AC/DC, a longtime iTunes holdout, has decided to join the digital age.
The classic rock band’s entire catalog is now available exclusively through iTunes, including 16 studio albums, four live albums and three compilation albums. As always, listeners can purchase entire albums or individual tracks.
All songs cost $1.29–the high-end for iTunes singles–while most albums cost $9.99. Apple’s also selling a collection of all studio albums for $99.99, and a complete set of studio albums, live albums and box sets for $149.99.
iTunes once had a long list of big-name holdouts, but that list has dwindled over the years. Led Zeppelin tested the waters in 2007 with a compilation album, but now offers its full catalog. Radiohead joined up in 2008, the Beatles made a deal with Apple in November 2010 and just last month, Kid Rock put his newest album on Apple’s service.
Still, some major artists are hanging on to the compact disc, including Garth Brooks, Bob Seger, Def Leppard and Tool. Black Sabbath’s most well-known albums aren’t on iTunes either, though some newer albums have appeared.
What’s taking these artists so long to embrace the MP3 (or in Apple’s case, the M4A)? When it’s not about money or digital rights management, it’s about preserving the integrity of the album, man. See the comments of Jay-Z, who in 2007 refused to sell his album American Gangster on iTunes: “As movies are not sold scene by scene, this collection will not be sold as individual singles,” he said at the time, though the tracks are available on an individual basis now.
As Music Ally points out, AC/DC’s motivations for avoiding iTunes seemed to be similar. “We always were a band that if you heard something (by AC/DC) on the radio, well, that’s only three minutes. Usually the best tracks were on the albums,” guitarist Angus Young told Sky News in 2010, after the Beatles signed their deal. “For us it’s the best way. We are a band who started off with albums and that’s how we’ve always been,” he said.
While the commitment to the full album is certainly admirable–the LP-as-cohesive-whole can seem like a lost art in the MP3 age–forcing people to buy an entire album just to hear one or two songs no longer makes sense in the digital age. When listeners can’t buy the tracks they want on an individual basis, they may turn to piracy or avoid the music altogether. Perhaps that’s what has pushed some artists along in the end.
If artists are really concerned about the integrity of the album–and aren’t just trying to goose more sales–I’d encourage them to embrace on-demand streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody. There, listeners can indulge in entire albums without having to pay by the track, so there’s less risk and more opportunity to discover those deep cuts.
Unfortunately, those services also attract hostility from artists who feel like they don’t pay. And thus, a new digital threat for musicians to fuss about is born.