When Should You Buy A Song?

The alternative title for this: “How Do I Avoid Buying The Same Darn Thing Multiple Times?”

First, let’s put the question in context: After a week-long battle with labelmate Brett Young (not that BMLG wasn’t pulling the strings on this whole thing behind the scenes, but that’s a discussion for another day), Riley Green spent just enough time atop the Mediabase charts to officially make his debut single “There Was This Girl” a #1 song. Even when conceding that country music will give a debut #1 to just about anyone these days, a #1 song is still a freaking #1 song, and Green is in perfect position to drive some decent sales figures for his new album.

…Except that no such album exists yet. Green’s EP In A Truck Right Now is the only way to get a copy of “There Was This Girl,” and rather than use the track’s success to pave the way for an album, Green appears to be releasing additional singles to his public (including his upcoming radio release “In Love By Now”). I can’t find any release date information beyond “2019” for Green’s upcoming album, which poses a bit of a problem for folks interested in hearing more from the artist.

Sure, I could buy In A Truck Right Now if I wanted, but if I then picked up Green’s album whenever it comes out, I’d be stuck paying for duplicate copies of one or more of the EP tracks that I don’t need. Even at $1.29 a track, that just feels wasteful to me. Why should I pay for something that I already own? (The question feels a bit ironic coming from a Nintendo fan, but there’s a reason I’ve bought all of one Virtual Console game across several consoles.) As much as I enjoy the tracks on Green’s EP and his new singles, I don’t enjoy them enough to justify owning them twice.

The music industry has been working consumers over like this for years now (first you buy the vinyl, then the cassette tape, then the CD, etc.), but with easily-transferable digital copies of songs available, it’s a bit harder to stomach the whole multiple-purchase paradigm. (Streaming services like Spotify are also calling the wisdom of buying songs at all into question,  but that’s also another discussion for another day.) Furthermore, it sets up a weird incentive structure for fans, as waiting for an LP means putting off supporting a promising artist right when said artist needs that support the most. Instead, money gets funneled to artists that you might be substantially less excited about: Part of the reason I went ahead and purchased songs “Every Little Thing” and “Buy My Own Drinks” was because I was so unimpressed with the rest of Russell Dickerson’s and  Runaway June’s output that I was confident that I wouldn’t be ponying up for the whole album.

So how is a cost-conscious consumer supposed to navigate this conundrum? It boils down to asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • Just how excited are you for new music? If the answer is “I’M SUPER HYPED BRO!” then a) you should probably chill out, and b) you should probably consider waiting out the initial single/EP release. If you’re already on board with the eventual LP, then why pay again for early access when YouTube exists?
  • How much have you heard from this artist during this release cycle? An EP will generally give you a good idea of what the eventual album will sound like, so if you’re not sold on most of what you’re hearing, you’re probably okay to cherrypick the songs you like and walk away. If most of them sound good, however, you may want to hold off until a larger release comes out and grab the whole thing in one shot.

    Don’t neglect other avenues in which new songs might be revealed either. If they’re working any new material into their live sets, listening to these shows in person or via a recording can also give you a sense of what’s coming (and whether or not you like it). Finally, digging into someone’s past catalog can be a worthy exercise as well: After all, an artist’s past direction can give you a lead on what their future one might be.

  • How much faith do you have in the artist? Music labels don’t like to spend money on things that don’t make money, so if an artist seems to be struggling and that LP-less song you like isn’t getting any traction in the marketplace, taking the plunge on the song and betting that the LP may never come might be a bet worth taking (see: Easton Corbin and “A Girl Like You”).
  • How much faith do you have in this record label? It doesn’t happen often, but businesses can fail and they might take their entire collection with them when they go. (Consider Equity Music Group and the fact that you can’t find Clint Black’s Long Cool EP anywhere anymore.) If someone signs on to an independent label you’ve never heard of, you may want to buy the track now in case you don’t get the chance later (see: Corbin’s “Somebody’s Gotta Be Country.” I mean, is Tape Room Music really a record company?)
  • How devoted are you to supporting this person? Believe it or not, this doesn’t matter at all! There are lots of other productive ways to throw your money at performers than double-dipping on a single: Attend their concerts, buy their merchandise, etc. Heck, even watching their content on YouTube or following them on social media is an indication that yes, this person has a following out there and should continue to be supported by their label. You might end up spending more in the long run, but at least you won’t be buying the same thing twice.

I know that delaying gratification isn’t easy, and waiting for an album that may or may not eventually come can be agonizing. Still, holding back from buying the freshest new single can save you money in the long run, and save you from the nightmare that is managing an MP3 library full of duplicates.