Sunday, March 29, 2009

Music Sales: Ur Doin It Wrong

30-second samples of songs just won't do for me anymore to make purchasing decision with. They might give you some idea about the bridge or chorus of a standard pop song, but 30 seconds won't tell you if a 10-minute remix is a crashing bore of repetition or a fantastic patchwork of sounds. Especially if by chance the 30 seconds is at the beginning or end of a song.

The 30-second music snippet worked really well in the early days of the web, when Amazon and Barnes&Noble had to, well, at least let you listen to something in their attempt to lure customers into entering a credit card number into this new-fangled form and hope something would arrive. Considering 28k8 was a general speed modem at the time, having to wait for 30 seconds of lousy quality to come in over that was pretty much it.

But it is 2009 now and even a 2-year-old mobile phone can get data in faster than that. So why are Apple and Amazon still thinking 30 seconds will do for a purchasing decision? Let me hear the whole thing, then I will decide. Then again, it is not up to these sites, but the record companies, and we all know record companies seem intent not to actually sell music online.

Right now in the music space every site and store is trying to find the sweet spot of features for selling music, having to navigate between what radio licensing and record labels will allow and what users want. Pandora does discovery of new music based on your own tastes the best, but doesn't let you listen to anything on demand and just grabs something from your likes to play randomly, and is locked to the US only. is global, has a lot of information to discover new music with, but then doesn't let you actually listen to it: again, many songs get clipped to 30 seconds or are not available, and noise levels are all over the map. Rhapsody wants $15 a month to let you listen exactly to what you want when you are online, and will let you put all the songs you like on your player, but they those have to be 'Rhapsody-compatible' devices only -- i.e. not iPods, the most popular music player. Nokia Comes With Music gives you unlimited music on your phone and PC for free for a year, but after that you need to subscribe to add new songs, and the music is tied to Windows PCs and Nokia phones. Meanwhile Apple is trying with the Genius for suggestions, has perfect service delivery and integration between downloading, playing, and putting on your portable player, and its music is transitioning to no longer be tied to their own brand of players, but their store has that stupid 30-second rule that has fooled me into buying too many songs whose 8 minute mixes were far worse than the 30 seconds indicated. has moved on from its CD-trading roots and now has become a pay-for-songs website with discovery of new music, full streaming on demand of songs for free for a few times, pay to hear more on-demand songs, and buy unprotected tracks easily, but doesn't integrate with portable players and is locked for US only. Spotify is the reverse geography-wise: Europe only, and streams what you want to hear on-demand (and really well too, with a large catalog) for free with an ad every 5 songs, or pay to have no ads. No purchasing, no discovery, which makes most analysts think they are doomed, as ad-supported music seems to not work on the web and them getting enough subscribers to cover licensing costs seems uncertain.

And then there's Imeem, which I find incomprehensible to actually deal with. And then there's MySpace music. And then there's Slacker with its own player that loads music over WiFi but doesn't let you hear exactly what you want because it is a subscription web-radio model, and, and, and many others. And none of them have the whole stack of helping me choose, letting me listen before I buy at a good bitrate, keeping it safe for me on their servers, letting me have and keep it for my players now and in the future, at a great bitrate, without having to worry about which one uses what technology first, with simple clicks. And oh yes, global.

So, to discover, Spotify to preview, Apple to actually purchase and get on my iPod, for me here in London. This is supposed to make me buy more music? This is supposed to make me pirate less? This is supposed to not make me hit Usenet with a good one-click download archive newsreader? This is supposed to help me find new stuff instead of playing my old catalog over and over? This matrix of options and restrictions I can't really understand until I sign up and try?

It should be as easy as entering a name in a box to instantly hear what I want in full, suggest new music based on already knowing my tastes from uploading my iTunes or Windows Media Player or or Pandora ratings and play-counts, and let me click once to pay for a song and have it on all my players. Globally. And until then, the music industry will just keep dying.