Question: To Pre-Release Or Not

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• March 20, 2009
Greg McCarn

Greg McCarn

Rascal Flatts and Lyric Street are celebrating the record-breaking success of the pre-release single “Here Comes Goodbye” at iTunes. According to Nielsen Soundscan, the track sold 125,884 downloads, delivering the highest first-week paid sales ever by a country artist for a debut single and the song is one of four tracks to be made available digitally prior to the April 7 release of the band’s new CD Unstoppable.

Digital and/or physical singles have traditionally been released in advance of the album, so what distinguishes a “debut” from a “pre-release?” According to Greg McCarn, Lyric Street’s VP Sales/Marketing/Media, a digital pre-release serves as “a kind of countdown to the launch of the album, because this business is still about selling albums.” While McCarn agrees that Rascal Flatts’ younger-skewing audience is likely to be more iTunes savvy than the average country fan, he insists the 4-song pre-release plan is more about raising awareness for the album than about nurturing an audience of digital downloading consumers.

Despite opinions to the contrary, McCarn feels that younger fans still want to purchase the physical CD. Another key reason for these pre-releases is to combat the widespread feeling that today’s CDs are composed of a couple of singles and a lot of filler. “The ultimate goal is to let them know there is depth and quality to this album,” McCarn says.

The Flatts song has already spent about 10 weeks climbing the Country Breakout™ chart during which time it was not available for purchase. Now with the CD release event only a few weeks away, giving fans the opportunity to  own some of the tracks places the focus on Unstoppable. iTunes Complete My Album adds versatility to the process since fans can purchase the album and receive credit for previously purchased tracks.

Rascal Flatts is not the first country act to go with digital pre-releases. Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis’ “I Told You So” duet was digitally pre-released to coincide with their appearance on this week’s Grand Ole Opry-themed American Idol broadcast. Keith Urban is pre-viewing all 11 tracks from his upcoming Defying Gravity album through social music discovery service iLike. Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney have also pre-released music to add marketing impact. According to one executive, “You name it, we’ve tried it. In front of the album, with the album, after the album. There doesn’t seem to be a consistency with the results. When it comes to maximizing sales through timing the release it’s hard to find a pattern.”

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David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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