The Drive-By Music Business

4 Feb

By 4string

I’m a musician and avid music lover. I love my iTunes as much as the next person, but is it hurting artists? Is it driving down the quality of music on an album? In the last ten years, there seems to be a trend of record companies pushing single song sales rather than pushing the whole album. Are artists being encouraged to merely deliver the big hit song rather than take the time and craft a CD full of quality material? 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the trend of record companies became to release one single from an album (two if the artist is lucky) to radio stations which made the consumer take a risk of buying said CD in hopes that the rest of the songs were listenable or buy concert tickets and hope that he or she will enjoy watching the whole show. There have been many times when I’ve loved the first song released from an album and bought the CD only to be disappointed to find the rest of it is full of filler songs. Wasting my hard-earned money on product like that started to make me wait until the second single was released or find some other means to hear the other songs before purchasing.

Don’t get me wrong, I have an iPod that I regularly load up with stuff from iTunes, but I still prefer to buy a good bit of material in hardcopy first and transfer it. A few years ago, my hard drive crashed taking all of my thousands of MP3s with it and when I replaced the hard drive, I had to re-digitize all those thousands of songs, but at least I didn’t lose the music all together. I know I’m not necessarily the norm.

Some record companies and musicians may be afraid that not releasing to iTunes or other digital music venders will hurt them. Kid Rock turned this idea on its head when he released Born Free only on compact disc. Billboard magazine’s Glenn Peoples compares how he might have fared financially if he went the iTunes route.[1]

“Kid Rock’s “Born Free,” however, flies in the face of this common wisdom. It’s sold an impressive 612,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, without a single iTunes download. Taking into account a few assumptions, one can argue that “Born Free” would have sold roughly 294,000 units if fans were allowed to buy single tracks, at least by my calculations. By not allowing single tracks to be sold, Kid Rock has potentially made $3.3 million more in U.S. retail sales.”

While I applaud Kid Rock for sticking to his guns, a good compromise could be to release the entire album on iTunes as well, but not allow single song downloads thus requiring that the entire product be purchased. This would also push artists to record more than one or two good songs.

Is this single-only driven music business a result of a general public that has no attention span and wants to quickly move to the next big thing? Is it stopping record companies from signing musicians who have the songwriting talent to sustain a whole album? Is it forcing bands to crank out CDs faster and faster thus hurting quality and hurting the well-being of the band members?

This makes me think of Britney Spears. She released Baby One More Time in 1999, Oops! I Did It Again in 2000, and Britney in 2001. That’s an album a year and an extremely fast pace for a singer or band. Most performers take an average of two to three years in between album releases not only to whet their fans’ appetites, but to also take time to make sure it is quality. It seems as soon as a couple of songs were released from one CD, she was pushed into the studio to push out another and another. That break-neck speed will make any artist burn out quickly. I’m not saying her CDs aren’t quality as I’ve only heard the singles released (yeah, I know, but I’m not exactly Spears’s demographic since I prefer heavier stuff), but could this have pushed her toward her public meltdown?

Could this sort of thing contribute to bands breaking up? Is this hurting the worth of music being released today?

24 Responses to “The Drive-By Music Business”

  1. Pange February 4, 2011 at 11:37 AM #

    Hmmm…good questions.

    I adore my iTunes and listen almost exclusively to the music I’ve downloaded. I like that, as a consumer, I get to pick and choose what I purchase. Too many times in the past (you know, the Dark Ages before mp3s & iTunes) I would purchase a CD, only to discover that the single released was the only good song on the album.

    I find that music fits into one of three categories for me now.
    1. Most popular tracks, I only purchase the single. Most of the Top 40 fits in to this category.
    2. When I like an artist, and feel fairly comfortable that I’ll like most if not all songs on their album, I automatically purchase the full album. Artists like Adele, Mumford & Sons, The Black Keys, Florence + the Machine, etc. These are the artists that, IMO, produce quality music that fits into the genres I like and I am almost guaranteed to like the entire album.
    3. Artists that I am truly a fan for. The main one is, of course, Marcus Foster. Anytime he comes out with an album, I purchase the physical album as well as download it digitally. Basically I will do whatever I can to support him financially as a fan.

    I guess my point is that it’s still the artist’s and the record company’s responsibility to put out quality music. If it’s good, I think fans will still purchase the entire album.

    I think formats like iTunes are a win/win. The recording companies don’t have to pay costs on manufacturing physical albums and consumers win because the music is less expensive to purchase digitally.

