I’ve abandoned Spotify and iTunes this morning in favour of MySpace, listening to pre-release streams of the new albums by Kasabian and Little Boots.A few plays later, and I’ve got a pretty good idea which tracks are great and which are fodder. Come next Monday when the albums come out, I’ll probably be buying 4-5 tracks from each album.As a consumer, the ability to listen to albums before their release is a huge benefit, letting me figure out before buying whether Kasabian’s new psychedelic direction means they’ve ditched the tunes, or whether Little Boots is style over substance (in both cases, the answer is ‘not entirely, but a little bit’, since you ask).But what’s the effect for an industry that’s trying to encourage fans to buy more digital albums rather than cherry-picking the tracks they like?You could argue that the increasing popularity of such pre-release streams on MySpace, Spotify and We7 – not to mention the full-fat streaming services offered by those and other companies – actively encourages cherry-picking. With Spotify working with 7Digital on the ability for users to buy entire playlists, this will only increase.I should be clear: I’m not claiming this is A Bad Thing And Should Be Stopped. It ties into the whole ‘if artists want people to buy their whole albums, they should stop putting duff tracks on them’ debate, after all. And it may be that by allowing such cherry-picking, net sales actually rise as people buy more music.It would be fascinating to see some research into the purchasing habits of fans who stream before they buy, though. Do they buy less full albums but more music overall? And if so, will this hasten – cliche alert – the death of the album? Or, if you want a more wordy phrase to describe what the likes of Spotify are up to, the rise of the self-compiled digital compilation? I said it was wordy…

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