Monday Open Thread

Here’s something to chew on:

Toby Keith has total control over his music now that he owns his own record company, Show Dog Nashville. Unfortunately, he has much less control over how people find the music, and that has left him a bit confused.

“I don’t even know what to do with the [next] album,” he says. “We don’t know what’s gonna happen with the recording industry.”

Currently, Toby’s cut 10 songs, and four of them are completed tracks. The other six still need to have some instruments and/or background vocals added in overdubbing, and Toby wants to give his lead vocals another run before he considers them finished.

But he still faces the same problem the major labels do, in that having music digitized and available one track at a time has hurt recording income.

“It’s pretty much a 99-cent world,” he says.

As a result, he’s not sure whether to release an entire album at one time after he puts out the first single or wait until perhaps three or four tracks have made the radio before he makes the CD available. Toby’s always been a businessman as well as a musician, so he’s certainly willing to roll up his sleeves on the issue. No matter how the business part of his career pans out, he doesn’t plan to give up on his passion.

I’ve been wanting country artists to capitalize on the digital market more aggressively by releasing alternate tracks, like unreleased songs, live or acoustic takes, and older catalog at a discount price. It seems an opportunity is being wasted. I love me some Jeannie C. Riley, but it’s crazy that I can get all of her old Plantation albums on iTunes but I can’t get those of the superstars of the same era. Should we still need to go to Bear Family in Germany to get these tracks? And is Toby right that the album is going the way of the dodo?


  1. While its unrealistic to demand excellence from every single artist coming out of Nashville for an entire CD, the very nature of most of the music being recorded does not demand the attention of the listener for an entire album. If the industry truly wants consumers to purchase full albums, they need to give them a reason to do so and stop making albums with 3 legit songs and 8 fluff songs. The great thing about capitalism is that it gives people options and now that the technology has caught up to people’s demands, we are seeing that people don’t want all the fluff that frequently accompanies major label country albums.

  2. Seems to me like Toby’s “release three songs to radio before the album ever comes out” idea is a risk that could potentially pay off – but only if the singles a) are uniformly strong and b) aren’t released individually in a digital format prior to the album’s release (as they very frequently are through mediums like iTunes). Otherwise casual fans might just pick up the singles and then completely ignore the full album when it comes out, assuming they’ve already mined the cream of the album ahead of time.

    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about whether the album format is becoming obsolete and – if it is – what would take its place, and I think it’s very hard to answer either question because albums are not only the standard organizational format of commercial music distribution, they’re also a format that, when done correctly, makes a lot of sense. Well-done albums unify a collection of songs and leave an impression of the artist who created them; singles leave only an impression of the song and the individual performance. Without that artistic impression, I think the music industry would ultimately suffer a great loss of real art, since if producing catchy singles is the only goal – well, I think you can see what would happen. Acts like Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, (dare I mention) Shania Twain sell more full albums than their competitors because they leave strong artistic impressions (whatever we think of them) – so strong that even pop fans are drawn to them. Lose the album format and I think you lose that instrinsic artist-fan connection. The only answer I can think of for selling better is Russ’ – just make better albums, and promote them as cohesive bodies.

  3. I agree with Russ that the industry needs to give people a reason to buy the full album. I prefer owning and listening to a full album rather than just downloading a couple songs, but few artists create good enough albums to justify the cost. I don’t like buying an album and finding out I only like two songs. I like the album previews you can sometimes hear on and other sites so you know what an album is like before you buy it. Then you know if it is worth getting the full album or if you should just download the singles.

  4. Hey,

    Great conversation idea. I LOVE the CD format but I do believe it’s going the way of the dodo. I also feel that it will be replaced by EPs. I commend Toby for having the foresight to see the forest through the trees. They NEVER released albums back in the day until there were enough ‘hits’ to support then.

  5. To the contrary Matt – back in the day the leading artists issued three or four albums per year each with ONE hit single (rarely two), some covers of other artists hits, and some filler . Even the great Merle Haggard fell into this mold, although in his case the filler was better than most people’s hits

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