My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Promoting new acts in the digital age

 

Emily West

Emily West

Contrary to conventional wisdom, I do not think that the CD is going to die anytime soon. It is inevitable, however, that CD sales will continue to decline as digital sales increase, and at some yet-to-be-determined point, both will level off and stabilize.

Digital downloads have been a tremendous marketing tool for developing acts and independent labels, who can now release their music to their target audiences without the expense of having to put out a physical product.

That being said, I find the use of digital-only promotion by some of the major labels to be a little questionable. One has to wonder why huge, well-established major labels like Capitol and Sony have chosen to introduce mainstream acts like Emily West and Caitlin & Will via digital EPs, rather than releasing full-length albums on CD. Country music is still at the point where fans who get most of their music from mainstream radio are used to buying CDs at Walmart, instead of downloading them from Amazon or iTunes. While going the digital EP route may make perfect sense for non-mainstream or indie artists, when Capitol or Sony does it, it seems to say that the label lacks faith in the artist’s ability to sell albums.

What’s your take — are digital EPs the wave of the future for new acts, or are major labels doing their artists a disservice by failing to put out a physical product?

18 responses to “Promoting new acts in the digital age

  1. Chris March 28, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I think in country music, it’s a disservice- artists need to have their music out physically for country fans because they’re a little “behind”, so to speak on the whole digital thing.

    I want to go all digital soon, but I don’t have a credit card so it would be difficult to pay for anything…

  2. Leeann Ward March 28, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    I just use my debit card for my digital music. If I used a credit card, there would be no solid boundary for my music buying addiction, which would be hazardous.:)

    Razor,
    Judging by history, I think you’re right that major releasing digital only music on certain artists is showing a lack of confidence and even support for them. Furthermore, they’re kind of fulfilling their own prophesy by not boldly promoting the artists, since these digital only releases very rarely result in physical CD releases. I think Ashley Monroe is the most tragic casualty of this type of lackluster promotion. A great album has been widely hailed as such by those who’ve been lucky enough to hear it, but the exposure was limited enough that it all fell apart as far as becoming a successful album.

    • Razor X March 28, 2009 at 5:00 pm

      I always felt the same way about new artists who were given singles deals from the labels — the labels didn’t have enough confidence in them to release an entire album. It’s tough to make it with a singles deal, because if the record doesn’t catch on at radio, it stands no chance at all. At least if there’s an album, there’s a chance that it might have decent sales even if there are no big radio hits.

      As far as these digital EPs go — I think it would be a good way to go, if they followed up with a full album on CD 3 or 4 months later — and let people who’d already purchased the EP download the rest of the songs without making them buy the whole album all over again. But like you said, they are rarely followed up with physical CD releases. I think Caitlin & Will should be really worried — Sony should have had something out to radio a long time ago. And when they finally are ready to release something, there’s a last minute change regarding which song to push to radio. And on top of that, they are only releasing a 6-song digital EP with no word as to if or when a CD will follow.

  3. Occasional Hope March 28, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Back in the mid-80s there was a brief fad for releasing six-track EPs for new acts (they called them mini-albums). I think it was only RCA which did it, and not for long. It worked to launch the Judds, not so much for Keith Whitley, who took longer to catch on with radio/the public. I don’t remember if any other acts released work this way, but if they did, I don’t think it was successful.

    I suppose the idea is to build buzz without bothering to actually put in any effort actually marketing the act. Maybe it makes failure easier to hide, too.

    • Razor X March 28, 2009 at 5:07 pm

      RCA was the only one to release those EPs — or mini-LPs as they called them. I think Deborah Allen’s debut release was a mini-LP and Eddy Raven’s might have been as well. None of them sold very well, not even the Judds one. The Judds’ sales took off when they released “Mama He’s Crazy”, which went on to become their first #1 hit. It was on both the mini-LP and their first full-length album Why Not Me. The mini-LP eventually reached gold status, but it took a few years to get to that point.

      By the time RCA scrapped the mini-LP idea, they came up with the even more harebrained idea to cut back the number of songs on an album from ten to nine. That was around 1987 and is why the Judds’ Heartland album has only nine songs on it. They did that for a few years and eventually started adding bonus tracks to the CD versions of albums,while leaving the LP and cassette versions with nine songs.

      • Occasional Hope March 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm

        I remember the nine-track albums, too, but I’d always thought it went alongside the introduction of the CD, and was purely an attempt to induce people to buy the CD, which IIRC was twice the price of cassette or vinyl. I didn’t realise they’d started it earlier.

        • Razor X March 28, 2009 at 5:27 pm

          In the beginning, there were nine songs per album regardless of the format (LP, cassette or CD). Within a year or two they began adding an extra track to the CD, probably to justify the higher price. Sometimes they added more than one track. Lorrie Morgan’s Leave The Light On had two CD-only tracks, and Keith Whitley’s Don’t Close Your Eyes had three.

      • Razor X March 29, 2009 at 9:12 pm

        I just remembered that Vince Gill’s first release for RCA, Turn Me Loose (1984) was a mini-LP.

  4. Paul W Dennis March 29, 2009 at 10:46 am

    It steams me considerably to see discussions of artists whose product is available only via download.

    I do not do downloads, haven’t an IPOD or MP3 player and yet I am a customer who purchases MUCH music as CD Baby, Collectors Choice Music and the Ernest Tubb Record Shop can all attest .

    Being behind isn’t the issue – for me the biggest problem with the downloads that I have heard is that the sound quality simply is not there. Digital downloads do not sound as good as either CDs or LPs, and until they do I am not interested in wasting money on them. That,and like any true collector, I like having the artwork and the session information readily available

  5. Leeann Ward March 29, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I’ve never noticed a sound quality difference between legally downloaded music (like Amazon and Itunes) and CDs.

    • Razor X March 29, 2009 at 2:53 pm

      Neither have I and I’m pretty fussy about things like that. And as for artwork, a lot of iTunes albums come with a PDF version of the liner notes. This is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a future discussion topic.

  6. Occasional Hope March 29, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I tend to find digital music sounds muddier than CDs, but I think it’s probably more of an issue with audio equipment, and the kind of speakers on your PC compared to specialised equipment than necessarily the original.

  7. Leeann Ward March 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I’m picky about sound quality too, which is why Bose is my speakers of choice. I think there is technically a difference, but I don’t know if it’s really noticeable to the human ear. It’s not noticeable to mine anyway.

    • Razor X March 29, 2009 at 4:29 pm

      Bose is the best. I have a Bose Wave Radio with a CD player in it. I can’t tell any difference between the CDs I bought and the ones I’ve burned myself. I also have a Bose docking station for my iPod and everything that I play on it sounds very good as well.

  8. Leeann Ward March 29, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Even my Bose computer speakers sound excellent.

    • J.R. Journey March 30, 2009 at 10:15 am

      My computer speakers are also Bose – little tiny 2 inch things. But they sound great. I don’t remember exactly, but I think the car I had in high school (a 1998 Pontiac Grand Am) had some sort of Bose sound system in it from the factory – sounded great too.

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