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But the totality

Some musicians are peeved about single song sales from the Apple iTunes Music Store. An attorney who works for the firm that represents Will Smith and Alanis Morissette claims it’s an artistic issue. “The fear among artists is that the work of art they put together, the album, will become a thing of the past.” Alas, Yahoo Shopping lists 26 singles from Mr. Smith and another 26 from the divine Ms. Morissette. I’m sure the attorney will be attending to this breach of artistic integrity immediately.

The truth is, it hurts the bottom line since people don’t have to buy a whole album to get the song they want. I can sympathize with that, but I’m not sure I feel like I ought to be forced to buy stuff I don’t want to get the stuff I do want. Makes an interesting litmus test for everyone who claimed they approved of Napster because the artists don’t get much money from the labels anyhow, though.


  1. Apple said that over half their song purchases came from album purchases in the debut of the iTunes Music Store: story

    There’s a recent article by Sahar Akhtar which tries to make the case against singles as well. His argument is that people will only buy the catchy singles that get lots of airplay and won’t buy the albums (which may have more experimental and interesting stuff on them).

  2. I certainly tend to buy the albums, since the per-song price works out lower that way.

    It’s difficult to say how it “should” work. I’m in favor of artists being allowed to define their art as they like — after all, it seems reasonable to say “No, you can’t buy just one chapter of that book.” Or is it? Well, it’s not reasonable to expect artists to make it easy.

    On the other hand, it’d be kind of cool to be able to buy a single Ted Chiang story. The format creates expectations.

  3. Hrm, there’s a lot going on in this little issue.

    I mean, I certainly agree that being forced to buy whole albums has broadened my horizons on a number of occasions. On the other hand, not every artist has an entire album in them.

    I think the problem is that there are many ways to experience music that doesn’t involve albums. We hear singles on the radio, we here singles (or excerpts from singles) in movies, in teevee shows, in commercials, in the grocery store. Artists are forced to make their work available in these forms if they want to promote it, unfortunately – which transforms them immediately into hypocritical harpies when they screech about consumers want to purchase a work in the same form it was promoted to them.

    Personally, I’m not really that concerned with whether or not artists can make millions with their sell-out hits to fund their bold innovations. I don’t see why Avril Lavigne has any more a right to innovate than the guys playing guitar at the bus stations, and I don’t know that we gain anything in particular from allowing pop stars to innovate or forcing innovators to record pop songs.

  4. I buy albums from musicians who are known quantities in one way or another: I have previous albums of theirs/a related band, or I’ve seen them live, or borrowed a CD and liked it.

    I was in high school back during the last gasp of the 45 RPM single and the 12″ remix single. If that era didn’t break innovation–and it arguably didn’t, since some of the greatest concept albums predate the demise of singles–I doubt iTunes/single downloads will either.

    What I think the downloads of single songs will damage is the Rhino/Billboard/Now That’s What I Call Music model, which is designed to give you enough hits you like to make you swallow paying CD price for the whole kaboodle, including the ones you can’t stand. To draw out the literary analogy, short story collections are the format most likely to suffer from per-story sales.

  5. neb neb

    The album/cd/cassette 8 or whatever number of songs format is based on storage. new media means new formats and new ways of creating. thank goodness.

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