But why would a famously perfectionist group such as Coldplay – who, in delaying the release of XY earlier this year to tweak it further, caused EMI’s stock to take a hit – allow its carefully crafted songs to be reduced to their trebly essence? Or – worse yet – if the consumer doesn’t have a “music-enabled” Cingular phone, have the song reproduced as a MIDI-like sample?
Aside from the obvious appeal of the filthy lucre, releasing a song as a mobile ringtone “gets a track to an audience in a direct way,” says Andy Volanakis, president and chief operating officer of Zingy.com, a ringtone provider. “On radio you have commercials, clutter, (and) other songs you’re competing with. You could argue this is a more direct way to reach a user.”
In 2001, Zingy.com scored an exclusive release window for new songs from Wu Tang Clan and Mobb Deep, before they came out on CD.
“Bands are starting to see checks coming in from the mobile deals,” says Mary Stuyvesant, general manager for entertainment marketing at Infospace. “They want to raise themselves above the noise, and ringtones are a great way to do that.”
While none of the major mobile carriers would discuss the financial arrangements with their musical partners, one thing is clear: bands such as Coldplay – and the music labels that represent them – wouldn’t be pursuing ringtones if there wasn’t a growing demand for these deals.
“People like ringtones,” says Barrabee. “The ringtone says something about you. It’s making your phone as personalized as possible.”
Call it Exhibit A in online consumers’ fickle music preference – while millions of people around the world continue to swap music files illicitly, implicitly stating that the 99 cent per song rate for online music is too high, they’ll gladly plunk down $2.49 for a brief snippet of a song that oftentimes sounds like a cheesy synthesizer riff from an old arcade game.
In an era when consumers can get music through more channels than ever before, offering a single to phone carriers may not feel like part of the rock and roll playbook, but for bands, it might just be the call to make.