Make your music downloadable so people can connect with it

Mathausen Concentration Camp - July 2004

I’m listening to my music library on random right now, and a song just came on that was playing on my digital audio player when I was arriving by bus at the Mathausen Concentration Camp a few years ago. When it started to play on the bus then, it sent chills down my spine. When it played just a few moments ago, I felt as if I was there again.

I was introduced to a few Dispatch songs in the fall of 2002 — The General and Out Loud. I bought one of their live albums, Gut The Van, a few months later. I was disappointed because it didn’t really click with me. In August 2003, I gave it another chance while I was in Barbados. It clicked. I found out later that fall that the band had broken up, but I went to Boston in 2004 and New York in 2007 just to see their reunion concerts. And I didn’t like the live album at first.

Last night and on the way to work today, I listened to a few songs off some of my favourite albums — H. from Ænima (Tool), Lateralus and Schism from another Tool album, Lateralus, All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands from Seven Swans (Sufjan Stevens) and Recycled Air from Give Up (The Postal Service). I can tell you the precise moment when the Sufjan Stevens song became a part of my life and exactly what I was going through. When I listened to Recycled Air, I was brought back to the second week of May when the song helped get me through a rough few days. H. immediately brings to mind the face of a friend I parted ways with for a while. Schism and Lateralus both evoke so many different emotions (pieces, spirals and math), all linked to specific times or places over the past five years. From the same album, I can tell you exactly where I was and who I was with when I finally and fully felt and understood Reflection.

It’s these moments that make me want more.

I remember when I first saw Robyn Dell’Unto perform. The song she played first isn’t recorded yet, but I heard it again when she played it for me leading up to a gig in May. Both of those eternal instants are still present in my mind. Yesterday, Robyn introduced me to Craig Cardiff‘s music. I could tell she was a bit disappointed that I didn’t seem to be impressed at first. His music sounded great, I just haven’t had a chance to connect with it. She left it playing in the background.

I’ve tried to make the point before: if I can’t listen to your music, how am I supposed to connect with it?

Music alone is often not enough to catch your attention. I hear a lot of good music all the time, but I couldn’t possibly come to love and know all of it. I find what makes the difference between the music that crosses the threshold and that which remains unnoticed is often merely fortune and circumstance, which determines whether or not we are given the opportunity for that music to resonate with us. Hearing a song in one situation might not leave an impression, but hearing it another time when it has a direct connection to your experience or current events in your life can leave a permanent mark.

This is one of the reasons I think artists should make their music available for download. It’s like Andrew Dubber says, people hear music, people like music, people buy music. Or in Haydain Neale‘s words, people feel music in this order: hips, heart, head (well, he actually said “groin, heart, mind”, but I like the alliteration).

In order for people to go from hips to heart to head or from hearing to liking to buying, they need exposure. There’s no real pattern in my examples as to whether the connection came before or after a purchase, but when I connect with music like I have in the cases above, I don’t forget it. And I support it (e.g. Dispatch concerts). That’s how you earn a true fan. Streaming a couple tracks on MySpace doesn’t do it. I can’t take that with me and hear it when it might be relevant for me, when I might connect with it or relate to it. I don’t have the same opportunity if I have to sit on your website. Make it downloadable.

To those with hesitations, what’s more important — another album sale or another true fan? True fans buy albums. Focus on allowing people to connect with your music.

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