sea changes.

Admittedly, when we made the decision to reboot Dromedary back in the summer of 2009, we didn’t really know what to expect, from a sales standpoint.  A lot of the records we had planned to release were, in our opinion, great ones, and many were also records that had been out of print for more than a decade.

At the same time we knew that the world of indie rock had changed – as had the world of recorded music.  The days of pressing 500 seven inches and sending them through indie distribution were long gone; our music could be distributed around the globe instantly.  And when we released Lippy by Footstone, the most fitting possible title for our first full-length reissue, we watched it turn midnight, and we watched as Lippy began to populate around the Internet – first iTunes, Amazon, and then all the other e-tailers our distributor sent our record to.   It made us proud, to see this record everywhere, to see the blogosphere embrace it the way they did, giving away freebie copies of “Mad-G” and “Toothpick.”  It was cool.

That the record hasn’t sold all that well was perplexing, but not devastatingly so – mostly, our goal with Dromedary is the exposure, to help bands we like get heard, to build a nice catalog and have a good time.

In my last entry I mentioned that we recently went to Maxwell’s and saw Stuyvesant open for Visqueen.  Visqueen are a great band, but we didn’t make it that far – my buddy Chris and I hooked up with Ralph from Stuyvesant, Mike Cecchini from the Neutron Drivers, and my friend Rad (guitarist from the Hoboken aggro-rocka-metal band High Speed Chase) and ran across the street for German imports.  We spent the night bullshitting about music, enjoying each other’s company, drinking the boh, and just hanging out.  That’s what our goal was with Dromedary.

And so we’re accomplishing that goal.

But yeah, you also want to sell some records.  And the change in the way this whole thing works has been pretty startling.

Back in the day, I’d ship off a few hundred CDs, or seven-inches, to whatever distributors around the world were carrying our records at the time.  We’d run some ads, and we’d send out a bunch of promo copies, and then we’d sit back and wait.  After 30 days we might get some reorders from a few of our distributors, and maybe we’d begin to see some reviews come in.  But it was, literally, months before we really had a feel for how a record was doing.

Today, we can see things happen every day.  Every day I look at our results and can see which blogs have mentioned our record, who’s buying it from our website, who’s downloading it from our publicist’s site (and, umm, we have a publicist).  I look at our web traffic each day and see what’s generating interest, who’s visiting which pages, how long they’re staying.  I can see our Facebook friends list growing, our Twitter followers growing, and I can communicate with everybody.

Back in the day, I’d get the occasional mailorder, and I’d send the buyer a little thank you note.  Once in a while, they’d respond and we’d strike up a pen pal relationship.

Today, when someone writes about us, I pass it along to our Facebook fans and our Twitter followers.   Invariably someone makes a comment.  We’ll strike up a quick discussion.

I fuckin’ love that, especially if it’s a person I’ve never met before.  We’re putting out music, and people care about it.  That’s too cool.

At the same time, the sales figures really haven’t changed much from the old days.  And the way the sales work are different.

First, I feel pretty adamant that all our records remain available on our website, streaming for free.  I want people to be able to hear the music, whenever they want, even if they don’t own it.  Want to hear what Cuppa Joe sound like?  No sweat.  Visit our website, listen to Nurture.  Want to check out Make The Load Lighter: Indie Rock for Haiti?  Go ahead.  Listen to it all the way through.  Are you an American indie rock fan who’s read about Lions.Chase.Tigers but never heard them?  We put out one of their songs.  Come listen.  We hope you like them.

This is really important to me.

At the same time, I realize this takes away an opportunity to actually sell a record.  People are playing the music – on our website, on Facebook, on ReverbNation, LastFM, and even MySpace.  They’re playing it on the bands’ MySpace pages as well – Jamie Webster, the manager for Three Blind Wolves in Scotland, told me that since the Haiti benefit came out, 50% of their MySpace traffic is coming from the United States.  That’s way cool.

The other day someone tweeted that they’ve been listening to the Mommyheads’ Flying Suit stream while they’re waiting for Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s new record to come out.  Part of that really bummed me out – buy the record!  Support the band! But another part of me thought it was really cool that they’d listen, and tweet about it.

