Friday, January 29, 2010

Death of An Album (A Contrarion Truth)

The album is futile.

The CD is dead.

(in rock speak that means still alive but not really)

It's hard to believe once in history 90,000 people gathered in Chicago to blow up albums ~ July 12, 1979.

A major Artist sees what an Indie Artist might not know.

Inspiration-wise, a single generates more exposure and listening sessions than an album. And financially online (here's the change), a single (in $) can sell more than an album of 12 songs. Even a single from that same album.

I first saw him in a New York basement. He put people in a trance. He had no album.

"Every once in a while, an artist comes along who changes everything...this person fills a void within the fabric of our culture--a hole we didn’t even know was there."

~ Eric Lewis prompted one critic to write this. He was then featured by TED and BET Honors (this month). Still no album.

An album might be priced higher, and valued priceless by its Artist, but a single from it generates the core income and audience (even to sell/promote an album).

Six years ago, singles at one download store with 1 million songs generated 2-3 times more income than album sales. Since then, album sales have declined significantly, and income from singles increases every year. I used to think it was because albums took too long to download (even for Radiohead's In Rainbows), but now i am not so sure.

Thom Yorke was first thinking of releasing singles only by download (not an album). I admired Radiohead's elastic pricing of pay what you want, but didnt have enough time for an album download sitting when In Rainbows was released on October 10, 2007. And i am big fan who would've paid. I was traveling, working every day. The average buyer paid £4. One third paid nothing, one survey of 3000 people reported.

For a fan like me of the album - the whole concept, the complete body of inspiration, the full vision... I have a nostalgic emotional attachment to this. Albums changed my life. Not all of them, but enough of them. So this is hard to admit: As a digital money-maker, the album is on its way out. There are also less and less good albums.

The listening experience is no longer an album. It's a playlist of singles by one Artist mixed in with other Artists. This playlist is the album - and hopefully its songs are compatible. Songs by VERY different Artists.

July 12, 1979 ~ when people cared a lot for albums, and the compatibility of music.

Even YouTube promotes one song at a time. Not an album. Youtube channels of multiple songs from one Artist are shared far less.

The last frontier of the album is the automobile (where there are still CD players in spite of an iPod invasion), back catalogue (classic albums) and live music shows (emotive impulse buys). But even then, i see how it's more efficient to only distribute songs people like a lot--versus an album reluctantly played in full (if at all). Few people play an album just to hear one song. Even fewer play an entire album. This curbs an album-focused Artist's play time.

It's hard to believe on July 12, 1979, 90,000 people gathered at a Chicago baseball stadium to blow up albums because they thought Disco music wasn't worthy of an album.

A bonfire was made from albums. After music fans burned albums, near-riots broke out in Chicago. You could get beat up for liking disco. A DJ was fired after a radio station shifted from album-oriented rock, to disco singles. I liked rock (but was also a Bee Gees and Donna Summer fan). People gained admission for 98 cents if they brought a disco album (an ingenius promotion that will not be tried again). The DJ lit the explosives to blow up a pile of albums, tearing a hole in outfield and starting a fire. Near-rioting fans then spilled onto the field, later met by riot police.

Back then, music fans actually cared a lot for what was on an album. Today this would never happen. Disco has even made its way back. It was great music (made for today's singles market) just different than great album music of the day.

Today we are lucky to even hear great new music. One blogger called much of today's downloads "perishable music." Downloads aren't as collectible. Once you finish digesting it, it's gone. Alternatively, one can argue there's too much choice. Next.

I still remember her first words that grabbed me: "Get up, get up, your lazy bones. There's enough time to sleep in the grave."

I think she was only 19 when she wrote Headroom. She has no album.

At shows, I've heard people sing Kate's lyrics. Without an album, they also remember this title:

Aim Low

Historically, the old-school way, music is released on an album. After this, you might not ever hear from this Artist again (or for a while).

The new school is what I experienced with Kate. "Serialized music." Or "episodic music." You release songs in a series people follow. I can't wait for her next song. In this model, you're also only as good as your last song (bad/good), not your last album.

These days there's barely enough time to sample two new songs. The trick is to offer one that causes a listener to sample another. Seems obvious, but so many Artists peddle an overwhelming volume of titles (everything important to the Artist but lost in a boundless sea of other Artists).

I am not surprised to have received this email today:

"MuchMusic spoke to k-os last night... where he gave Much the scoop about his new plan for releasing music.

No More Albums ~ K-OS

`…I'm not going to make any more albums... I think we're just going to drop singles for a couple years and see what happens. If those singles are successful, maybe put out a compilation of the ones that people like and call it an album, like what Elvis and The Beatles did.'

`I've been [in the studio] for 10 years of my life. I kinda just want to stay immediate. I think with Lil' Wayne and our dude Drake, it's showing you don't have to make an album. So the next thing I do is probably a single a month with a video, then another single with a video and keep it current.”

It goes without saying that record stores are reducing inventory (decreasing demand) and shelf space (DVDs sell better than CDs). Radio stations receive music more often now as downloads - singles not albums. Albums were made for a day when we could only access 1000 records we liked. We are now in the 1 million-song universe. No one has the time to rifle through so much music. Not the fan. Not the critic. Not even a musician.

Valerie just arrived in Cali to see the Grammy Awards. She has no album.

PS Fresh off Twitter....i just saw Eric finally released an album. Available at Like i said, this blog is contrarion ;). There's no one way street in music. And thankfully, no dead ends.

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