Yesterday was a big day for fans of music. In addition to the release of quite a few noteworthy singles, many of which you will probably hear on this site in the next week or so, three major artists made their soon-to-be-released albums available for streaming online. Grizzly Bear made their latest project Shields available to the folks at NPR, who put it up on their website for fans to listen to. Meanwhile, Band of Horses and How To Dress Well shared their respective albums on their Soundcloud pages. All three of these albums are set for release on September 18th, exactly a week from today. This comes within a week of The xx making a stream of their highly anticipated sophomore album known to one fan and then watching news of the stream spread worldwide.
This (somewhat) recent trend of making an artist’s album available to stream online a week or two before it’s physical release suggests a calculated attempt by either the artist or the label (or both) to combat the preponderance of internet piracy that is seemingly affecting music sales. Giving people access, but not ownership, of the music they desire is an interesting market strategy; sites like Youtube and Spotify allow listeners to ascertain the quality of the music they’re most intrigued by, thus making buying a record less of a leap of faith by the consumer and more of a show of support and preference. Full album streams would achieve the same goals. It seems like an acknowledgement by the industry, however begrudgningly, that if people want to pirate music they will. Instead, artists and labels should redirect some of their focus to those listeners who are tentative about making purchases and selective when it comes to how and where they spend their money. Consumers who require conformation of quality before making a purchase are probably more abundant than we give credit for. Increased access afforded by these streams leads to increased exposure for the artist’s music and exposure is rarely a negative thing as long as the music holds appeal to a certain sect of listeners.
All of this is based on speculative reasoning of course. I haven’t conducted any of the industry studies I assume the record labels have and I don’t pretend to know the reactions and listening habits of all consumers. However it seems like common sense that streams like this would be beneficial in discouraging the desire to pirate music, even if only amongst a fraction of those who illegally obtain music. But even a small increase in sales is noteworthy; at this point the record industry needs all the sales that they can get.
Here’s the stream of Band of Horses’s upcoming 4th album Mirage Rock: