Tuesday, June 10, 2008

No Such Thing as a Free Album

Recently I got wind that The Hold Steady is streaming the entirety of their soon to be released album, Stay Positive on their Myspace. I checked and sure enough, there it was. While I'll hold off on any comments about the album itself, it's worth noting that not so long ago record execs, fans, and artists alike would have balked at the notion of laying it all out there at no charge, even before the album is released for purchase. Can you do that? How does that even work? Well, these days-- yes you can and I get the feeling that there is a certain sense that there's really not much to lose or gain. As reported here at TMI a month or so ago, digital finally walloped regular cd sales and the trend is so drastic that it would be mind-bendingly naive to imagine that this shift could ever be reversed.

From the outside looking in, things are falling apart. Major record labels which at one time were the end-all, power-wielding dictators of protocol, are gradually losing leverage and clout. Sure the internet is infested with countless bands banking on novelty and grassroots type movements, but the big deal is that the established acts don't really need the big labels and can opt to employ their own home style marketing tactics.

When Radiohead announced they'd let fans name their own price, the risk was purely theirs and their sheer boldness earned In Rainbows far more publicity probably than would have been expected of a conventional Radiohead release. A positive side effect perhaps is reaching new potential fans, but it will still never be enough to offset the decline. Coldplay just offered a free download of "Violet Hill" in anticipation of Viva la Vida, and now of course, The Hold Steady put all their cards on the table, begging copyright infringers to get creative.

To an extent, I don't understand. At the same time it makes perfect sense, if there's going to be an evolution in the proverbial "way we do business," they might as well take it into their own hands and see what's left when the smoke clears.

Stay cool, kids.

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