Do you allow 30 second previews or full song play?


Here’s a choice I am running into that I need help making a decision for. When you post your commercial, for sale music online do you allow the full song to stream or only allow a 30 second preview? The large online music retailers such as iTunes and Amazon only allow 30 second previews. Do they know something about buying behavior? Does allowing just a short clip tantalize a listener so he wants to hear the rest of the song and clicks buy? Could it be iTunes and Amazon believe people will “rip” or record a full song stream even if just 128k quality?

Some websites like give you the choice. I had my music set for 30 sec play and I received the following comment:

“30 second clips? can we get anymore of a rip off thats like showing half of the picture you painted, but if you want to hear the rest youll have to buy it if people like you enough, they will buy your music stop being such a rip off” – mnmcandiez

After a little thought I switched my settings to full song play. Is that the right decision? I think everyone knows it’s easy to record any sound your computer makes. I also know my publisher Strengholt music group doesn’t approve. There are some sites such as Bandcamp who rely on people buying music in order for them to survive yet they only allow full streaming songs.

So what do you do? What are the pros and cons here?

[poll id=”4″]

photo credit: mag3737

Published by

Oliver Chesler

"Hello my name is Oliver and I'm going to tell you a story." I have been recording music since 1989 under the name The Horrorist. I have released over 60 singles and 4 full length albums. To hear my music please go to:

33 thoughts on “Do you allow 30 second previews or full song play?”

  1. I am facing this exact dilemma for a website I am getting built for the record label I work for.
    The reason why we have gone for 30 seconds preview is purely due to the cost of streaming. Any more than 30 seconds and you need a different, and much more expensive, license.
    I presume this is why iTunes etc go for 30 second previews, otherwise they would have to pay the full streaming rates for songs.
    However, Lastfm already pays this streaming rate, as it is their primary business, so it makes no odds to them whether you put 30 seconds or full songs up.
    As far as buyer behaviour goes, I think a full song is preferable, especially for attracting new fans, however, the risk is they just come back and play the preview rather than ever actually purchase.
    Why not do some A/B testing on songs and post back the results? Could be interesting.



  2. There’s been a few times I’ve bought a tune having heard a snippet and realised that the rest of the song is naff. I always prefer to hear the whole thing before I buy.

  3. i agree that 30 sec clips are worthless in most cases. maybe if youre buying the latest pop single, a tiny clip is enough to hear the hook and the chorus, but with electronic music, 30 sec tells you pretty much nothing, especially in the case of a long ambient piece or a slowly building dance track. if a publisher insists on only clips, i would say 1:30 – 2 mins is minimum.

  4. Yeah I’m surprised when I read people commenting that they need to hear an entire song to decide whether to download. It’s nice when the whole thing is available, but I”m not gonna listen to more than 30-seconds anyway, most likely.
    I don’t buy the half-a-painting argument. There’s not a huge industry of people ripping and burning drawings and paintings off the internet to sync to their ipods. Whatever problem there is with images is mostly taken care of by only allowing low-res previews, and watermarks. Any stock image site (Corbis) works that way.
    30-second previews is sure a lot better than buying based only on album cover, as we did back in the olden days. With all the Myspaces, Facebooks, Youtubes, E-Musics, Last FMs, Bandcamps, and Soundclouds, I think people can get a pretty good idea of what it is The Horrorist does before laying down their $9.99 without you giving it all away. Word up.

  5. Most people that buy a song online have HEARD the song before, therefore, the 30-sec clip is used to properly identify the song desired. If the site is designed to show NEW music that has not been heard else where, there MAY be MODEST $ale$ on the full length promotion. This is highly unlikely, as there is no publishing, or purchase incentive attached to FREE (preview streamed) songs. If you think full length preview is a good idea, please try producing, recording, mixing, mastering a full album and put the full length preview-able album online for SALE. YOU WILL LOOSE MONEY! BUT, If full preview to all songs is your stance, you are NOT in the music business, you just do music as ART. That, I can respect and admire….

