Is The Music Album An Outdated Concept?

from the wheels-of-steel dept

The general idea of the long tail is that instead of focusing on churning out just a few “hits”, content producers should put out a wide array of content that appeals to many different niches. Chris Anderson, who coined the phrase, says that a decline in the number of gold and platinum music albums reflects this. But is it the long tail, or is it just that people prefer buying individual songs to full albums these days? Research regularly points out that people think CDs are overpriced, a common sentiment being that you have to buy a bunch of songs you don’t want to get the few — or one — that you do want. Now, with downloading making it so easy to purchase single tracks, is the idea of the album — like the television channel — an outdated one? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point these days in insisting that content be bundled to a particular means of distribution.

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Comments on “Is The Music Album An Outdated Concept?”

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Krayol says:

Re: No Subject Given

I agree. The only real chance the record companies have is to make records a reasonable price (and films too) before P2P and “borrowing from a friend” becomes the absolute norm.

I’d be delighted to spend ?4 on a disc or ?6 on a film – and I’d buy far more of them. At that level it’s not worth the hassle & risk of duplication & P2P.

However, while many artists now offer direct sales at a much lower price, I can only see the record companies looking harder and harder for impossible technical means of keeping prices artificially high in a market where they have already lost control.

Galley (user link) says:

Re: No Subject Given

I guess you’ve never heard of, a new service from BMG. They have 14,000 titles for $5.99 each with free shipping. There’s no limit, and no minimum purchase. You only agree to purchase one $5.99 disc per month of your choice, not theirs. I’ve been using them for a year now, and have purchased about 30 titles. Double-disc sets are $11.98 and boxed sets are $17.97 and $23.94; all with free shipping. 🙂

Dave says:

Albums as an artistic whole

If an album is just a collection of individual songs created to fill a hunk of reflective plastic, then I agree. There are albums in the past that were more than that and made sense, but it sure seems that those are few and far between nowadays.

I have to say though, I have Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway album and there’s not a clunker on it. Still, it’s not like the collection of songs had to go on the same album…the live “Beautiful Disaster” in particular seems like they were trying to fill the album. Of course that is the exception, it’s like quintiple platinum at this point.

SuperJudge says:

Re: Re: Albums as an artistic whole

“Exactly! Maybe movies will be the same way? I’ll pay for the scene where the T-Rex eats the lawyer, and you can keep the rest!”

I would have bought more than that. I wouldn’t have paid to have the scene where the chaotician was lying bare-chested on a table after his leg was broken. Frikkin’ FEJF DOGLMUBL.

Jake (user link) says:

Albums vs. Singles

It’s important to keep in mind that the whole idea the album as we know it is a very recent invention. Only since the 1960s (a little earlier in the jazz world) have musicians considered the LP a cohesive work of art.

Rock and roll was built on the singles market. And iTunes is starting to bring it back around to that model.

But there are still plenty of musicians who put a lot of effort into crafting an album that stands up as a solid work. Most of these albums get ignored by MTV and commercial radio, but they’re out there if you know where to look!

By the way, the whole idea of an “album” started out as a collection of 78s. If you look at the first albums, they look a lot like photo albums with several record sleeves bound together in a book!

Jimmy Bear Pearson (user link) says:

Albums vs. Singles in a collection...

I’m with several of the commenters here… Some albums are just a set of songs. But, some musicians/artists spend a good deal of time picking tunes that work together, and sometimes even tell a story as a whole.

I personally would miss the albums that are cohesive works. I still like to produce my work that way (although I do have singles on the ