Tom Petty and the New Paradigm

Tom Petty gets it. Nobody wants to bother with purchasing a new album any more, other than your diehard fans and even they will probably just stream the tracks. You’re still a viable and vital touring act, however–with a band like The Heartbreakers, how could you not be, they’re the best non E Street combo extant–so for the upcoming North American tour, all tickets will include a copy of the new album Hypnotic Eye.

No, it’s not the first time an artist has done this, it’s not a Radiohead or Prince kind of move, but for an aging rocker with arena-sized audiences it’s a smart promotional ploy that gets his full set of new songs in the hands of those who might care about them the most. Without it, how many units would you expect a Tom Petty to move? This way it makes him look like he’s still selling tonnage without having to market both the album and the tour. Nobody cares about new music from Petty, they just want to hear the hits again, and again. Which they will, at the show, where the new songs will allow time for bathroom breaks and beer runs to the concession stand where the venues make their money.

Complain that nobody buys your album if you put it on Bandcamp for free streaming, or if it’s up on Spotify where you get fractions of fractions of a cent per play, but if it’s not there nobody but your friends and family will probably be listening anyway. Is the album dead? Not as an artistic statement, perhaps, but as a business venture it has no future in any kind of stand-alone way. Wait for a year, or two, and release a full album’s worth of songs with one or two great ones surrounded by filler? Go ahead, but prepare to be forgotten in the interim.

I’ve said for several years now that most acts would be better served going back to the singles mode of the early 1960’s, releasing one song at a time over frequent intervals, then packaging them up later in album-sized bundles for those who still want that. In an internet era where we all move on to the newest, latest trends, hashtags, news stories, and celebrity mishaps within hours, not days, how do you expect to continue generating interest in a full album six months after its release? Put out a song a week, or month, however, and you’re hitting the ‘refresh’ button every time a new track comes out. Pair them with videos, even if they’re homemade, or lyrics-only clips, and you get the Youtube eyes on them as well.

I still listen to, and review, full albums every day. I can understand the artistic value in presenting a song cycle that is thematically linked, or that represents where you are as an artist at that time. But after the reviews are done, how many do I really go back to? Very few, and even then it’s to the one or two tracks that caught my ear the most, not the eighth or ninth same-sounding cut that’s not worth the effort to click forward to hear. And you expect a casual listener to do any better than that?

There was an old saying in pop music, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” This is akin to today’s plethora of album length material sitting out there on Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc., waiting to be heard. Most of it will never be streamed, by anyone. So when Tom Petty decides to give away his new album to those who pay for a live show ticket, he’s at least getting it into the hands, and ears, of someone who might actually listen. What are you doing to ensure your music gets heard?

Check out the promo clip announcing the tour and album here :

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