    When someone streams a song there can be 2 losses. Music Business tells you to use CLIPS as to avoid loosing revenue.

    1. Loss of streaming $$$ (Publishing)
    2. Theft of the song (Copyright Theft)

  6. Full song always. 30 seconds isn’t long enough to get to hear a song, plus those 30 seconds are normally in some random ass place that doesn’t showcase the song anyway. If you’re not putting the whole thing up for stream then just don’t put anything up.

    If people are going out of their way to rip that horrible quality stream, then they’re going to find a way to get your music for free anyways.

  7. 30 sec is definitely too short. Remember when you go to a record store you can listen to the hole song. If you would record or rip a song in 128kbit, you can do it anyway, anywhere in the www. For example at LastFm. But maybe you can do a got compromise in cuting the track in a 2min. preview.

  8. I think maybe you could do a 30 second file especially for the 30 second clip which contains a few of the different parts of your song

    that would give people a better idea

  9. I prefer a representative clip. No more than 60sec. I just want to determine if it is something I’d like to buy or not. It is nice to have some idea what you are buying – at the same time leave something to discover later. The full song would just make the choices to safe and boring.

  10. I usually like to do a “needle drop” sample of about 60 seconds. I mean…that’s how I’m going to listen to the song ANYWAY. So as a customer and a producer, I like to give the same representation to the user.

    I think the full track is just difficult (especially when many of these skipping around the song is tough) and a time waster when I’m looking through 100s of new songs every week. a short “needle drop” clip helps speed that process along.

  11. I think the Itunes/Amazon reason for only playing snippets have to do with the copyright holders.
    If people like your music they’ll probably buy it even if they only get to hear 30 sec of it. If they’ll download it from a torrent it’s neither here nor there how much of a preview you give them.

  12. I think the way to go is have the full track but not let it play through continuously, rather in sections that require the listener to manually click through (that also serves the purpose of the “needle drop” that DJs do). Or there could be a beep or fades or other minor interuption that happen at irregular intervals.

    It would require custom coding of the player, I should think. Check out how Boomkat and Bleep do their previews, for examples.

  13. If you are selling to people who already enjoy your music, 30 seconds will do (back in the day I used to purchase CDs of artists I liked without listening to any music).

    If you are trying to win over new fans, only a full song will work.

    iTunes and Amazon use 30 second clips, because they make most of their money from bands that already have a large following. Amazon and iTunes include more obscure acts as a way to establish themselves as definitive online music stores, not so much for the revenue it generates.

  14. I personally feel that if you are going to treat me like a criminal (eg. “you might steal my music so I’m just going to release 30 seconds per song”), I’m more likely to act like one.

    A column in Science Daily ( comes down on my side of this issue as well:

    “Yanbin Tu in the Department of Marketing at Robert Morris University, Moon Township, Pennsylvania and Min Lu in the Department of Finance and Economics, have carried out a study into digital music samples. They explored the determinants of the five effectiveness dimensions, i.e., evaluation, Willingness-to-Pay (WTP), perceived sample usefulness, sample cost and the likelihood of a consumer being a “free rider”, of online digital music samples.

    Their survey analysis suggests the seemingly obvious conclusion that for music samples, the most effective sample is high quality and is a longer rather than a shorter sample. “Digital music samples with a higher quality and longer segments were found to increase the sampler’s music evaluation and make the evaluation process more useful,” the researchers say.

    More importantly though from the commercial point of view is that a higher music evaluation led to fewer consumers taking the music sample as a substitute for the original music. The lesson for the industry is that the current practice of offering only short, low quality samples is not ideal.”

  15. I would say go full stream. If the customer supports your work, they will be willing to pay. I’ve come around to thinking that the best way to promote my music is through live events i.e. special one-offs where the memory of the event is, in effect, the product that the fan takes way with them. If they buy your music, they will hopefully be reminded of the special events they’ve seen you at. That leaves me with the huge dilemma of creating those events and getting the gig!

    Networking ties in here – something I don’t do enough of by any means.