    Of course, I’m the first to admit that I know next to nothing about the music business. All of this is just how it looks my point of view. =)

  2. Kim February 4, 2011 at 12:16 PM #

    Very interesting article and I think I come somewhere in btwn Pange and 4 string. I have to admit I have been burned a few times in buy a whole album either in cd form or through Itunes to find out I only like a couple of songs and then I’m stuck with a bunch of songs that I don’t like.

    Now, I have learned to only buy a whole album from artists that I feel that will produce quality work. If I am not sure of the artist I only buy the songs that I like.

    It is interesting that Justin Beiber didn’t have an album but only one song to start off with and now has an album and concert tour. Times have definitely changed.

  3. lurkerm3 February 4, 2011 at 4:40 PM #

    I have some mixed emotions about buying music lately. Maybe it’s a transitional problem, but I don’t like the idea of how iTunes prevents me from copying it to various sources in my home/computers etc. I’m forced to network my computers when we don’t buy from the same machine. And 4string, I’ve had hard drive crashes myself already and it’s difficult to recover without having the original media, even when you’re fairly religious about backups.

    I also find myself purchasing ‘best of’ albums in lieu of recent songs. Then I get all the HITS instead of the 1 song albums you all are eluding to.

    I also think this degrades the music quality. I remember hearing musician interviews where they carefully crafted the music so that the album sounded holistic for the idea they were trying to convey. I don’t think albums are ‘crafted’ like that anymore, if they are, then music quality has gone down.

    I also recall hearing about 30 sec to Mars who were sued by Virgin records for not producing albums fast enough and they fought back and won basing it on ‘creativity’ and their newest album is a testament to good music and waiting!

    • Open Book February 4, 2011 at 7:23 PM #

      I get all the HITS instead of the one song albums!!! Although, I did get Alicia Keys last album because I pretty much like everything she does.

  4. Parisienne February 4, 2011 at 5:05 PM #

    I hardly ever buy cd’s anymore. I like to listen to it first online before i purchase. i also just d/l songs i like and not the entire album. I feel bad for artist that are forced to put out albums like clockwork. Not only is it oversaturation of the market IMO but how long can one person’s creative streak last? I’ve heard a few of Marcus’s songs but not many. I have to listen to him some more. I have heard Rob’s sister, Lizzy, and am a fan of her.

    • kim February 8, 2011 at 8:12 PM #

      Yeah I really like Lizzy too. I would definitely buy a whole album of hers, bc I like her music style. I also really like Bobby Long and Sam Bradley.

  5. Open Book February 4, 2011 at 7:07 PM #

    I can’t remember the last time I purchased a CD. It’s been so long ago.

    Maybe I’m the only one here but I like listening to music while reading. I find it helps me focus more on what I’m reading. Anyway, I agree with Pange it’s up to the artist to put out good quality music. U can’t expect fans to stay loyal to u if u slack quality.

    • Parisienne February 4, 2011 at 7:24 PM #

      ITA Open Book!

      • Open Book February 4, 2011 at 7:31 PM #


        How are u doing? Can u relate to what 4string is talking about in terms of quality music today?

        • Open Book February 4, 2011 at 7:36 PM #

          Oops! I meant to say, the lack of quality music today……: 0 )

          • Parisienne February 4, 2011 at 9:18 PM #

            I’m doing well, thanks for asking. I can relate to what she is saying about the lack of quality in music today. IMO, quality music makes a person feel happy and calm. I’ll give you a personal example, I used to spend every summer for 9 yrs with my grandparents in Wyoming. My grandfather was a lifeguard at a local pool in his town. Since he worked with younger people, he would tell them from “2-4 you can play any type of music you like and then from 4-6 i will play whatever music I like.” So the younger kids played their music and no one would react, they would just continue swimming. My grandfather would put Frank Sinatra on when it was his turn and people would get out of the pool and dance at the pool side together. It was because the music moved them, IMO.

            As far as the music of today, the only way i would describe quality music of today would be i can tell when a musician is truly enjoying what he/she is doing. They sing because they LOVE to sing. It brings that artist true enjoyment and so that enjoyment is then felt by the listener. Britney Spears, and i’m only using her because she was written about in the article, I don’t think she enjoys what she does. She’s just along for the ride. She’s been on one hell of a ride and I truly feel sorry for her because she was pushed to her breaking point. I think she is talented and truly does have a gift, i think she was exploited for it. i don’t think her music has any quality to it, she does it so she can keep a roof over her head.

