iTune This

I love me the iTunes music store, even though I can’t access it right now because Steve Jobs has initially limited it to Macs and iPods, and I have a PC and a Creative Nomad Jukebox. But it’s the first online music model that’s not mired in total stupidity: You pay a buck for a song or ten bucks for an album, and then you’re done. Easy. The music you download is portable, which signals that Apple assumes its customers both actually like listening to their music away from their computers, and are smart enough to get around any lame-ass copy protection they might slap on. It also assumes that people will actually pay for the music they like from the bands they admire.

And will they? I think so, especially the older music listeners like myself, who both have the money and like the idea of putting cash into musicians’ pockets so they can make more music for us. But even the “kids” will probably do it to a fair extent, with the bands they like. Which is what they’ve always done anyway. When I was in college, there were two types of music — music from the bands you liked, whose albums you would actually go out and pay for, and music from everybody else, whose CDs you borrowed from your dormmates to tape that one song you liked for a road mix tape. The mix tape music never would have been bought by you in any era, so as a practical matter, the music industry isn’t losing money on that music — in other words, much of the music being traded now is music that never would have been paid for in any era.

This isn’t a defense of file trading, which I do think has cut into the music kids would have purchased legitimately (partially because kids feel the money they spend isn’t actually going to artists; partially because kids want their music the way they want it), but a recognition that music industry is largely counting money it never would have had anyway. College kids, like everyone else, will support the bands they like if you give them the opportunity to do it the way they want.

The 99 cent per song idea is also incredibly useful for someone like me who has a long list of bands who have that one song I like but which I have no interest in buying an entire album. I’m at a point in my life where I’m not going to spend $16 or whatever for a single song I know I’m going to like, and 10 or 11 I might not ever listen to again. It’s not that I don’t have the money, it’s just that I don’t have the inclination. Thereby there are a large number of bands out there who will currently never see a speck of my cash. Would they (and their labels) like me to shell out $16? Sure they would, but I’m not going to do it. That being the case, they’ll be happy with the $1 instead. It’s better than nothing.

It’s also to the point that for most practical purposes the album — that is, a collection of songs from a single artist — is pretty much dead in the water. Aside from what I do for OPM and IndieCrit, I can’t tell you the last time I actually pulled out a CD and listened to an album all the way through. Right now my primary recreational music listening mode is the random shuffle on my Winamp player. The last album I thought deserved to be listened to start to finish as a coherent whole is Emmlou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, and that came out eight years ago. I’m sure there are other albums since then which deserve a full run-through, but I haven’t found them personally.

This degredation of the “album” concept is partially due to the CD format itself, which allows for 74 minutes of music. They heyday of the album was the LP, which could only manage 46 minutes total. It’s not too difficult to keep a mood for 46 minutes, but doing the same for an half-hour taxes most musicians’ capacity. Also, simply put, some bands are singles bands — they make great songs, not great albums. I want the song, and I’m willing to pay for it. But if I don’t want the album, I won’t pay for that just to get a song.

I already have a backlist of bands who have single songs I’d love to get, and I’m willing to drop some serious cash to get those songs. I could get them on KaZaa right now, but as I’ve said, I actually prefer to support the bands I like, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. All I have to do now is wait for the iTunes store to start supporting Windows. Sorry, Steve, I’m not going to buy a Mac and an iPod just to access your store. But when I can access it, I’m going to be a big customer. Count on it.

7 Comments on “iTune This”

  1. Well, it’s not like it can never be done. In the world of movies, for instance, we have counterexamples to the studio model in the form of Clerks and the Blair Witch Project. But I don’t know that I’d want a world that’s all Clerks and no Iron Giant. Kate Bush made The Dreaming in her own four-track studio…but her label (EMI?) supported her through her previous albums so she could afford to build that studio.

