The Death of Albums and Dominance of Singles

It's always fun to read one of Bob Lefsetz's tirades about the music industry.  His latest rant can be summarized -- focus on great singles, forget the album:

Yes, the iPod has killed the album.  Technology has changed the format once again. And, since an iPod can contain MORE MUSIC THAN ALMOST EVERYBODY EVER OWNED, there isn’t time for crap.  You now have access to too much good stuff, WHY listen to the crap? The album is OVER! Start hyping one cut.  And if that catches fire, deliver ANOTHER!

True dat.  And yet, for some reason, I've always seen an album in my future, when my single-song catalog expands a bit...  Why? Scott Andrew chimes in

"There's a validation that comes from making an album (where "album" means both "physical product" and "collection of songs"). Artists want to release them because having an album still makes us feel legitimate."

True dat too.  It's cool to be able to piont to a physical work and say, "That's my album."  Bob Baker adds:

However, I also think that artists still need a physical product with 10 to 15 songs on it to sell at live shows, and to make available to fans who still want a CD to hold in their hands (and there are lots of them left -- don't kid yourself).

So it's economically smart as well, and honestly, music fans still buy albums.

I think we'll see more 3- and 4-song albums in the future.  If you think of the music release strategy used by DIY musicians such as Jonathan Coulton, BradSucks, MC Frontalot, and Scott Andrew, they actually resemble a sequence of singles, followed by an album which is analagous to a "Greatest Hits" compilation.  It's the reverse of the normal record label push:  Blast big albums which are carried by a few heavily promoted hits.  Yay, bedroom pop.

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Comments

The value is not only in the physical, completeness of an album, but that is demonstrates a body of work, not just a single effort. Think article and book, or photgraph and exhibit, or video short and film. Each is art, and meaningful in its own way, but the longer form of each feels more complete.

I'm an album guy, myself. I think a band is only really able to show its teeth as artists in the album format. I don't like that the state of the music industry is such that kids are able to pull one song off the internet somewhere and discard the rest (though I've been guilty of doing it myself). As usual, everything in my life can be tied to Pearl Jam, but it's mostly relevant here, as Ed Vedder was recently quoted as saying that they make records for people who like to listen to music all the way through, wit headphones on, in the dark, eyes closed. That experience is so vital, and is lacking in a lot of music nowadays.

I can't agree with you guys more. My two favorite albums ever are still The Wall by Pink Floyd (unbelievable), and the White Album by the Beatles.

But not everyone's an audiophile, and not everyone wants to walk through a Picasso gallery. Most people are happy with mounting a Picasso "greatest hits" calendar, or a playing a few songs that will ge them through a morning jog.

What can ya do.

I don't listen singles, I always discover artists by listening their albums, because it's great to discover music which others don't know well. Something like tasting a food for the first time. Singles? They're for commercial, so this is where art dies. Btw i loved your point on this subject.

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