The Album As a Form of Art is Dying
I hate to say it, but albums just aren't what they used to be. No one is interested anymore in listening to albums from start to finish in their correct playing order. We now live in a world dominated by MP3 players and iTunes in which 'shuffle' and 'playlisting' has become more popular.
I am against the fact that albums are no longer a popular listening format, the play order of an album is there for a reason: to take you on a musical journey from start to end. Can anyone really justify selecting one song from 'Dark Side Of The Moon' to listen to instead of the whole thing? It was made to be listened to from start to finish, instead of picking and choosing the way that you want to listen to it.
Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin released a minimal amount of singles (only one or two each) and just released the album for people to buy. It never did them any harm so why not do it now?
The album is dying a slow death in the 21st century, with many album tracks not being given a chance in favour of the singles off of them. Now you can buy individual tracks from online retailers I am asking is this letting a lot of good music slip away?
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Pick and choose
I believe that allowing people to buy their favourite tracks from albums (which are usually just the songs that are played on the radio and released as singles), means a vast amount of music from every album sometimes goes unrecognised.
Does this mean to say that in today's world, bringing out an album has more disadvantages than advantages.
For example, if many people just buy certain individual tracks, is it not a waste of effort on the other tracks made for an album?
If the album survived singles and the radio hype machine then pick and choose won't be any different. The same casual listeners not listening to other tracks on albums and singles aren't listening to any less music when they buy pick and choose. If anything people have more options to discover obscure music than before through things like Last.fm, Pandora, and music blogs if they so choose to. Admittedly people might be more inclined to listen to more music when they are forced to buy full albums for the songs they want but the internet more than makes up for this. The hardcore have the options to find and appreciate more music, albums being one of them, and the people who just want the hits now have an option too. Choice is never a bad thing.
People do not discover album tracks as they simply buy what they hear on the radio
The underlying reason for the album dying as a format, is due to the fact that people only buy the songs they hear on the radio which, to a great degree, are the singles released from an album.
It essentially means that artists are concentrating on making great singles whilst many put 'filler' material onto their albums. There are not many that put much effort into making an album sound great from start to finish, many nowadays sound patchy.
I am proposing for a great album to be made Radiohead know how to do it just look at 'In Rainbows'. But many of the new bands around don't, and this looks to follow suit in the digital age.
Radio has existed for over a hundred years and has seen the full breadth of the rise and decline of album as a format. So it is not so much the fact that people "just want to buy the radio singles." Granted I do agree with the fact that more and more consumers are becoming aware of the major labels' shameless practice, that of selling a garbage album on the strength of one or two singles.
The REAL issue is of distribution, not marketing. In the past artists had little choice BUT to make an hour-long album, whether they had the talent of Radiohead or not. It was simply not cost effective to put two songs on a disc and sell it at a fraction of the price of a full-length album.
But now the Internet has facilitated this sort of distribution. Radiohead and frontman Thom Yorke have again been pioneers in this field, by simply releasing a song or two periodically when they feel is "finished," without calling it a "single" for the next album. (I dont even know if they are making a new album).
Therefore in today's world, if an artist only has the talent (or passion) to make one or two good songs, they can sell just those songs over the Internet and still make a profit. They do not need to borrow money from the labels to make a garbage album with 90% filler material which they can't even be proud of and then have the album flop and remain in permanent debt to the label.
So people who have it in them to make a full-length album will continue to do so, while others will not. It's that simple. Musicians are just people, after all, and no one says one has to be a full-time musician, or be that prolific.
Progress does not obliterate, it creates.
This particular debate is identical to that which currently haunts literary circles prophesying the death of the book. The idea that technologoical advances can only be attained at the cost of its predecessor seems somewhat limited to me. In literature, forms of storytelling existed long before the novel and the book. The oral tradition for example, or even, quite fittingly in song. With the creation of writing these methods were not abandoned. They exist still today. Over the millenia literature expanded to include poems of different types from the haiku to the epic. The novel was born and subsequently a galaxy of genres evolved within that medium. Now we have this proposed threat from modern technology. A similar threat was percieved when the printing press was invented yet it did not bring about any literary apocalypse but instead it expanded the literary universe. When new mediums and methods are created they simply add to the options of the artist. The book will not die. It will just be given more rivals.
The same goes for the album. Did the birth of the recording industry replace live music? No. It supplemented it. The technology of the internet and the downloading culture it facilitates is not going to stop or prevent artists from composing collections of pieces that correspond within their ordained organisation. What it does do is alter how they expose their art. It also allows the listener greater control over what they hear. They can if they wish take only those pieces which they enjoy most and discard the rest or they can follow the intentions of the artist and keep the collection as a single work of art. I believe it is the seemingly increasing prevailance of this capacity for choice the listener posesses that has led to the idea of the Death of the album. Because people seem to be deconstructing albums to suit their taste the music world has become alerted to a threat to its most revered form. However, this attitude is not new. It has merely become exposed because of the communality of the internet. Long before we were able to detect people ripping albums apart listeners in their own homes skipped over songs the didnt like and made compilation tapes of those they did.
For every person that wants a single song there is another who wants a large scale collection. For every artist that thrives on singles there ill be another that focuses his energy on albums. This is how it has always been and I cannot see how the internet will bring it to an end. What I can see however, is the genesis of new musical forms, hitherto inconcievable.
What do you think?