Remember the days when you bought a CD just because you liked the artist? You weren't concerned about whether or not you'd like every song on the album. You were just a fan of the music, and you wanted to hear the latest stuff.
Then came the Preview Era. It started when when the bookstores were plugging in CD players and leaving one jewel case unwrapped so you could preview the album. Then, iTunes added the preview feature. First it was 30 seconds. Now it's 1:30. You can practically listen to half of an album before even buying it. The idea (I think) is to let the buyer decide which songs they like and don't like. They even show you the popularity of each song so you can stay away from the ones that supposedly suck. If I'm the artist, I'd be shouting at the top of my lungs, "Wait, I didn't spend countless hours with a pen and paper piecing my thoughts together and late nights in the studio slaving over these songs for you to only buy 1 or 2. I've got something to say!!"
I will be the first to admit taken advantage of these perks. I've been curious to hear an album (especially if it's a new artist) before I buy it. I've made the mistake of buying an album based on it's cover art or because of a hit song on the radio (See Eve6 and Cowboy Mouth - remember them?) However, those instances don't seem to occur that often. More often than not, we do ourselves a disservice by choosing not to buy an album simply because we didn't like what we initially heard. I will give you an example:
Sovereign Grace recently released a new album called From Age to Age. I previewed it on iTunes. Didn't love all of the songs, but because I'm always looking for new music, I decided to get the whole album anyway. I burned the mp3s to a CD and took them with me on a recent vacation. I was in the car all by myself for 8 hours up and 8 hours back. You know what happened? The songs that I would've initially brushed grew on me. I began to get a sense for what the song and the album was trying to communicate. The strange guitar licks became less strange, and the irregular meter went from "out of place" to "beautifully innovative." In essence, I got the context of the album. I felt as though the artists have took me on their spiritual journey, and I can now, to an extent, relate to what they're thinking and going through. And to add to it, I now have more songs to use in worship than if I had brushed it off from my initial listening experience.
I know it costs more to get the whole album. We're all trying to pinch pennies these days. But the next time someone gives you an iTunes gift card or you find yourself browsing about, consider buying one album instead of 5 individual songs from different artists. Listen to the whole album on a jog or during a lengthy car ride. You might decide after a few listens you don't dig every song, and that's highly likely. But you might also find that you've looked into a beautiful portrait instead of thumbing through paint samples.