Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Idiocy of Samples

Since I've been featuring free music on here whenever I can, I have to say thank you to the artists/record labels/websites who are smart enough to realize that you're going to attract more fans by including a full song. I despise these little 30-second samples that seem to be on the majority of artist webpages today. What the hell am I going to figure out in 30-seconds? I do admit that I usually can tell, from the first 15-20 seconds, whether I'm going to like any given song, but I always listen to the full track. For example, I'm still not digging the verses of "War On Sound," by Moonbabies - but that unbelievable chorus gets me every time. So I imagine the rest will grow on me. If the record company had only given me those first 30 seconds, I may not have investigated further.

The 30-second sample disrespects my intelligence and ear for music, but also disrespects the artist, by implying that a certain 30-second sample is all that is crucial of an artist's song. I know this is the way radio has worked for years, in focus groups and phone surveys, but I still don't buy into it.

Borrowed Tunes is a fantastic website. Insightful and critical reviews of various releases, as well as at least two mp3s from the album(s) being reviewed. Their mp3 policy says it best:

MP3s are kept up for approximately 1 week. The purpose of this site is to give people the information they need to make good music purchasing decisions. We believe the least the music industry can do is give people the opportunity to listen to a couple of complete songs at their leisure. We hate "samples" and "snippets". They encourage impatient listening and a straight-to-the-chorus mentality (which isn't always a bad thing, mind you). We will be happy to comply with any request to remove offending files.
My suggestion:

Artists, take your entire album, and encode it as either a streaming file, or if you're really wild, as one very long mp3. Encode it at a very low bitrate, say, 24kpbs. If you want, overdub a short vocal "fingerprint" (like the band name) in the middle of each track, to ensure that nobody is going to want to keep it around as a definitive copy. (Radio stations used to do this when playing exclusive pre-releases.) When I've heard your entire album, I can make an educated decision about whether I want to purchase it. If you believe in your album, you should have no problem with me hearing the entire thing before buying it.

Are there some clunkers on there that you're really not proud of, but needed for filler? (The hell you say.) Okay, fine. Give me four songs in the above format. If I hear four songs off the same album, and I like all of them, I'm yours. It's how I became interested in artists like Stars, Hem, Sufjan Stevens, Over The Rhine, Patty Griffin, Josh Rouse, Beth Orton, Susan Tedeschi...the list goes on. (It's also how I became disinterested in artists like....well, I'll not name names. But suffice to say I have many releases that have a couple good songs on them, with the rest being dreck.) Waltham, I already ordered your disc, after hearing only two songs off your release and one off your E.P. on Accident Hash. See? That's good enough for me. Just trust me. (Rykodisc obviously isn't subject to major-label mentality.) Additionally, many artists on the Podsafe Music Network are including multiple songs. Good for them.

By encoding at a low bitrate, you're not giving me anything that I'd use on a regular basis, if I dug the album. You're also giving me an easily manageable and downloadable file that won't take up extreme bandwith on your end, give me an hour-long download or my end, or fill up my iPod.

Do you listen before you buy? Are samples enough for you? Any other better suggestions?


At 8/10/2005 12:53 PM, Blogger Brian said...

when there used to be CD listening stations at CD only stores in the late 80's I'd be there all the time. I had the same rule, 4 songs and I'd buy it.

But now there's not a single album that I've heard 4 songs and loved in a long long time, not from anything mainstream.

I've listened to lots of streams and freebies, and I think they are great, but it still hasn't made me buy an album.

At 8/10/2005 3:21 PM, Blogger Michael said...

You don't get to complain about the length of DWS posts anymore.

Beautifully stated, a full album low quality mp3 is an excellent idea whose time has come.

At 8/11/2005 1:15 AM, Blogger Krischelle said...

My rule used to be two songs... but then I also own a lot of CDs I'm not too crazy about. Nowadays I just buy the individual songs I like, except for jazz. Jazz, I only purchase in albums.

Your idea is a completely reasonable one. In fact, I bet if you offered a bear one of your fingers as a sample, it might not want to eat you. Too bony.

At 8/11/2005 9:30 AM, Anonymous Big Daddy Rinke said...

I don't listen to much music that doesn't involve nursery rhymes and stuffed puppets anymore, but I heard these guys on NPR this morning and just downloaded their free song from Amazon and I like it alot. Check out:
Toto Bona Lokua

At 8/11/2005 9:42 AM, Blogger Jason said...

Nice stuff, Mike, thanks for sharing. I like. Very gentle.

Here's the NPR report.

And here's the download link from Amazon.


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