About Kevin

Kevin is a Grammy nominated artist, podcaster, and indie musician advocate. He resides in Portland, OR where he is the Director of Marketing for CD Baby (cdbaby.com). Oh, yeah, he also plays guitar in Smalltown Poets.
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    Does the availability of preview tracks actually reduce sales and fuel file sharing?

    For the indie artist, the ability for music consumers to preview music before making a purchase has had an enormously positive impact on sales. Music fans, who might not have bought an album from an unknown band, can get a sample of the music which in turn entices them to buy. After looking at my own music buying habits, I noticed that in many cases, the ability to sample music by well known established artists has actually had the opposite effect. Often times, hearing the album before I make the purchase has left me second guessing, so in the end, I just hold on to my money. Throw in the fact that I know if I really want to hear a track, it’s just a couple clicks away on Last.fm or myspace.

    For example: Last week, the new U2 album magically appeared in my email inbox. Just to be clear, I didn’t go out searching for it. My friend obtained a copy and I was just one of a few people that he thought would like to hear it, so he sent it on to me. I debated whether or not to listen, as I had planned on purchasing the album when it was released in a couple weeks anyway. Finally, curiosity(And maybe some boredom) took hold and I went ahead and gave it a listen. Let’s just say I was very disappointed. So much so, that I know I won’t be buying the album. When I took a moment to think about why I changed my mind, I thought about how I hold mega artist like U2 to a much higher standard. With all the resources at their fingertips, there is no excuse for anything less than a stellar album. When they don’t deliver, they don’t get my money(Throw in the fact that I don’t feel the need to support them in their art). In years past, I would have rushed out and bought the album with only a radio single to go on, saving the disappointment until long after they had my money. Now, with complete tracks available ahead of time(Legally through sites like myspace), I have the ability to decide if their music really merits taking a chunk out of my slim music budget. In my case, the answer for the new U2 album is a resounding no. My opinion is that this is one of the big factors that contributes to a file sharing culture. I don’t think the average music fan sets out to get as much music as possible for free, but when there is no perceived value in the music, the main thought becomes, “I wasn’t going to buy the album anyway, so what does it matter if I copy a friends?”

    Do you find previewing albums causes you to purchase fewer albums by established artists?

    • http://www.myskytomorrow.com Howard

      Same thing Kevin, if I hear something I like I’ll buy it. I just got burned myself, heard some great things about Thriving Ivory, saw the CD on sale, bought it, after listening to it about five times, I have to say I wish I wouldn’t have. So now I feel like I need to hear at least a majority of the tracks before I buy a CD. Case in point, after listening to U2 on MySpace, I don’t think I’ll be buying it either.

    • Jeremy Pinnix

      I now expect to be able to listen to a preview somehow, someway. If I like it, I buy it. I couldn’t stand the new U2 single, but the MySpace stream is making me reconsider a purchase.

    • http://www.producernotes.com stinson

      i think you’re onto something here. i’ve never thought about music previews in this way, but now that you bring it up, i realize that this is true in my music purchasing behavior as well.

      from my perspective, it appears that the reason indie artists tend to get my money after previewing their music more often than established artists, is because many well known artists generally have become complacent with the commercial success of their music. their wide appeal to the masses has taken them to a place where they “re-package and re-ship” using a proven formula.

      indie artists, on the other hand, are still taking risks more often. they are exploring deeper musical textures and emotional nuances, which resonate more fundamentally with how i identify myself.

      the end result for me is that when i preview a record made by an established artist, i find that a few min worth of previewing is enough for me to basically consume the whole record. when i preview an indie record though, i find that i’m taken to a place of artistic inspiration that i want to explore again and again.

    • http://thevernshow.com VeRn

      Personally I have found samples can be a good and bad thing.
      For new bands that I may discover on CD Baby or Emusic, previews are very important. But for big mainstream bands previews can be harmful, and people can be turned off by hearing just a bit of what might be a new direction the artist is attempting to go in. If I really like a band most of the time I will still buy the album and have to really give it a few quality listens to determine if I do like the new direction or not. A good example of this would be Mike & the Mechanics last (& final) album “Rewired” they went a little more “techno” then anything else they did, and I am sure some were immediately turned away by the new sound, but over all “Rewired” is an excellent album. I recommend it, sure it’s a few years old now, but I do not think it got the recognition it deserved.

    • http://www.musicianwages.com Cameron Mizell

      That’s a great observation. But not being able to preview the music kind of feels like you have to trick people into buying your music. Nobody likes that.

      When I was growing up, my favorite record store would let me sit at their listening station with a pile of CDs and listen to whatever I wanted. They’d open up the CDs and re-shrink them after I was done, if I didn’t want to buy it. That heavily influenced my taste in music, and I spent most of my part-time job money during high school on music from that store.

      The internet just gives us so many more choices now that we can listen to more and be more selective. U2 still has plenty of fans that will buy their record. Those of us selling music independently aren’t immune to being judged either though, we just don’t know how many people listen and don’t like what they hear, because every person that does like it, and buys it, makes a big enough difference to cancel out the rest.

    • http://kevinbreuner.com KevinB

      Thanks for all the great comments! Very interesting feedback. A consistent theme running through them all is it that the ability to preview music has given the music consumer more control. Sometimes it persuades us to make a purchase, and sometimes it gives us the heads up on a poor album. The good news is that we’re not buying music just because someone in some marketing office says we should.

      Just to be clear, I think previewing music is a must for the indie artist! Cameron does bring up a good point that indie artists are not immune to people passing on a purchase after hearing some tracks, but I will say that the indie artist’s situation is different. They don’t have the larger than life expectation that goes along with mainstream success. They typically don’t have thousands of fans trying to decide if the next album is worth while. Usually, when someone takes the time to listen to an unknown artist, it’s all about the music discovery. Many will pass, but they weren’t your fans to begin with, so nothing was lost.

    • http://www.myspace.com/ballardpop Darren Riley

      Hmm, I think the ability to preview tracks is good and bad at the same time. If you’ve got great tracks it works but if your tracks aren’t up to standard then it definitely puts people off.

      A Norwegian band called Beezewax once played our local in Bolton, England. I checked out their MySpace beforehand and decided I wasn’t that into them so wasn’t going to go. However, my band then got booked to open for them so I was there anyway.

      How glad I was we played. Beezewax were awesome and their live show completely blew away their recorded material. So in that case, previewing their tracks was bad for the band (although I bought their CD on the strength of the show and now don’t listen to it because it’s obviously what I’d already heard on MySpace and not the live version of the band).

      I’ve also heard stuff on MySpace that I’ve bought straight away so it’s not all bad. Also, with U2 and other artists of a similar calibre, I don’t think having their kind of resources at their fingertips means they can make better albums. If the juices aren’t flowing, they aren’t flowing. Often the best albums are made by the guys who are struggling to hold down two jobs and feed a family: how many rich guys have made a classic album?