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Big Sales Without iTunes


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I was intrigued recently reading a response to one of Bob Lefsetz emails from Kid Rock discussing how it was not necessary to be on iTunes to have large sales of your music and that for some artists physical sales are still the cornerstone. It made me think about Damon Alban’s comments months ago that no retailer should have the right to dictate to artists in what format they choose to sell their music via.

The argument runs somewhere along the following lines; they record an album which in turn is a journey that should not be broken up and sold in separate pieces because it is an incomplete piece of artwork unless every song is included. I can understand where the artist is coming from in terms of this.

Yet, how does this interpretation by an artist actually fit in with the music fan/consumer who wants to be able to purchase only the songs they actually like regardless of the artists protests? How do we reconcile these differences between artiste and fan/music consumer? Is it reconcilable?

In today’s digital space fans rebel against restrictions whether that be from labels, artists or retailers and it is easier than ever to use a P2P site if you are hacked off at the restrictions imposed on you as a music consumer by the aforementioned stakeholders.

Despite the continued downward spiral of physical CD sales, a number of artists manage to buck the trend and still sell bucket loads without having their albums or tracks available on iTunes. In my mind this phenomenon is primarily down to demographics in terms of that particular artists fan base.

Is it a valid argument to state that labels have spent so much time releasing less than average pop records in the search for a quick buck, which in turn set up the opportunity for iTunes to dictate that artists have to make all tracks on an album available as single tracks? Or was it this same issue, which led to fans wanting to only purchase single tracks that they liked?

Regardless of the above the fact remains that only 2 – 3% of tracks on an iPod were legally purchased via the iTunes store with the remaining being either sided loaded from CDs or from P2P downloads. So, is iTunes really an important sales channel to market if only 2% of music on its hardware iPod players were actually purchased from its digital retail outlet?

Kid Rock states that when he was a kid, he “believed [the artist’s] WERE the song and they were who they were and sang about”. This he claims created a special connection between the artist and fan. In this same email Kid Rock goes on to state “you’ll never beat word of mouth on a good product”. Could it be that perhaps physical sales have slumped because little “word of mouth” promotion was generated due to the records being shit?

Personally, I do think the short sightedness of labels signing churn and burn pop artists has backfired on the industry and has a large part to play in our youth turning to piracy and P2P. Despite this, study, after study has consistently demonstrated that kids use P2P to try before they buy on their own terms. So yes, they still shift through the shit to find the good tunes and then purchase the quality music they want.

Just because your music is available on a track-by-track basis does not necessarily mean that your fans are going to only purchase the two singles and neglect the rest of the album. Instead, if they are true fans and your musical talent is good then the majority would no doubt purchase the whole album. If your music is crap then you will be lucky to sell anything little own single tracks. Welcome to the digital free market where the consumer rules not the content owner!

Finally, it is fine if artists do not want their tracks to be sold separately it is your choice. In my mind artists would increase opportunities to build new audiences by allowing their fans to consumer the band’s music how they as fans choose to consume music – which is generally without any restrictions whatsoever. Trust your fans because without your fans as an artist you have no career and as a label or publisher if your artist has no fans then you have no business.




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