    Perhaps the day will come when recording and producing music is so cheap that everybody can self-produce and sell their music directly through a service like Apple’s. If so, I won’t cry many tears over the demise of the labels. However, this will make a subscription model less likely, not more – with a label, you can argue that a subscription model would work, with the label collecting a portion of the subscription fees and passing money on to artists based onthe tracks sold. But if an artist is selling tracks directly, he or she is likely to want direct compensation for the purchase of his or her music.

  2. The big deal to me is being able to preview songs. Being an old fogey I don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of bands that I had in younger days.

    My MO is to connect to a streaming audio station as I putter about the house and then write down the name of the band when I hear something I like. Every so often I then log onto Kazaa and download a bunch of songs by that band to see if I like their body of work. A lot of this goes onto “good enough for road music but not good enough to purchase” CDs. But quite frequently I also go out and buy the CD. I discovered Susan Tedeschi this way, for example, and plan to buy any CD she ever produces. Plus I was able to get some songs that are not on CDs, like her duet with Willie Nelson singing “Kansas City”.

    I think a buck a song is a very good business model. It’s like going to a strip club and sitting at the tip rail, which is also a buck a song. And you certainly want to look around a bit before popping for the more expensive table dance.

  3. One more clarification. The suggested subscription business model is something that I think would work now. I’m sure some people would be willing to pay a dollar for a legal copy of a song. However, a dollar is a lot for a college student. When you can get what you want for free, why pay a dollar? The only way I think you could attract the college students is with a subscription model. It still might not work.

    The other stuff I said, the whole scenario of artists recording and producing their own music, that’s all a dream that I hope might pan out in the future. It actually seems like it will happen at some point. The question is just how far into the future we have to wait.

  4. o I agree with $1 per song. Great.
    o I’m looking forward to the PC support. Cool.
    o I have recorded, in my basement, on my $500 PC, with $500 worth of software, entire albums for local musicians. They bring in equipment that is MUCH more expensive than mine. A $1700 acoustic guitar is normal. My point – recording for yourself is not expensive – cheaper than buying the equipment to make the music on.
    o There are sites that will put your CD online, and you send them some copies of your CD for them to sell. When they run low, they order more from you. They will sell burned / single-unit CD’s. (I just can’t remember the name of the sites right now – dang.) I am certain that once a standard is established (and I think this will become one), companies will setup shop. Given the cash, I would gladly setup a company where a group sends me a CD, I encode it to AAC, then sell each song for $1 or the CD for $10 (depending on size, as above). I would then split the profit with the person sending in the CD. I would tie this to something like what Yahoo and Launch! have done with their music, and offer a person the ability to buy each song as they were listening to it / watching the video.
    – – Would this sell music? Yes.
    – – Would people send in CD’s? Yes.
    – – Would it make enough to make me rich? Probably.
    – – Would it make enough to make the music creator rich? Hopefully.

    Why the heck did the .com bubble have to burst already…. /sad

    Consider if such a company had enough funds to last ?5? years. It would probably have some popularity, and eat huge bandwidth. Some artists would sell, and maybe even become popular – even though they had no airplay or record company sponsoring them.

    From there, current artists – coming to the end of their contracts – would decide to forgo re-signing with their record company. They would just write / produce / record their own stuff (as some do now), and release it into this system. It wouldn’t generate as many sales, and (probably) would have no radio air-play. But if people liked it, d/l’d it, and bought it, then the artist would get two of the things they *really* want – appreciation and income. (The third is fame, and the accomplished ones already have that.)

    At this point, no one is willing to risk the capital on the music industry, ’cause anything they do they get sued by RIAA, et. al.. But if I had the capital, I would. And – someday (hopefully sooner than later) you will see it.

  5. Jon wrote:

    “(I just can’t remember the name of the sites right now – dang.)”

    CD Baby — at From which, I’ll note, I just bought three independently produced CDs.

    I spent a few hundred dollars on software and loops and now have the capability to make compositions that sound as good as anything a pro can do (so long as I don’t try to sing). Someone who actually has talent with music should be able to do the same.

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