As I'm new to the Americana music scene, as it is for most things, the internet is the best resource for researching artists in the Americana/alt-country genre. One of the things I like best about these sites, is that most of these artists are signed to independent labels. As such, the artist and record label are a little more free flowing with access to the music. Independent labels, as it is well known, don't typically receive priority when it comes to airplay on your local radio station. Labels like Big Machine Records which house Taylor Swift, or Broken Bow Records, home to Jason Aldean, are anomalies in the business. Those artists could record themselves singing the phone book and they would go to number one. Not that they're bad artists, they are putting out some great material ... it's just that their recording careers are that hot right now.
Anyway, back to the web sites. One of the things I love about independent artist sites is the apparent freedom that their record label permits them. They are allowed to stream entire albums and complete songs for the visitor to listen to. Really, it's a free promotional opportunity for the artist. Having visited numerous sites, I can honestly say, I don't know why most other artists, independent or otherwise, don't have this option for their fans/casual listeners. I get that they don't want to have their material stolen from the web site, but there are enough security options in place to prevent most of this from happening (nothing is foolproof). Still, there is a lot to be said for allowing the listener to preview a few tracks before making a purchase.
For example, Paul Thorn has a great web site. Recording for his own label, Perpetual Obscurity Records, Paul provides a section of clips in their entirety from his whole catalog. It allows the listener to follow Paul's career, albeit on a lighter scale (there are only 12 songs on this "jukebox"), yet it promotes all of his albums and his music throughout his recording career. This tool has been effective in several ways, at least for this listener. First, I will be picking up a couple of Paul Thorn albums in the near future. Second, I'll likely be checking out his show if and when he comes within a reasonable distance of the area.
Raul Malo is another artist who seems to get the advantages of putting songs in their entirety on his web site. Malo, the current president of the Americana Music Association and past lead singer of the Mavericks, is not signed to his own label but has the luxury of placing songs on his web site. Now, Malo is one of the best crooners in any genre of music. Anybody who is reading this entry, please do yourself a favor and log on to raulmalo.com and check out the jukebox section. If it doesn't make you want to pick up his entire catalog, nothing will.
On the flip side of it, one of the things that irritates me about some sites is the sampling. They'll provide 30 second sample of their songs, although sometimes you don't know it's only 30 seconds. It's a little tease, it hooks you in with the promise of something grander and just as you're about to get in to the good stuff, it's gone ... on to the next one. It drives me nuts, just as you're getting in to the song, it flips to the next one. This is the way a lot of artists prefer to promote their music, and I'm not sure it's the best way. I'm pretty sure I would pick up the album anyway, but it's not a guarantee. Let me listen to the whole song and I'll decide then. More often then not, I'll be sold. Listening to a really great (even a really good song) all the way through typically means I want to listen to it again. Samples do nothing for that sort of feeling ... that feeling of knowing you have listened to a really great song.
Here's hoping that someday soon, all record labels will realize the value of allowing their artists the freedom of posting their music in it's entirely on the artists' web site. I'm thrilled when I see some of these independent labels who allow it. Like I said, it's free marketing. The artist is going to have their web site anyway, and they will have their share of loyal fans and new fans who will take the time to check out the site. Honestly, what harm can it do? Sadly, there aren't a whole lot of people that are going to the record shop to by entire, full length albums anyway. If full-length samples get people back in to the record shop and they make purchase, then in my mind it seems worth it.