Listen first. Decide later.

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Nov 24 2008, 20h09

I keep seeing articles such as this one which describe all the reasons why music promotion is firmly web-based now, but they all fall short of the one big one: we want to try before we buy.

The best places are MySpace and Last.fm. In that order for the simple reason most bands have heard of the former and that's where they think all the kids are. In the last 12 months, Last.fm has gained ground and is looking to be on a level, and after today's lovely review on Channel 5's The Gadget Show, where Last.fm was rated as equal to iTunes for ease of use, we can expect awareness to increase dramatically. Sigur Ros, Coldplay, Radiohead, Ladytron and many others all premiered their new releases here in Last.fm. In the last week or so, Guns 'N' Roses announced their new release was in MySpace but they were here as well. Kanye West hasn't given us his new album in full yet but has his new EP and single.

Guns N' Roses missed the point when they went after that blogger. It's not about whether we can nab mp3s for free from the bazillion blogs on the web. More often than not, all we want to do is listen. As it turned out, the naughty blogger did G N'R a favour and brought them publicity. More attention. Isn't that the point?

Basically, the big names are muscling in on an area broken by the unknowns. It took the successes of Lily Allen and The Arctic Monkeys for the music industry to realise their old business models were no longer relevant. I notice here in Last.fm, for example, when I see people listening to someone, it makes me want to listen to them too. It doesn't matter if that listener is a friend or not. It's just seeing the artist's name. Next thing, I can't stop thinking about them. If I haven't clicked on the name and started listening already. It really is as simple as that. Curiosity. It's a phenomenon that doesn't happen anywhere else in the mass media.

I'm listening to the new Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak, on Spotify. I gritted my teeth during the adverts but I can scrobble from Spotify and I can't from MySpace. (Wish someone would build me a widget to help me do that. Pretty please.)

As far as I can make out, it's only the music industry that insists on selling their products without transparency. That is to say, they want us to buy on blind faith. Of course we can return purchases if we're not happy, but who has managed to do that without being tutted at? It's embarrassing. And how do you return a download? The options are either to hold on to said purchases or list on eBay. Either way, it's a bad job all round.

The fear might be that once we've listened, we may lose interest, however, I don't think that's such a well-founded fear. Well, maybe for some! By and large, if bands have won our love and loyalty, they have it. We grow old with them. They become part of our lives, reminding us of times and places. It's emotional, not rational. If we become completists for our favourites, we will have our pre-orders ready. There's certainly music we only love for a time then grow out of. We may or may not purchase those releases.

I find that by listening first, and allowing myself time to get past the initial euphoria, I get a clearer idea if I want to add to my music library or not. It's an issue because space is limited, not to mention the fact we're in the middle of a recession. Also, the pressure to buy every single album release is unreasonable. Back in the day, most of us only ever bought a handful of albums a year. They were simply too expensive. Relatively speaking, the price has come down, but there is also much more choice than there used to be, and the pressure to buy is relentless. Maybe Elton John can afford to clear out a record shop but the rest of us can't.

As things stand, that's not what the music industry should be worried about. The thing to worry about is getting our attention. That's the precious commodity they're still taking for granted but actually, is the one thing that is increasingly in limited supply. More and more people have less and less time. Help us to help you and keep uploading your wares where we can hear them. In full.



Babs My Gang


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