The Art of the Album

decemberists-story2Obviously, downloading digital music encourages musical cherry picking. Back in PDD (Pre-Digital Downloading), your music purchases had more at stake. Even if you were one of the eight people buying CD singles in 1996, there were fixed costs associated with marketing and distribution which pushed the price of your music higher. The best artists were adept at two things a) putting out music which was worth the $15.99 for a CD; b) rinse, tour, repeat. However, in order for fans to pay a high price for music, it was pretty damn important to know you were going to get your money’s worth. Same with concert tickets. Your favorite bands didn’t dare leave you hanging with one single and a bunch of crap. If they did? You dumped them like that psycho girlfriend in college that kept stealing your hats (totally another story).

In the ADD (After Digital Downloading and double entendre alert!) world, the reaction has been to select and buy the one or two must-have songs off of each album. In fact, digital downloads account for nearly 50% of all music purchased, of which, less than 5% are album purchases. This doesn’t even count illegal downloading, which not only blows away these figures in terms of volume, but also supports the notion of single-song acquisition. Even when it’s stolen, people tend to nab only the one song they want. Think of how much good music is being missed or overlooked. Crazy, right? However, things could be changing as free and legal takes over the music downloading world. I’m predicting that we see an album renaissance.

Why so, you ask? Well, gone is the day of cranking out one hit and a bunch of mediocre songs music with an expectation that you can turn a profit. For people to go out and buy a CD nowadays, it better contain a body of quality music worthy of all that hard-earned cash. Sadly, the opposite was an over-used model by labels and their marketing machines.  Until a few years ago, there were still enough people out there buying CDs and all it took was the momentum of one hit to sell an album. Money was made at high margins, but people got burned. Things are different now.

I like the direction that certain artists are going to promote their whole albums. A lot has been written about Radiohead and NIN giving away their albums online. Kid Rock felt that he’d make a kick-ass album and wanted his fans to invest more of their time and money in it. He opted to not allow single songs to be purchased on iTunes and subsequently he ended up selling a lot of CDs. In a quote from Rolling Stone last year:

“Rock points out a particularly ironic twist to his logic in holding out from iTunes. “It’s funny, I have a shitload of stock in Apple — I think it’s one of the greatest companies in America,” he says. “But it’s just not very American to me when Apple tells you how they want to sell your product and tell you what it’s worth.” [From Rolling Stone, Issue 1059 — August 21, 2008].”

Artists are really starting to take album making seriously again. This plays well into the hand of a free and legal music download site. You might as well grab the album and enjoy the whole thing, especially since it’s free. I’m glad there there are a number of new artists who get it.  Here’s a quick list of five albums from the past couple of years that really prove my point. Oh yeah, and they are all available on Qtrax (beta users now, 1.0 users very, very soon).

Tha Carter III – Lil’Wayne. The self-professed best rapper alive is also making the best hip hop albums. It has pace, rhythm and a complete-ness unlike most hip hop albums.

Dear Science – TV on the Radio. Brooklyn funk rockers create an album that is eclectic, but bound by a unique sub-text that is honest and soulful.

Hello Hong Kong – The Kicks. Ok, this stretches us all the way back to 2004, but rarely has a pop-punk outfit delivered consistency like these Little Rockers have on this album.

The Crane Wife – The Decemberists. British folk meets 70s Prog rock with a story. What’s scary is that there is still massive upside to their potential.  That’s them and their story-telling ways in the picture.

Third – Portishead. Crazy good and to be enjoyed in its entirety regardless of what else is on the agenda.


23 Responses to “The Art of the Album”

  1. Nice articles, Qtraxer. Can you give me an idea when we will be able to download the new application and lots of music?

    • Qurious,
      No one asks this question more than me. It’s ready to go, technically. However, there are some last minute logistics to iron out that have taken 2-3 days longer (hint, hint) than originally expected. I don’t want to promise anything and not deliver on it, so we have to leave it at “so close it hurts.” As Tom Petty said, “the waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiting is the harrrrrrrrrrrdest part.”

  2. QTraxer,

    What does the (hint, hint) mean in “taken 2-3 days longer (hint, hint) than originally expected” Am I out of the loop on a timeframe here? 2-3 days longer than what?



