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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

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September 21, 2009

Sounds Like the Billboard Hot 100
by David Harrell
If you're old enough, you might remember "sound alike" albums. They were cover versions of popular releases, cut with studio musicians and sold below the cost of the original artist version. (Cut-out copies of "Sounds Like the Bee Gees" still populated the sale rack at local discount store when I was kid.)

A few years ago, I noticed some modern sound-alike albums in the eMusic catalog. In most cases, these releases were copies of artists that weren't available from eMusic. While it seemed far-fetched that this R.E.M. collection was a suitable substitute for the real thing, it sort of made sense within the context of the eMusic catalog. If you searched for a specific artist and couldn't find them in eMusic, maybe you'd be willing to spend a few expiring downloads on the sound-alike tracks.

Marc Cohen, of the Ad-Supported Music Central blog, recently announced a new online music store that will update the concept -- 33centmp3s.com:
The store will offer covers of all the popular tracks at any given time. The catalog will be small at first focusing on the Billboard Hot 100. The store will carry sound-alike and interpretive covers.

Sure most people who want to buy a track will want it by the original artist. I understand that and those people can buy it for a buck or so at iTunes or amazonmp3.com or dozens of other stores. Some people will just want to pay less for the music they like and some people will enjoy exploring different covers of music they like -- that is the market I am aiming for.
I think he might have more success with latter audience than the former -- if music consumers aren't willing to pay 89 or 99 cents for an iTunes or Amazon MP3 download, they always have the option of obtaining the song for no cost online. The audience for pure "sound alike" tracks seems limited to those music fans not willing to pay for the original track, but unwilling or unable to obtain the readily available free content from P2P and files sharing sites. On the other hand, when it comes to music discovery, people seem more willing to listen to covers of well-known songs than original material. Derek Sivers (the founder of CD Baby) and others have often advised unknown acts to include a cover song on an album of otherwise original material to increase the likelihood of it being discovered in the iTunes store. The downside here is that the tracks won't be listed in the iTunes store, you'll need to visit the 33centmp3s.com to find them.

Still, it's a novel concept for a download store and it'll be interesting to see what happens when it launches in November. The basic math, as explained here, is that 33centmp3s.com will handle the payment of the statutory mechanical royalty for each download (9.7 cents) to the song publisher and split the remaining money with the artist who recorded the cover version.

related: The Return of the Sound Alike Album, More Sound Alike, Even More Sound Alike Albums

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    THE LAYAWAYS

    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/maybe-next-year">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs


    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at Last.fm.



    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/the-space-between">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at Last.fm or Napster.



    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/weve-been-lost">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.



    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website