What can I say? I’m a sucker for sample day at the grocery store. Give me a piece of sausage with a pretzel stick jabbed through it like a toothpick and I’m sold.
So why is this concept so difficult to grasp for record companies?
I’m always more likely to buy music if I’m able to hear it beforehand. When I worked in a record store, hearing an album over the loudspeakers would routinely prompt a customer to ask “Hey, what’s this?” Cut to iTunes and 90-second sampling of tracks, which never seem to fall during the best parts of the song.
That’s one reason I’ve loved Spotify, as opposed to Pandora, is the ability to stream whole albums. If you can hook me into a record, especially from an artist I’ve never sampled before, I’m much more likely to want to put that on my iPod and support the artists I enjoy.
So when I heard that Steve Martin’s new bluegrass album with Edie Brickell was available to stream early — in its entirety — on NPR’s website sans advertisements, I was hooked. Scratch that. I was a little obsessed. I played that record a number of times over the course of its availability on NPR’s site, though it has since been taken down when the album was released.
Now via Twitter, I’ve found that the entire album is still available to stream online, this time on YouTube. My first thought was that someone ripped the album and uploaded it illegally, but not in this case. It was put up by Rounder Records, the indie label releasing the banjo collaboration. Not only that, they did some clever annotation linking to enable listeners to jump forward to any track on the album.
Of course, they put links in the description to all the digital destinations selling the album, and I’m certain many who sample this incredible music — and it’s the first album in a long, long time I’ve gotten obsessed with — will go buy it for themselves. But this struck me as an example of one particularly forward-thinking record company doing something novel. Instead of clamping down hard with their DRM-laced claws, they’re making the album easily heard and socially-sharable. Will a few sales be lost by making it so easily-accessible? I’m sure it’s possible. But it’ll also hook in many like myself who never really considered a banjo bluegrass record for a prize spot on my iPod.
Bravo, Rounder Records.