name it. As a young musician, my mind went somewhere specific. I asked, “How about records?” My dad told me we wouldn’t even need physical records, that the music would somehow be transferred from the music company’s computer to our computer so we could listen right away.

 

At the time, this was possible, but over the phone lines. It would take a good hour to get a tinny-sounding 30-second sample of the music. Of course, I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

 

Fast-forward almost 30 years and my dad’s predictions have become much more than sci-fi speculation. With iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, YouTube, iHeart Radio, Spotify and many other avenues available on mobile devices, high-quality music is just a click or touch away. Many of our Children’s Music Network members have wonderful kids’ music for sale or streaming on these sites.

 

They’re Buying Pizza by the Slice

 

Some of the forward-thinkers in the modern music industry, who embrace the potential of indie artists to make a comfortable living without the backing of a major record label, have laid out their reasons why a do-it-yourself artist might do better releasing singles online one-at-a-time than albums all-at-once.

 

In his article “Unbundling the Album: A Business Case for Releasing Single Songs,” Frank Woodworth, founder of Glacial Concepts, asserts that record companies and artists are accustomed to making and marketing entire albums as the most cost-effective means of physical distribution of physical products, even though technology and audiences have moved on.

“Approximately 1 out of 14 times a consumer went to buy music online last year they purchased an album,” Woodworth states. “First with Napster and MP3s, then iTunes and the iPod, and now with streaming services like Spotify and Turntable.fm, the music consumer has repeatedly demonstrated that they prefer single songs to albums.”

 

David Hooper, a podcaster on the subject of music marketing, and author of an e-Book, Six Figure Musician, calls this strategy “The Drip Method,” proposing that a steady drip of marketing and promotion is a more effective way for the modern artist to stay in the public eye, always promoting a new single, giving it adequate attention,

Buying by the slice is nice.
Buying by the slice is nice.

rather than doing one big marketing push for an album every few years and fading into the background until the next one. He also likens this to the pizzeria that sells pizza by the slice while the others are missing out by selling whole pies.

 

Hooper states five reasons why the drip method is superior to traditional album releases for an independent artist:

   A new release is a good reason to reach out to (and connect with) fans.

   It allows you to test songs.

   It keeps you moving forward.

   It helps with cash flow.

   You’ll make more money.

Both authors make the point that we musicians need to take into account that we experience music differently than a casual consumer. If we musicians and dedicated music fans either love an artist or want to get immersed in a new musical experience, we want to take the ride that a whole album gives us. But the data mentioned above and my own informal polling in my social circles shows that the overwhelming majority of music consumers want singles.

Jason Didner is a singer/songwriter with his own band, Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam. Their first single, “Five Sea Lions,” is planned for release on June 4. He is also a member of CMN. This is the first of a two-part series.  Next: Are single sales the right way to go for children’s musicians?

4 comments

  1. Excellent piece. Thank you!

  2. As an album oriented person, this is thought provoking.

  3. Well-written, good research and background. I will test this idea soon. Thank you, Jason. Glad to have you in CMN.

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