On Air/On Sale

25 May

(Originally published 6/3/11)

On Air/On Sale could well be the new revolution in music…or something.

For those unacquainted, it is basically the process of releasing a single to iTunes (or other -often cheaper- online retailers) as soon as a track gets it’s very first radio premiere. The audio pioneer of this new method of distribution seemed to be Britney’s first track in two years, ‘Hold It Against Me’ which began clocking up digital sales a matter of hours after anyone but a selected few at the record label had actually heard it.

The release became the highest grossing track by a female artist ever on America’s Hot Digital Songs chart with Britters flogging a massive 411,000 downloads in one week. That was, however, until Gaga rocked up with her new one, ‘Born This Way’ just a few weeks later and smashed Britney’s record. ‘Born This Way had similarly been released as part of the ‘On Air/On Sale’ tactic.

‘On Air/On Sale’ is definitely exciting, but it also raises interesting questions such as the longevity of the popular single in 2011. ‘Hold It Against Me’ is the prime example of this. Just a matter of weeks after its ‘On Air/On Sale’ release, ‘Hold It Against Me’ began to plummit out of the charts, particularly in the UK. Much of this could be blamed on the peculiar, but not altogether suprising, absence of actual Britney in any kind of public sphere. There was literally no tangible promotion for the single apart from a late and ultimately underwhelming music video directed by Jonas ‘Telephone’ Akerlund which only appeared weeks after the track’s release at a time when the ‘NewBritney’ hype had died and no-one really cared anymore. Interestingly, On Air/On Sale wasn’t even meant to apply in the UK; ‘Hold It Against Me’ was scheduled to be released almost a month later, but the UK label eventually caved/panicked about losing sales to illegal downloaders and chucked the track on iTunes a few days later. Consequently, the sudden U-turn fucked up the single’s potentially impressive UK chart position due to it’s badly organised mid-week, basically unannounced, release.

And this brings us to ‘Till The World Ends’, the second single taken from Britney’s appaulingly titled upcoming album,’Femme Fatale’ which leaked/premiered this week. I say leaked/premiered because sometimes its hard to tell which is which. It’s been a known fact that record labels intentionally leak tracks to build up buzz and interest for years but the appearance of ‘Till The World Ends’ on the net this week followed by it’s official release the morning after, reeked overpoweringly of ‘PANICPANICPANIC’. Just like ‘Hold It Against Me”s rush release, the track appeared weeks before a music video had even been planned, nevermind filmed. There wasn’t even an official announcement the track was Britney’s second single until it had already hit the web. Even more bizarrely, the track hit iTunes before it even hit the radio. So have Britney’s label gone so On Air/On Sale mad that it has now become On Sale/On Air or was the whole thing just a bit of a cock up forced by the temperamental position of music in the internet age? Does that mean radio play is consequently redundant if a track is available to buy before it’s premiered or is it just a different type of hype-builder? Will tracks remain in the charts for longer if they are spun by radio stations as soon as they are released and not before, or will every On Air/On Sale track be a flash in the pan? If a track is always officially available when a listener first hears the song, will it encourage more people to actually buy music legally rather than just rip it off the internet? Even though I’ve previously pompously declared illegally downloading music is ‘against my religion’, I certainly understand how annoying it is to have to play a song off of YouTube for three weeks before I can actually own it for myself and blast it out in the car…

It leads me to the conclusion therefore that if ‘On Air/On Sale’ really is the way forward for single releases, opting for the short sharp shock rather than the drawn out hype-building technique- particulary for huge artists such as Britney and Gaga- then why aren’t record labels factoring in videos in their release plans and having them filmed, edited and safely packed away ready for the big reveal? The effect of On Air/On Sale would be trippled if the music channels have something to play as well as the radio stations. It’s not like live television performances are commonplace in the post ‘Top Of The Pops’ music show wasteland. Despairingly, the best an artist can hope for outside of X Factor season is a 3 minute, diluted but terrifyingly lit 7:40 slot on Daybreak.

God my head is really starting to hurt over this.

Whatever the way, it’s thrilling to have tracks so instantly available, especially those from such huge artists as Gaga and Britney. It”s amazing to watch the internet tingle with excitement as the shutters on a sparkling new pop banger are rattled open, even at 2pm on a tuesday afternoon.

‘Till The World Ends’, by the way, sounds like a Ke$ha album track, and not a particularly good one. ‘Hold It Against Me’ on the other hand is a CHOON.  You cannot argue with a thirty second dubstep breakdown, so there.

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