            Josh Groban on the other hand makes quality music, IMO. He truly enjoys what he does and he could sing me to sleep any night. I love his voice. 🙂

            • Open Book February 4, 2011 at 9:42 PM #

              Oh! I agree. BS has really been overextended past her breaking point. It’s sad!! It would be nice if she could find a way to transition into doing something else in entertainment.

              I like the story about your grandfather and Frank Sinatra. U know I love his music it is very moving. I saw Frank Sinatra Jr. one summer at a free concert in N.Y. He sounds just like his father!! It was amazing…..0 )

  6. Open Book February 4, 2011 at 9:31 PM #

    Over the summer I went to see Sex & the City 2 in theaters. I know horrible film!! However, I wanted to support the women. The beginning film credits began and I absolutely loved the first song “Rapture” by Alicia Keys. Quickly I thought. Oh! Maybe this will be a good film…… NOT! The acting, dialogue, pacing and costumes were terrible. Yet! The soundtrack was great. I ended up sitting through the entire film with my eyes closed just listening to the music. LOL!!! I mentioned this, to say, I really enjoy movie soundtracks for the variety of music it offers. It’s gives me a chance explore different artist I would not have otherwise sought out on my own.

    • Lurker February 5, 2011 at 12:51 PM #

      Interesting, I’m finding I’m doing some of that as well. In fact, it was watching another movie that turned me on to Michael Buble (was that the wedding date?). I just purchased the movie soundtrack to Coco before Chanel. The music is so pretty. A few of us have commented that the only really good music from the Twilight series was the first movie.

      • Open Book February 5, 2011 at 5:14 PM #

        The Coco before Chanel soundtrack, very beautiful to listen to. ITA regarding the TW series. Although, I did like a few songs from New Moon for Eclipse one song was o.k.

        I like Michael Buble. I like listening to him a lot around Christmas. I don’t know why?

      • kim February 8, 2011 at 8:18 PM #

        Totally agree. I listen to film scores while reading, I need instrumentals while reading because I find me listening to the words if its lyrical music. Twilight’s soundtrack was great, New Moon wasn’t bad, but Eclipse was terrible. I will have to check out BD 1 & 2 before buying it on itunes. I did purchase the Remember me soundtrack and I like that.

  7. 4string February 5, 2011 at 10:52 AM #

    I don’t know if any of you are musicians, but I’ll give you some insight on where I’m coming from. 🙂 In my last regular band, I sang, played bass and wrote the lyrics. Our lead guitarist wrote the music. For some reason we just ‘clicked’ creatively (we’re still friends & he asked if I would help his new band’s singer with lyrics & vocal arrangements–not sure how I feel about that, but that’s a diff topic)… Anyway…

    As a songwriter, your songs are your babies. They are each unique and that something special that endears you to them. You love them all and all want them to grow up to be doctors, lawyers, etc. LOL It’s got to be disheartening to write an album’s worth of songs that mean so much to you and then have people only care about two of them. I miss the days of buying a CD (or DLing the whole album) and finding I love the non-singles even more. There have been times I’ve wondered, “Why on Earth wasn’t this one release as a single?” That’s why I say if I was in a band that went anywhere (currently bandless & a bit burnt out–bands are a pain to put together and keep together), I’d be glad to put our stuff up to buy digitally, but I wouldn’t let individual songs be DLed. Customers would have to buy the whole thing to DL it.

    Ah, forgive my dissertation. 😉

    • Open Book February 5, 2011 at 5:06 PM #

      I can somewhat understand where u are coming from, not as a musician but from an artist perspective. I guess for a musician who’s created an album is like a author who’s written a novel. If someone removed a chapter it would impact the overall story. So I would imagine it would be the same for u?

      Perhaps technology today has allowed consumers to define what interactions they want to have with musicians and their work. Maybe, in this way musicians can begin a dialogue btw consumers and their music?

    • kim February 8, 2011 at 8:20 PM #

      I remember those days when I would try to guess the next single because I would really like a certain song and wonder why it was never released. Or when the b side was better than the a side on a 45.

  8. ozzie20 February 5, 2011 at 12:05 PM #

    I like buying cds. I like having something to hold, that’s visable and has a weight. I like seeing the cd, the art work and lyrics. The album is there in my hands, safe in the knowledge that if my computer crashes, I have a physical copy. I guess I’m wierd but I really do like having an album I can hold and call mine.

    I only buy albums straight after they are released if it’s by an artist I love. If not, I wait until someone has them on youtube. There I can listen to the whole album. If I like the majority of songs, I’ll go out and buy it. If not, I don’t usually bother.

