The Evolution of the Digital Marketplace
Michael Foster, editor
I am a member of a Facebook group that was recently discussing an article that appeared on the Variety magazine website about the place of full albums vs. single songs in the music marketplace as it currently exists. If youíd like to check out this article first as a reference point for this column you can get there by clicking here and then heading over to Variety. Even though I am not an artist myself I do consider myself a fan of ambient/new age music and I still like to explore what goes on behind the scenes of the music industry because I am just curious that way. If you are another such curious soul then you might find this column of interest as well. As with any group of artists discussing the issues that have arisen since the advent of the digital age there were several opinions as to the validity of the assertion by Varietyís writer and how much that assertion held true for the ambient/new age genres of music.
I will stick with my own ideas though and not try and distill their thoughts into something that I hoped would truly represent them here. It is hard enough sometimes to put your own ideas into words much less take someone elseís thoughts and try to accurately represent them with your own words. The article was written by Bob Lefsetz and the main points of his article were that very few people are buying full albums, sales are low even for the so-called superstars, selling individual songs is more profitable than albums and the whole attitude of the buyers of music is ďwhat have you done for me lately?Ē And in this case ďlatelyĒ seems to be an increasingly short interval of time between an artistís last release and their newest compositions available to purchase.
My own opinion isnít so black and white. I think that some music and some artists would definitely benefit from releasing a mixture of long form and short form projects so that their fans always have something to remind them of why they like a certain musicianís music so much. I think that the music itself will dictate how it is released and whether it would be advantageous for it to be broken down into smaller segments released over time or if it should be released all at once as an album. When I started listening to new age back in the early 90ís there were compilations put out to familiarize you with the artists who were recording at the time and the type of music that they were putting out.
The songs may have been a part of a larger whole (read album) at the time of their release but as a person who was looking for things to listen to in a genre in which I had not the first clue about what to buy it was perfect. The songs did not suffer for being part of a compilation album and with some skill from the compiler in choosing what else appeared on the album with them it presented the appearance of being a patchwork quilt that worked as a whole even though it was made up of many different artists and songs. In the same way Iím sure that there are many songs in an artistís bag of music to be released that would not suffer by being put out in a piecemeal fashion over a length of time. Not only would an artist continually be on the mind of their audience with a constant flow of new material but the artist might also find that people are willing to lay their money down a little quicker for one song at a time rather than spending a larger sum for a whole album.
On the other hand some of the more ambient atmospheric releases might need to continue to be released as a homogenized whole in the form of an album. That still doesnít mean that an artist couldnít use the music not chosen for the album release to feed out to fans over the time it takes for the artist to finish up with their next full album release. Discussions tend to be for one side or the other but I think that blending the releases of single compositions and full album works might be the way to go for new age and ambient music. The main reason for doing this may be more a reality of marketing than anything else and even if money is not the artistís goal in putting out music Iím sure they would like their music to at least be heard and appreciated by their fans.
Since the advent of the internet there has been an exponential growth in the amount of music that is now available to a listener at the click of a button. Some indie artists have already learned the lesson that the internet teaches about catching the attention of listeners by offering them more exclusive material and even access to the creative process itself as part of being loyal to them and buying their music instead of getting it for free somewhere else. Some artists have released their albums a song at time over a period of a year or two with notes about the making of the song and perhaps a video talking about the process of creating the song included in the purchase price. It offers something unique to the loyal fan that they will not get with a download from iTunes.
I donít think the album as a format is dead but how it is sold and what comes before and after the album is very important in the evolving marketplace. Selling individual songs has definitely become an important aspect of rock and pop acts but the waters are a little murkier when it comes to applying that logic to ambient/new age music. I think that single song sales is something that ambient/new age artists tend to overlook since they view their work as unit made up of a set number of songs. But I think that standalone single song sales might help ambient/new age artists keep interest high in their music among their fans even when they donít have a new album on the immediate horizon.
Bob Lefsetz mentions that an artistís efforts ďmust be a 24/7, 365-day-a-year effortĒ if they want to succeed in what the music business has evolved into over the last couple of decades. The music business has become a socially networked business in the new digital world. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other platforms are now simply tools that must be utilized if artists want to get their music heard above the noise of the crowd. Selling music means even more work but I will limit my comments to those who simply want to get their music out to as many people as possible who might appreciate the music that the artist has created.
Staying in the public eye even between releases is very important to an artist in a society that moves on to the next big thing mere moments after the last big thing ended. It can be done and there are fans out there that will be loyal to an artist if they are given incentive to do so. The old models are dead but new models are being created even as I write this and even newer ones will come right after that. Change will be an artistís constant companion from here on out so why not make friends with change and have a wonderful journey together instead of struggling to maintain the status quo because that is your comfort zone.