    • All I’m saying is that in this economy, given the scale of what Qtrax is doing, it’s been a huge challenge and we’re very close to moving forward with the 1.0. Like, as in a few days away. We’ve over promised before and don’t want to guarantee anything right now, but…

  3. I’ve read a lot about back and forth with the ipod issue. I know that originally it WAS going to work with ipods, and now it is not. Is this because of Apple’s restrictions? If so, is there a way to get them on board? I just worry that in the US, it won’t get much positive reaction without working on ipods. And does the new Songbird version that works with some ipods have anything to do with Qtrax or is that a totally separate issue? Are you relying more on the Global market than the US market because of the Ipod issue or do you have more faith in cell phone makers that will make Iphone rivals that work with Qtrax?

    • We would like our music to be able to be played on every single device ever made. Especially those with massive market share. However, there are some difficulties in working with certain companies that have closed systems and are unable to play our wmv files with DRM — to count plays. We’re working on this. It’s a big issue for us. We aren’t relying on a domestic or global presence. The fact is that we have global licenses, we intend on using them, and the rest of the world plays portable music on a variety of devices (mainly cell phones not named after fruit).

  4. morechocolate Says:

    good policy qtraxer (promising/delivering).

    about the last minute logistics – it’s critical qtrax is all buttoned up bc as soon as they flip the switch the market’s hyper-efficient network will let the world know qtrax is open for business.

  5. luckybleu Says:

    Radio head and nin are 2 artists that see the value of releasing their music for free, attracting a bigger fan base ,to sell more concert tickets etc. Are there any artists that feel the opposite and won’t allow their music on qtrax? Also will current beta users have to download the new V1 or will it automatically upgrade when v1 is released? Thanks

    • There will still be some of the usual suspects that won’t allow their music to be downloaded through legal (paid or free) channels. The V1 will be a new install which will automatically remove the beta.

  6. We’ve heard numbers from 3 million to 30 million tossed around as available tracks on QTRAX. Do you have any idea how many tracks will be (approximately) available at launch? Has the Warner catalog been fully ingested? Thanks.

    • Ingesting of all the catalogs is a massive undertaking. It will be an ongoing process even after we officially launch. I can’t comment just yet on the total amount of tracks available, but it won’t be the higher number until after we’ve been up a while.

  7. harrysdog Says:

    Hi there Qtraxer..

    I am based in the UK. At the end of April I am going on a long driving holiday in foreign lands with kids who need music to keep them quiet.

    Do you think Will I be able to download songs and copy them to a device by then?

    Would this link give me an idea of what kind of devices I may be able to copy Qtrax music too?

    • Harrysdog,
      I’d hate to ruin your vacation, but you should be good to go by then. Your device list is a good place to start, but I will also be posting a more definitive list in the near future. You’ll need to make sure the device is compatible with wmv files with restrictions. Many of the music-enabled phones should be able to load Qtrax music.

      • luckybleu Says:

        Would using drm stripping programs such as tunebite(actually a re recording in your windows media player) which converts wma drm protected files to unprotected mp3’s be a violation of qtrax’s terms of use,obviously this must have been discussed before licensing from labels,never tried to do this but there is lots of talk of it.Also is qtrax application for mac’s still being worked on what about linux?

      • Obviously, since our model of compensating artists and labels based on counting plays through our DRM, we don’t want anyone stripping our DRM. We’re confident that we’ll have plenty of options for portability.

  8. morechocolate Says:

    qtraxer – got a cupla google alerts for “” wasn’t aware of it.

    is it part of Qtrax?

    • I’ve seen those too via the alerts. I’m equally confused. Everything is backwards down under ( in more ways than one).

  9. morechocolate Says:

    any idea how soon “coming soon” will be gone from the splash page? looking forward to some sweet redemption.

    • I hope it’s only a few more days. We’re ironing out the final rough spots. I know, I’ve said it before, but it holds true for us, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

      • morechocolate Says:

        any update? it’s been a “few more days.” just an informational question. thx.

  10. I have found that the player freezes sometimes when searching and seems slow transitioning between pages. Will this issue be resolved with version 1.0? Also I read that the latest version of songbird supports iTunes up to version 6 does this mean that Qtrax will work as well?

    • This is something we’re working on for the 1.0. The better the connection, the less “freezing,” but we’re aware and working on it.

  11. luckybleu Says:

    yeah its a non issue really, if people will go to that much trouble they’ll just stick to the 10 minute, virus infested downloads on limewire, and continue to be far as Im concerned p2p sucks ,downloads take forever ,(if ever )You can download all kinds of malware,and be sued by the riaa .The only reason people use it ,is because its the only thing out there for free music downloads…..until now, well real soon anyway

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