Not all artists and labels may want to compete based on price, but in some cases aggressive pricing is having an real impact on the sales of titles that traditionally haven’t sold well. Hits have demand and can carry a higher price. Some music simply cannot command much of a price – if any price at all. But digital music allows artists and company to creatively bundle and market music in ways not possible with physical formats. As a result, price and quantity are flexible.

At album-oriented sites like eMusic and Amazon.com, shoppers can regularly find inexpensive collections offering a large quantity of public domain compositions, re-recorded versions and alternate takes – projects that don’t typically fly off the digital shelf - for low prices. Bulk offerings are showing up in other forms, too, as are free offerings. The electronic artist known as Pretty Lights is seeing ticket sales on the rise due to a free album, and the just-launched Bands Under The Radar has a new spin on the subscription model.

Cheap and Visible

At online stores, cheap and visible can be a potent combination. This week, X5 Music Group is currently the fifth most popular label at eMusic – and the first indie after four Sony labels. The label’s most popular title was a themed classic compilations like "The 100 Best of Classical Music," a 100-track collection that goes for just 12 credits. At Amazon.com, bargain-hunters regularly push X5 titles to the top of its album chart. X5’s Five Hours of Classical Favorites -- 49 tracks for $5 – was at one point last week the 39th most popular MP3 album at Amazon.com. The title’s comments section reveals some buyers’ motivations. “This is definitely worth the money,” wrote on reviewer. “How about some more bargain collections like this?” requested another. Also last week, X5’s "The 99 Most Essential Vivaldi Masterpieces," an Amazon exclusive, was on sale for $2.99 and for a while was the No. 1 MP3 album at the store.

X5 Music Group specializes in digital music. There’s no physical product. No manufacturing. No shipping. No returns. No returns allowances. No fighting for (and buying of) shelf space at the falling number of physical retailers that still carry classic music. X5 is behind other popular Amazon.com bargains, like the 99 Most Essential Series. On Thursday, "The 99 Most Essential Pieces of the Romantic Era," priced at $7.99, was ranked No. 193 in the store’s MP3 albums and No. 6 in the classical genre. As some reviewers noted, at one point the album was sale priced at $0.99 for all 99 songs. X5’s 99-song collection of Mozart movements was priced at $2.99 when it was the daily special.

All of this is proving that people will buy just about anything for $1.99. A four-hour, 535-track collection of sound effects? Sure thing. The low price tag made Suite 102’s 500+ Sound Effects one of Amazon.com’s top MP3 albums. It would be surprising if all 535 tracks will get much use from many of the buyers. But this kind of digital hoarding goes to show the advantages to selling in bulk. Single-track downloads of sound effects aren’t nearly as attractive as an inexpensive bundle.

eMusic’s No. 13 label of the week is Goldenlane Records, which offers a number of bargain compilations. Good Morning Vietnam – Music & Words of the ‘60s, which costs 43 tracks for 12 credits, leads off with “Address on Vietnam War” by Vice President Spiro Agnew and alternate recordings of such classics as Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” and Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” Goldenlane’s American Graffiti – ‘50s Rock and Roll has 38 songs for only 12 credits. Bob Marley’s The Complete Lee “Scratch” Perry Sessions offers 110 tracks – and 109 minutes of music – for just 36 credits. Rock N’ Roll of the ‘60s has 29 songs, many re-recorded versions of classics, for 12 credits.

Awareness

Awareness, not just revenue, is driving artists to offer free or cheap music. The revenue may be made up in other ways: a ticket purchase, merchandise sale, future purchases or the hope that somebody influential will hear your music.

Bulk downloading is especially popular when the price is zero. Mojo Nixon’s recent catalog promotion at Amazon.com resulted in over one million downloads of 144 tracks from 11 albums. Even Nixon’s new album, Whiskey Rebellion, was available for free.

Fort Collins, Colorado’s Pretty Lights is one of the latest examples of a band using recorded music as a promotional tool. The one-man, electronic band -- Derek Vincent Smith plus a live drummer at performances – is giving away its latest album, Passing By Behind Your Eyes, as a free download at the band’s Web site. Randy Reed of Red Light Management says the band’s current tour – only its second full trip around the country -- is being fueled by the free giveaway. “Almost every single date is selling out,” he told Billboard. “I attribute that biggest part of that to the word of mouth that’s spreading.” Through Thursday, the new album – not yet commercially available – has been downloaded about 63,000 times since it came out October 6th.

Of course, it helps if the free music is backed up by a good live show. “He’s delivering the whole package,” says Reed. “He has great music and a great live show.” The band, booked by Progressive Global Agency, has played Electric Daisy Carnival, Bonnaroo, Rothbury, and 10,000 Lakes, and opened for Sound Tribe Sector 9 at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Pretty Lights plays Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club on November 18 and New York City’s Fillmore@Irving Plaza on November 19.

Bands Under The Radar, which offers developing and unknown artists, an innovative take on both download sales and subscription models. Each offering is a carefully curated collection of 100 songs for only $10. Each group of 100 songs is effectively a subscription that includes five deliveries of 20 songs (the first group of 20 can be downloaded immediately). Each group of 20 can be streamed through a widget embedded at the Bands Under The Radar blog. Files are high-quality MP3s and the commerce end is powered by Topspin.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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