    After the last crash, I haven’t even bothered to put my ipod back on. I have a charger so I don’t need the computer. It’s such a chore to put all of my albums back on. Any songs I have downloaded, I loose, I don’t know where to find them! Plus it say’s I have only so many times I can put my ipod back on. Something like 5 times and I’m already on my 3rd or 4th!

  9. comic relief February 5, 2011 at 1:19 PM #

    I was glad to hear that music evaluation had developed as one of the topics of discussions at Linked-In Hollywood.

    What disturbed me was you never specified an artist who you believed mastered this “single distribution standard” that you complained about or believe all artists must at least initially abide by today. I also would have liked to know when exactly this change in distribution occurred.

    I’m not a music historian, yet it appears to me every time the music industry has changed it has killed some artists and created new opportunities for some other artists to grow and flourish. Initially at the beginning of the century, all music artists circulated in bands, and supreme instrumental mastery and musicianship was key. With the invention of the LP or (Long Playing) record, a new recording artist was born who could demonstrate their creativity in a range of other ways. Later with the invention of the CD and DVD some artists started using the LP not only as a means to sample other’s music but to use the record player as an instrument itself.

    Certainly someone is demonstrating how contemporary music could or should or might be best delivered today. Also hasn’t the music industry always had to change and adapt to maintain the ability to continue to distribute music?

    • 4string February 6, 2011 at 3:31 PM #

      I honestly don’t know of any who have mastered it. As long as people only want to download a song or two from an artist’s album, it will probably stay that way. A band’s dedicated following will DL the whole thing or the whole thing will be DLed if they can only get the music by purchasing the whole thing.

      My point wasn’t to diss digital sales of music. I think it’s amazing. My point was more if it creates an environment of record companies only caring about one hit wonders. Even with the evolving of music formats, this is unique. Even though in the days of LPs, tapes, and CDs, people generally bought the entire unit even though they could buy a single. With the digital age, it’s even that much more easy.

      My article wasn’t a physical copy vs. digital copy argument because the music biz must adapt to technology and consumer demand. It just makes it easy to ignore the complete unit of work. I dunno. Did that make any sense? LOL

      • comic relief February 7, 2011 at 9:31 AM #


        Thanks for the clarification. I am not a musician yet I am a big fan of the genre. I don’t know what “DL” stands for, maybe “down-loaded?” So I am not familiar with music industry jargon either.

        Your discussion of Kid Rock seemed to suggest he was rebelling against the standard you were discussing. My memory seemed to recall Britney Spears did release an album early in her career, so I don’t think she counted. I don’t consider myself within Britney’s demographic and I have never purchased her music. If you are a musician, and don’t know anyone who has succeeded at this music world expectation; I think this is a poor circumstance. I asked you because I was wondering what you had in mind?

        I am not the rap consumer I once was and I understand for most, the genre is an acquired taste. I heard the rapper Drake was the kind of artist you described. Even his Wikipedia page seems to suggest that starting in 2006, his career prior to 2008, was primarily a product of singles and mix tape like material. The article suggested he wasn’t signed until 2008 and that was primarily a result of fan appreciation. Some of this appreciation was due to fan interest that resulted from at least two award show performances. Again this occurred before he had a traditional album completed. Also, I read Drake already had some entertainment world success prior to his single’s distribution.

        Regardless, I think the new standard is really harsh on young and beginning artists. Speaking of airplay, in the past getting popular songs on air was not the sole grounds for building artists careers. So over all, I agree with your negative assessment.

        • 4string February 7, 2011 at 10:32 AM #

          Yes, DL is down loaded. 🙂 You’ll have to forgive me. I was dealing with a monster headache when I wrote out my response. Your example of Drake reminds me of MC Hammer before he was signed. Apparently the record company wanted to give him a lame deal and he told them he could still make the same amount of money selling tapes/CDs out of the back of his car and then he got a better deal. Unfortunately, he did not handle the money he made well.

          I guess I mean that as long as users are able to pick and chose songs rather than buying the whole thing, any artist is in danger of being forced into that type of environment. Will bands start only releasing singles or EPs if it remains that way? I have no idea, but it’s an interesting theory.

          The Britney thing made me think of expanding my talk of her with an article that talks about record companies pushing artists to release albums on a set schedule. 30 Seconds to Mars were in a fight with their label Virgin over this not long ago. I’ll have to research into if this has happened with more bands (I’m sure it has).

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