Here’s another thing people are doing something that they could never do before – they’re buying single tracks.

With way more frequency than they’re buying the full-length.  Nothing could have prepared me for that – selling two copies of a full-length CD on iTunes one week, and selling 18 single tracks from the album the same week.  It’s freaky, actually.

We put out a benefit record back in January – sixteen bands, sixteen songs, ten bucks.  On iTunes, the songs are a buck each.  People buy the individual songs with much greater regularity than they do the full-length albums.  I never would have thought this would happen.

Over the next year, we have an unbelievable selection of music to share with you.  Some of it, we’ll be announcing over the next few weeks.  Others, we’re still discussing with the bands, trying to figure out how it’s going to work.  But I can honestly say that every one of the records – every single one – is considerably better than anything we’ve ever put out.

That says a lot.  I love every record we’ve ever released (except the Elizabeth record; that one sucked).  Even the ones where the relationship with the band ended badly, or the record didn’t do well, I love.  But I mean it – everything we’ve got planned for the next year or so is going to be fantastic.  I’m almost beside myself about it.

At the same time, it’s a bit disconcerting to me, to see the number of single tracks we’re selling, as opposed to full-length records.

I think this is a result of the record business releasing such a stream of shitty records over the last ten years or so.  People don’t want to be duped into buying the Smash Mouth full-length because they heard “All Star” on the radio and thought it was catchy, because they’re going to get home and play the CD and realize it sucks, and then realize – hey, “All Star” sucks, too. And after having that happen over and over again, people are now saying “fuck it – I’ll listen to the thirty-second sample, and if I hear something I like, I’ll spend a buck on it.”

And so their iPod playlists get populated with “Mad-G,” “For The Boss”  and “Toothpick” by Footstone, “The Day Footstone Died” by Friends, Romans, Countrymen, “French Toast,” “Bottlerocket” and “Sitting Limit” by Cuppa Joe, “Sex Is For Losers” by Three Blind Wolves, “Foreign Thoughts” by There Will Be Fireworks, “To Their Blood” by Lions.Chase.Tigers, and “All Around The Sun” by The Neutron Drivers.  Those seem to be the tracks that are selling.  For The Mommyheads it’s a bit early, but it seems like the tracks we gave away are selling, too, as are the three new tracks on the record – “Box,” “Over,” and “Day Job.”

But they’re missing out on all the other great songs.

On one hand, I sure wish people would buy the entire record.

On the other hand, I can’t help but think that if people didn’t have the option to buy single tracks, maybe they wouldn’t buy anything.

It’s a massive change in the business model of the record business – specifically the independent record business.  And it’s making me wonder about future records.  Does it make sense to put out an entire album?  Or is it just as good to release singles?  On one hand, it’s much more sensible to promote an entire album.  But on the other hand, people are just buying single tracks.

I tend to think the album still works best.  I like giving tracks away for free.  I’ve given away three tracks from each album we’ve put out so far, and it seems to be a pretty cool thing.  Another sea change, actually – in the past, there was no way to do that.  Now, three Mommyheads freebie tracks were downloaded nearly a thousand times. A thousand times! I’m sure if you’re Arcade Fire, a thousand downloads is nothing.  But for Dromedary Records, a thousand downloads is fantastic – even if they’re free.

But if I put out a single and I give it away free, I’ll never make any sales.  Which is, of course, a dilemma.

I am, however, going to try something new this summer.  Pretty soon we’re going to announce another signing – a band we’ve known forever, possibly our favorite current band.  They’ve got two self-released CDs out there, and we’re taking a couple of tracks from each, plus a couple of unreleased tracks and demos, and putting together a digital EP.

And we’re going to give it away for free.

Never could have done that before, either.

But the songs are so damn good, I want them to be the soundtrack to your summer.  I want you to love them the way I do.  And the best way I know to do that is to give you their music.  And hopefully you’ll fall in love with them the way I have, and you’ll come back and buy their next record when we release it in the fall.

We’ll see how that goes.  We’re still learning the ropes here.  But it sure is fun.

~ by Al on May 30, 2010.

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