Foo Fighters Flying Towards First No. 1 Album on Billboard 200
Foo Fighters Flying Towards First No. 1 Album on Billboard 200

(The following is a guest post from Jack Isquith that originally appeared on his blog Digital Music Insider and is reposted here with his permission. Isquith, a digital music industry veteran, has held senior posts at Warner Brothers Records and AOL Music.)

How Music Shopping in 2011 Works - A Foo Fighters Case Study

Last Friday night I found myself with six hours of "free" time on a JetBlue flight from New York back to L.A.

As I flipped channels, I stumbled upon the new Foo Fighters documentary, "Back and Forth" on VH1 Classic.

Now, besides the ludicrousness of a Rock band that can sell out Wembley Stadium two times over being relegated to VH1 Classic, this turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. "Back and Forth" is an extremely well made biopic on a band that I always liked, but never loved.

Don't get me wrong. I always admired Dave Grohl, he's easy to root for based on his public persona. He shows a great sense of humor, has kept has band together for 17 years, and has elegantly handled the unique circumstance of being Nirvana's ex-drummer. I can't even begin to imagine how much baggage the mantle of Nirvana is to carry around.

But I digress. So, although I wasn't a Foo Fighters fan, I got caught up in the documentary. It's a very compelling story arc -- young idealistic drummer moves to Seattle, joins band that changes rock forever, lives through lead singer's suicide and band implosion, picks up pieces, forms own band, soldiers on through a myriad of adversities, ultimately to make his own way. Good stuff.

So here I was, now interested in the Foo Fighters. The new album sounded good, and I was engaged. I loved the idea that the band overcame so much strife, and had stuck it out. I liked the fact that Butch Vig was involved. I liked the idea that this music was recorded on analogue tape, for a supposed "warmer" sound. On one level, who the heck really knows…but I liked all that intent.

In the old days, it would be off to Tower and Virgin as soon as I landed, and likely the Foo's CD would have been picked up.

Now, instead, it would be a Tuesday morning Internet crawl.

Here is what I discovered. This is what searching for an album you are interested in, but not fully sold on, feels like in 2011:

6:30am: Check iTunes. Two versions of the new album are available; standard for $9.99 and deluxe for $11.99. I listened to a couple of song previews (now :90 seconds, not :30) and kept searching. The music sounded good, it was promising.

6:40 Amazon. Foo Fighters are not the deal of the day. There would be no $2.99 bargain on this one…likely because Sony controls their own pricing at Amazon. I move on.

6:45 Mog. I subscribe to all the subscription services. It's completely unnecessary and duplicative; I simply do it to stay informed. I found myself at Mog first because their email, featuring the Foo Fighters in the #2 slot, got to me first. I spent about 30 minutes listening to the album on Mog, while doing other work. "Wasting Light" is a good album; no question about it. A number of lyrical turns of phrase distracted me - a good sign.

7:20: It's 7:20 already? I have to go. Thought the album was solid. Not disappointed at all, but didn't pull the ownership trigger. Based on hearing the music one time, it is likely I will buy this album at some point soon. It might take a sale, it might simply be seeing the right video at the right time, but it will probably happen. And yes, owning the actual CD itself, will also likely be completely duplicative for me as I can listen to it via subscription anytime, and because of my apps, just about anywhere I want.

Final Take: Let's start with the obvious - especially in digital form, people rarely buy albums at all. We live in a track-by-track world. That said, I still like albums, and if I get excited about a rock band or artist, am likely to want the full work. But yes, I understand I am in a very distinct minority for even caring about albums.

For me, the Foo Fighters example was a really interesting one. The VH1 documentary was clearly the catalyst, without that exposure I likely would have never heard a note of new music. I don't ever listen to commercial radio, instead relying on Slacker, Pandora, friends, blogs and the subscription services for music discovery. So a TV show turned out to be a good marketing touch-point.

And, as alternative rock is outside my sweet spot (I prefer hip-hop, jazz, pop, indie & classic Rrock), for me to spend additional money, beyond the subscription services, on the Foo Fighters would truly be an impulse buy.

So, what did I learn? Well, I certainly learned that with 4-5 major subscription services, and 4-5 major digital retailers there are no real obstacles in hearing anything you want, whenever you want. I learned that with this many outlets, a price point of $9.99 for a digital album doesn't feel like a special bargain. And lastly, I learned that with all these digital options, it takes a tremendous amount of marketing and a well- crafted call to action to sell me a new rock album at full price. That is far from an easy sale.

One last thing, I also learned that The Foo Fighters made a really good album at the same exact time that the "rock is dead" meme has hit a crescendo. So while I may not buy this album today for myself, I certainly will recommend it to any of my kid's friends looking for something new that sits comfortably with Nirvana, Green Day, Cage the Elephant or any classic rock they might like.

It's a process in 2011 to sell a rock album. A definite process.

And guess what…after writing this whole damn thing, and hearing a bunch of these songs again, I just bought the album. So there you go, insiders. There you go.

DMI Bonus Tip: Charming scene from the documentary featuring Bob Mould.