This fall, music companies are cranking out fresh CD and tape albums like there's no tomorrow (or recession) -- some weeks offering as many as 80 new pop-music titles.
Still, most conservative pop-radio stations are adding only their usual handful of new singles -- maybe five songs a week -- for serious spinning.
Where does this leave the music-loving consumer? To a large degree, out in the cold, reluctant to take a hike without a map. The situation is especially bleak for fans of heavy rock, rap and jazz, since precious little of that music gets air play.
Touch Tunes invites you to try before you buy, by dialing into its 900 phone number (1-900-776-TUNE) for snippets of up to 6 tracks off a new album. Using a touch-tone phone, you can switch between musical categories (rock and pop, urban sounds, modern rock, hard rock, sneak previews and "critic's choices") and within a specific style from artist to artist. Pressing a phone button or two also allows you to fast forward or rewind the music, or check out record reviews and news. And you can order albums directly.
Touch Tones charges vary from 95 cents a minute for the multi-label, multi-category listening booth experience, to 45 cents for an artist-specific preview, as is now being offered for new works by Vanessa Williams and Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora.
"The difference is that Mercury Records is subsidizing these artists, as part of an overall marketing campaign to break the albums," explains Touch Tunes president Rob Duner-Fenter. The phone previews are being "cross-merchandised" with magazine ads for the artists.
Variations on the theme are forthcoming with the magazines Spin, Jazziz and Sterling Publishing's Metal Edge, Metal Maniacs, Black Heat and Right On. Touch Tune previews will be available for all music products advertised in upcoming holiday issues, with the tuning-in costing you up to 79 cents a minute. (Entertainment Weekly has its own, competitive service, 1-900-HOT-HITS, offering snippets from reviewed albums at 99 cents a minute.)
"As the volume of calls goes up, our per-call price will go down," promises Fenter. "We'd like it to become a free 800 service, with record companies and a major sponsor footing the bills."