    Great site by the way :-)

  16. It drives me nuts that people complain about not getting a full preview of a song. It’s like watching a movie preview and complaining that they should have given you the option of seeing the whole movie for free to decide if you wanted to pay to see it or not. It’s a sad result of our culture expecting music for free now.

    Honestly, if your complaining about the listening to the whole thing, I doubt you were going to buy it anyway.

    Now which one do I prefer as a consumer. Obviously the one where I get to listen to the whole thing for free. As a DJ I want to hear the intro, middle, and outro to see if I can mix it and see if it works in my sets or not. It’s one of the reasons I still play vinyl because I get the chance to listen to it at the store and figure out if it’s something that fits my style or not. If it’s only a 30 or 60 second clip it dosn’t make me not want to throw down my dollar or two.

    I’d say do full songs though, it might attract more fans, who might come out to a show, and might pay a cover charge or buy a t-shirt since there’s no money to be made in actually selling music anymore.

  17. It depends greatly on the type of music. Most people decide they like or dislike a pop song in the first 20 seconds so half a minute is more than enough. Longer classical, ambient, instrumental pieces are wholly another matter. For them I’d say at least a minute is needed, perhaps more.

  18. Make the Preview as long as you want but for gods sake please dont cut it just after the break ends. I buy my Tracks mostly beceause of a long deep break that ends with a slap in your face and you start to fuckin dance…

  19. I think 30s is the best way to tease the listener into downloading the full song. At which stage he/she will already have a copy of said track in decent quality and not take the bother to go back to the site and buy it.
    With full but lofi preview, at least the potential buy stays on the site to listen and has less hassle to go through if he/sha wants to conclude the transaction.

  20. If you are doing sub-four-minute radio-friendly tracks where the groove, hook, or feel of the song are obvious within 30 seconds, go for the shorter.

    If you are creating music DJs might purchase for clubs and whatnot, for the love of God, allow full song play. I can’t count the number of times I’ve bought a dance track from a 30 second snippet that turned out to be completely different then whatever random section of the song they chose to sample. It just doesn’t work with a small snippet.

  21. I allow full mp3’s to be downloaded.

    I made this decision because I felt it was in my interests that directors (I do music for film/tv) have the full track to select pieces from. I work out licensing details later.

    I have no idea if I’d get more placements with :30 previews, but I suspect not.

  22. Not sure how it is for you Oliver, but I have found that people have actually ripped my songs from the extremely low quality myspace player to have/ use in their DJ sets. And I am not even a big name, even in the already infinitesimal world of drum & bass. It could be more of problem in just DNB, but I would assume it is also a problem in more popular genres as well (I.e., people ripping low quality mp3s if the entire song is posted).

    Sucks for me haha, as I’ve sold a whopping total of 10 mp3s on Beatport/ itunes/ & Juno downloads. But then again I obviously wouldn’t make drum & bass if I wanted to make money making music.

  23. I am building a new website (not yet published) and have to decide whether to let visitors to my site listen to the whole song or just a snippet. Personally, I always feel a little angry when I hear a good song and then it ends before I want it to. I usually leave the site without buying anything. A lot of the music I have on my site is for film and television so I allow for the whole thing to be heard. Any self-respecting film producer is not going to rip off an MP3 to use in an expensive film production. I let them know on my site page that a broadcast quality audio file will be made available to them if they want a license, and I provide a direct email link so they can get in touch.

    My pop albums are different. Once I posted full length tunes on my site, sales dropped off. I wasn’t getting rich from digital or hard copy sales of my albums anyway and I think that a pleasant experience on my website is more important than 1 or 2 more album sales. My site exists to showcase my music, not my marketing skills. However, most large digital distribution companies agree; 30 second snippets sell more songs. They are not artists. They are businessmen/women. Back and forth it goes. Somebody help me before I chuck the whole thing and take up fly-fishing.

  24. Why oh why oh why can’t they just give us the option to choose for ourselves!
    Either 30 second, 1 minute, 2 minutes or full track.

    Give use the option.. it’s our music and fans!

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