Irish rock band Ash has debuted a long-planned subscription model that represents one of the clearest examples of a band’s rejection of the traditional album format and release cycle. Subscriptions are often considered to be the future of recorded music. The idea is too young, however, to have gained much traction. The farthest most bands get from a typical album release is giving away some free songs to fans.

Now, Irish rock band Ash has put together one of the more innovative subscription packages and marketing campaigns. The band, which in 2007 said it was done recording albums, has finally launched the “A-Z Series” of singles. Other artists have delved into subscription offerings, but Ash’s subscription plan is significant. Basically, the band has dived headfirst into an untested and innovative strategy. A-Z Series represents a very popular (outside of the U.S.) band’s departure from the traditional album format and its release schedule. While other bands have veered away from the album and dabbled in single tracks and giveaways, Ash’s main recorded output and commercial product is based upon this staggered release of single tracks.

For the series Ash will release a new single every two weeks as a 7” single and download. A 7”+ download subscription costs £130 and tracks will be sold individually. A download-only subscription costs £13 for U.K. consumers and $20 for consumers outside of the U.K. Subscribers will receive an email every two weeks with a download link. Those who sign up late will be able to download all previously released tracks. According to an interview at the band’s web site, Ash is working with Topspin on the A-Z Series project.

Another new high-profile subscription plan is offered by Third Man Records, owned by Jack White (White Stripes, The Raconteurs) and home of his many projects. Called simply The Vault, the subscription has two tiers: for $7 per month a fan gets a variety of exclusive video content and access to pre-sale tickets, plus the ability to view pay-per-view video broadcasts of concerts by White Stripes, The Raconteurs, Dead Weather and other acts. For $20 per month, the subscription expands to include exclusive quarterly releases of vinyl LPs, 7” singles and T-shirts.

If artists and labels are ever to move beyond the album cycle, they need to start tinkering with alternative products. To date, most experiments with new releases have been expansions upon the album release cycle. For example, artists often release a digital track or two in advance of the album. When the album is released, fans may have two or three options: a regular version, a deluxe digital version and, in a few cases, an iTunes LP. The iTunes Pass format combines an album release with the subscription concept. Buyers get an album plus a steady flow of additional content.

Now that subscription-enabling tools are becoming widely available, expect to see more and more experiments in the vein of Ash and Third Man Records. The ability of bands to experiment on their own can compensate for the relative lack of innovation afforded by retailers. Download stores are married to singles and albums. More robust packages demand a different set of tools. Subscription offerings are better suited for direct-to-consumer relationships and are limited only by the band’s creativity and ability to produce content of value.