Back in the 90s and early 00s, when an album came out, you went to the closest music store to get it the day it comes out. And, while you were there, you could browse what other music they had in stock and, if you found the cover art interesting enough, buy another CD or cassette, and take a chance in listening to a new artist. This was kind of a bet however, as there was no way the store would allow you to listen to the music before you bought it, and there wasn’t much available on the Internet either. You could either take a chance, or read a music magazine that wrote about this artist. Specialized magazines were really a rarity where I lived, so I was left with the only option to take a chance. There were no such thing as pre-ordering an album, at best you could make the store keep a copy for you if you paid a fraction of the full price beforehand. And if you didn’t reserve a copy, you went out the day of its release hoping there was one left for you. But there were absolutely no way to listen to a CD before buying it, it was unthinkable, it was like… taking a bite before deciding what to eat at a restaurant!
Now things have changed. Artists will put out singles before the album’s release, and there will probably be a leaked version of it either on Youtube or as a torrent. And if you’re buying the album after its release, then you can listen to it on Youtube, Bandcamp, CDbaby, you name it. Music stores even let you listen to the disc you plan to buy, now! Crazy, isn’t it? You can also now pre-order albums, that is, paying the full price of the album in advance, sometimes weeks, months, or even years in advance, and sometimes even before the album’s completion, in order to make sure that you have it the day it comes out. In the scenario where pre-orders are available before the album’s completion, or recording, it often helps small independent bands get funds to undergo recording and release. The thing is that today, you can be sure of what you’re buying, no more taking chances and no more out-of-stock CDs on the day of the release.
However, that is not always the case. Example: Periphery‘s Juggernaut: Alpha and Omega. After the successes of Periphery I and II, people were excited about a Periphery III, and when the pre-orders were available on the band’s or label’s website, there was no single out, or no preview of the album. This, was like taking a chance, except you’re probably more inclined to take it if it’s from a band you know and like. Sadly, today’s the day of the album’s release, and people everywhere are underwhelmed, disappointed, or even angry about it. It’s just bad, and we’ll make an exception on our popular bands gag rule to describe how utterly shitty this double album is, just to make sure there’s not a single one of you who will buy it.
And if that wasn’t enough, people who pre-ordered the album don’t have it today! I guess that it’s too complicated or expensive for a band or label crumbling under the weight of their own fortune to put the pre-order packages in the post a few days earlier so that they arrive on time, there’s a time and cost calculator just for that. There’s also the option to give the fans a download code on the day of the release so they can download it while they wait for the physical CD to arrive. But this opportunity is defeated by the malignant genius at Sumerian who had the brilliant idea to put the download code with the physical CD in the mail, that way you can listen to your CD and download the album from Internet, at the same time… a few days or weeks after its release!
Now, not everyone is as incompetent as them. For example, Radiant Records are great and you’ll get stuff on time, or at least you’ll have a download code, and the people taking care of that are easily accessible if anything goes wrong. Also, artists on Bandcamp will have downloads emailed automatically to everyone who pre-ordered when the album is released, so within the minute that the album is out, you can have it on your computer.
But one deeper question remains: In this day and age, where digital albums are not a limited resource, why pre-order? Some of you will point out these independent bands that want to gather some financial support to record or publish their album, but if you haven’t heard of their music, why would you give them your money? There’s more than one example of Kickstarters, or other crowd-funding campaigns, that were not completed, even though the campaign’s funding goal was achieved. And even more examples of people being disappointed or straight-out angry after discovering that what they helped financed is bad, or is not what they imagined it would be. That brings us back to Periphery’s new album. Even though it’s a double album, people feel cheated, and they feel they didn’t get what they paid for, they think it’s bad. So, even with established bands, you can have bad surprises. Their new album defeats the whole purpose of pre-orders: they didn’t deliver, musically and physically.
My advice to you all is: don’t pre-order. Wait until the album comes out, wait until some blog (like us, perhaps) reviews it, wait until there are streams of the album available or, at least, a few singles or a few excerpts from the album, before buying it. Because your money is like a vote. If you put your money on an album you haven’t heard, it’s like voting blindfolded, it is just as irresponsible. If you keep supporting financially this practice, then everyone will start doing it, because they know where the money is, and that will completely break the industry (more than it already is). Trust me, you don’t want it to become the same thing as today’s video game industry, where they sell you demos for 20$ (sometimes even 40$), and where broken, unplayable games are sold alongside full releases, making them undistinguishable from one another.
Act wisely, don’t pre-order. Be critical.