Selling Single Downloads vs. Albums – The Debate

I was reading an interesting debate on Slashdot last night, about the selling of single downloads vs. an entire album on iTunes.  Some argue that music should be sold as an album to preserve the artist’s vision, whereas others argue that the options should meet consumer wants and needs.

A classic artist’s dilema – to "sell out" or not to?  Personally, I’m with the latter group.  Let your fans choose what they want, don’t force-feed them with what you think they should want.  It seems a little silly and overly-artsy to impose artistic virtues on your customers…








6 responses to “Selling Single Downloads vs. Albums – The Debate”

  1. Taylor Avatar

    Do you really see the selling of single songs as "selling out"?

    Does this "slicing and dicing" apply to other artistic outlets? Theatres showing only certain acts of plays? Movies showing only certain scenes?

    I agree that a "common sound" is not really enough to prove an "artistic vision".

    My vote is for options. As a consumer, I know I want the option. As an artist, it becomes a question of how you are communicating with people, and I think a single track is a form of communication, although it's only part of the "conversation" of the entire album.

  2. maz Avatar

    That’s a tricky question. One I really didn’t want to comment on /. for. I can see how some artists think the entire project is the work of art. As a consumer of music these days albums just rarely cut it.

    I hate it when I buy an album and there’s a few good tracks, the rest I won’t even bother ripping into my iTunes or put onto my iPod. That’s the glory of digital music. You can just grab the tracks you love and ignore the rest.

    Then comes the whole DJ mix album. I love a good mix, and of course some of my favourites out there have some tracks I absolutely cannot stand. I still have to buy the entire album to get the experience though.

    I have this DJ Kid mix from Dogs on Acid. It’s absolutely wicked. Very hard and mixed well. There’s one track that has this insomniac sample from the club night. I absolutely fucking hate that sample. Cannot stand it, it’s like nails on a chalk board to me. Still one of my favourite mixes from this year though.

  3. Office Overlord Avatar

    …and there’s the question. Pretension aside, are most albums really intended to be single pieces of art composed of interrelated songs, or are they just a collection of songs that happened to be produced at the same time? Genuine musical stories like “Tommy” or the A side of Boston’s “Third Stage” seem to me to be the exception rather than the rule.

    Certainly, an album may have a common “sound” to all of its songs, but is that an intentional artistic decision or simply a reflection of what the artist was being influenced by during the time she wrote and recorded that album’s collection?

    That said, sometimes a song takes a few playbacks to really catch your ear, and the only way it might get that chance is by being mixed in on an album with the songs you actually wanted when you bought it. It’d be a shame for those songs to lose their chance to shine. I made a deliberate decision to put whole albums onto my iPod simply so that I would be forced to listen to more than just the couple of singles I knew I liked from each one. (It’s not like I was doing anything else with all those gigs of space, anyway–it’s too much of a pain in the butt to get porn videos on there.)

    Guess I’d vote for a distribution model that gives you the option, but sells the full album at a significant discount over buying all the singles individually–maybe 50% to 75% of the aggregate cost.

  4. Office Overlord Avatar

    By the way, “” is a fantastic web address.

  5. MikeB Avatar

    Yup, concept albums are certainly less common. My favorite album is a great example — Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which is simply amazing. Songs like Vera (under 1:00) and Little Black Book simply aren’t “single” material…but they contribute unbelievably to the story being told.

    That said, the pattern of consumption should still be the decision of the consumer. Not only is it fair, it’s simply good business sense. As Taylor mentioned, though, it’s all about how it’s all communicated; if an artist produces quality stuff, and the value is perceived, hey, who wouldn’t buy the full album?

    Great question about plays and films. Reviews and one-act festivals do happen in drama, but not as often for films. Is because of the naturally built in pauses (intermissions, etc.) that are present in a play, that do not take place in film? And perhaps that’s why songs are so easily picked apart, because they’re more commonly treated as separate stories, pre-prepared packages with a beginning and an end (as opposed to concept albums, which flow more continuously)… Interesting thoughts.

    Btw, iTunes is about to start selling movies:

    How long before scenes from movies are sold? I’d bet you could make a KILLING selling s#x scenes only, for example. 🙂

  6. Taylor Avatar

    single s#x scenes of movies already show up on YouTube and on adult sites…

    Again, it’s all part of the “conversation”. Where does the conversation start, and where does it end? How many movies do you know where you only re-watch certain scenes?

    (How would the laws of sampling in recorded music apply with movies?)

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