Friday, October 3, 2008

Dare to be stupid - two models for electronic music distribution

We all grow up with assumptions.

People older than me assumed that songs are distributed one-by-one, or two-by-two.

By the time I was born, people assumed that the major distribution method for songs was something called an "album," which consisted of a bunch of songs. Albums also had two sides.

So who is challenging this assumption? Weird Al Yankovic (the Inquisitr):

The parody-happy singer has announced he’s going to start releasing his new songs online track-by-track, as they’re completed, rather than waiting for a full album to go on sale.

Yankovic, on MySpace:

One of the hardest things I've had to deal with in my career is keeping my material topical even though I only release albums every 3 or 4 years. Now, with the advent and popularity of digital distribution, I don't have to wait around while my songs get old and dated – I can get them out on the Internet almost immediately. It kind of boggles my mind – I thought of the idea for this new song a week ago, and next week it's getting released!

Yankovic is not the first person to celebrate rapid release of songs - John Lennon released "Give Peace a Chance" roughly a month after recording it - but modern digital technology and distribution supports more rapid release of songs, without having to worry about pressing the discs and shipping the stuff to your local Licorice Pizza - whoops, I mean WalMart.

Will this change the way that songs are written? It very well could. In the same way that composers used to think about "sides" of albums ("that would be a good closer to the first side"), I'm sure that some songwriters have edited themselves by thinking "no one will care about this six months from now."

But what if you reject the whole idea of separate songs, and believe that your musical expression is best shared in album form? Then you have Kid Rock (ReadWriteWeb):

Kid Rock, ono of the last hold-outs with regards to digital music distribution (and especially iTunes), has signed an exclusive deal with music service Rhapsody to distribute his albums. In contrast to Weird Al, however, Kid Rock insists that consumers can only download full albums and not just choose specific songs.

ReadWriteWeb goes on to wonder whether both are wrong:

In some ways, it seems both musicians are missing the point of digital distribution. Weird Al does an exclusive deal with iTunes, even though he has a big enough name to either give his songs away for free or to sell them himself, and Kid Rock is trying to go against his own fans' wishes by not allowing a la carte downloading.

Frankly, I don't think they're doing anything wrong. Any musician can choose to do an exclusive deal with iTunes, give it away to everyone and ask for PayPal contributions, give it away and embed advertising (Sigue Sigue Sputnik would do wonderfully today), distribute as single songs, distribute as one-hour albums, distribute as twenty-four albums, or refuse to distribute on any format other than vinyl - or 8-track.

There is no wrong way to distribute, and it's good that Yankovic and Kid Rock are selecting distribution methods that best meet their needs.
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