Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content

  digital audio insider


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.

My personal website has links to my LinkedIn and Google+ pages and you can send e-mail to david [at] thelayaways [dot] com.

If you enjoy this site, please consider downloading a Layaways track or album from iTunes, Amazon MP3, Bandcamp, or eMusic. CDs are available from CD Baby and Amazon.


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October 29, 2009

Thursday Odds and Ends/Blog Update
by David Harrell
A couple of follow-up items from some recent posts: Mojo Nixon's free Amazon MP3 giveaway moved some units -- more than 1 million downloads. Idolator also noted the lack of actual numbers in Amazon's press release touting pre-orders of the Susan Boyle CD, and provided a breakdown of first-week sales for other releases that had heavy pre-orders from Amazon customers.

Barnes & Noble's new Nook might mean less room for music in B&N stores:
There's lots of space devoted to music that will be replaced with nook areas.
Finally, my apologies for the infrequent posting as of late. I've been busy with recording and mixing tasks -- we're expanding the three-song free Christmas EP we released in 2006 to a full-length holiday album. We're mastering the album on November 10th, so blogging activity will probably be light until then. Unlike our three previous albums, we'll be using TuneCore for digital distribution instead of CD Baby -- look for some posts next month about the relative strengths of each service!


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October 21, 2009

Wednesday Odds and Ends
by David Harrell
Amazon sent out a press release today, touting Susan Boyle's upcoming album as its largest-ever CD pre-order, but it didn't reveal the actual number of orders.

NME magazine is using data to create artist pages for smaller acts, something I discovered when a web search turned up an NME page for my band.

How the Shazam song-identifying software works.

And Sunday's NY Times magazine has a long piece on Pandora and its process for catagorizing songs. One interesting fact: the current catalog is approximately 700,000 songs. That's small relative to the number of tracks available in iTunes or Spotify, but it no doubt dwarfs the number of tracks in any traditional radio station's rotation.

Maybe I just need to use it more (and perhaps listen to something beyond indie rock), but I've never been wild about the tracks that show in up Pandora stations I create. And I don't think it has anything to do with the size of the catalog. I completely understand what Pandora is trying to do with the Genome project, but I question the prioritization of the song attributes used to serve up songs. When I click "Why was this song selected," it seems like I always see things like "major key tonality" or "electric rock instrumentation", both of which seem less important than the way the vocalist sings, or -- for many listeners -- lyrical style/content. According the article, vocal style and lyrics are categorized (here's a Wikipedia list of Music Genome attributes), but the only explicit reference to vocals I ever see when using Pandora is "a subtle use of vocal harmony."


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October 15, 2009

Big Fish, Small Pond
by David Harrell
It's tough to make sales evaluations based on chart rankings alone, without the underlying sales data. But I can't help thinking that an act like the Feelies gets a huge benefit from being a big fish in a relatively smaller pond -- the eMusic catalog. Because the eMusic catalog is smaller than the iTunes catalog, and lacks content from three of the four major label groups, when a critically acclaimed indie act releases new or reissued material, it garners a lot of attention from eMusic's indie-loving subscriber base. And the use-it-or-lose it component of the eMusic subscription model encourages customers to download something now, rather than later.

In this example, the band's recently reissued 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms, has been one of eMusic's top 10 or 15 albums for the past month, and The Good Earth, from 1986, also makes the top 30. Yet neither album appears in top 100 in the iTunes store or Amazon MP3. (Crazy Rhythms is currently the 923rd best seller in the Amazon MP3 catalog.)

My guess is that the Feelies are moving far more units via eMusic than they're selling in the iTunes store or Amazon MP3. So even with eMusic's smaller per-track payout rate (30 - 35 cents vs. 70 cents for iTunes and Amazon MP3), the band might well earn most of its digital download income for the reissues from eMusic.


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October 09, 2009

Track of the Day: David Fletcher's "Hometown"
by David Harrell
This is a music economics blog, not a music blog, but if you'll forgive the detour, I wanted to make a quick plug for David Fletcher. I suppose I'm not unbiased, as my good friend Christopher Cassels plays bass in Fletcher's band, but a song from his "Lunchbox Cowboy" release has been getting lots of play on my iPod over the past few months. While the rest of the album has more of a singer-songwriter vibe, "Hometown," which sounds like a rootsier version of Earlimart, is by far my favorite track:

If you don't see the embedded widget above, you can hear the track on Facebook. The CD is available from CD Baby, with downloads at the usual digital retailers. And if you're in the San Francisco bay area, you can catch the band performing tomorrow night at the San-Rock-Fael show in San Rafeal.


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When Free Works
by David Harrell
Free music is getting a bad rap as of late by some industry analysts (see Mark Mulligan's recent post), but -- in certain circumstances -- I still think it can work. I agree with the skeptics -- having all artists give away digital downloads of all their music isn't a long-term solution for the industry. However, it's important to distinguish between what works for the entire industry and what works for an individual artist.

Here's a recent example that I think is going to succeed, in the sense that free music is going to increase both the attention the artist receives, and his long-term income: Mojo Nixon, of "Elvis Is Everywhere" and "Don Henley Must Die" fame (and currently a DJ at Sirius XM), is giving away his entire catalog via Amazon MP3.

It works because:

1. It's a limited-time offering -- it's not free forever, just the next few weeks.

2. Mojo Nixon is already relatively well known, but I'm guessing he's not selling a ton of music these days. So he's receiving some attention for it, while there's limited downside in that he's probably not giving up much by forgoing his sales for a few weeks. (Though you could also argue that he's giving up some future sales as well.)

3. The free music isn't coming directly from the artist -- you download it from an actual digital store. I doubt the free music gambit would work as well for Nixon if the files were coming from his own website. There's already too much artist (and MySpace) hosted content for listeners to digest. Having the free music come from an established store makes it relatively unique. It also enhances the perceived value of the tracks -- you see them listed as "free" among other downloads that cost anywhere from 89 cents to $1.29.

What does Nixon expect to gain from it? From an an e-mail interview with Hypebot:
i bet in the long run this will be a greater financal pleasure than the status quo
Of course, what works for Mojo Nixon isn't going to work for every artist. Lesser-known acts would probably have a hard time getting Amazon to sponsor such a giveaway. (According to a comment to the Hypebot story, Nixon's agent/manager is an Amazon employee.) And there's also a value to being a trendsetter. I doubt the attention Radiohead garnered for its "In Rainbows" experiment will be equaled by the next big-name act who tries it.

Going forward, it will be harder for labels and artists to gain attention with free music promotions. But for the next couple of years, it seems like individual acts will still benefit from strategic giveaways. Look for a follow-up post next week on the results of my own band's giveaway of our last album.


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October 06, 2009 Gets Cheap With Pitchfork
by David Harrell
Pitchfork has a nice tie-in with for its Top Albums of the 2000s list: The mp3 versions of many of the list-toppers are on sale at, some for just $1.99. And Radiohead's "Kid A," Pitchfork's top album of the decade, is just a buck!


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

    <a href="">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

    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

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

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

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
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    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="">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

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    The Long Night - free mp3

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    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

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    More Layaways downloads:

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