The Sampler Platter

10Apr09

51c5p0itcal_sl500_aa280_It was brought to my attention yesterday that Amazon.com was offering a downloadable sampler MP3 collection released by the music label Sup Pop. When I scrolled down to see what “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” I came upon a feast of free music. Samplers from SXSW, Jagjaguar, Arts & Crafts, Secretly Canadian, Saddle Creek…all kinds of labels giving out music from its artists. In the past these samplers went out to industry people and sometimes magazine subscribers. But now anybody can download the music.

Now, I love free things. But I am concerned. I know the samplers are supposed to introduce me to a new band so that I go buy their album or see them perform. It’s one thing if a label wants to give out a few things for free. They hope the customer will like one of the bands and eventually seek out their album, credit card in hand. But what happens when EVERYONE is offering free music?

Free musical tapas.

That’s right. I mean, what if I’m just happy with a little taste of this, a taste of that? Why would I feel the need to order an entree when I get all these free delicious appetizers? If they’re terrible, I’m not even going to think about ordering an entree. But assuming I am enjoying them, I might just be happy with my appetizers. In musical terms, that translates to enjoying a few free songs, with an occasional visit to the band’s MySpace page. No purchase necessary. It may in some instances turn into a concert ticket purchase, like in a scenario such as this: “Hey, you want to see Pulpy OJ at Mercury Lounge?” “Oh, that name sounds familiar. I think I know one of their songs. Sure, I’ll go.”

The problem has been around for a while, but it seems to be getting worse. There is so much music available to stream or download for free that the need to purchase music has pretty much disappeared. At this point I buy an album when I am fairly certain I will like most of the songs and that I will want to listen to the album in its entirety. There aren’t many bands that meet those standards these days, so I have now come to consider any album purchase to be a deliberate act of support for an artist.

This is not good.

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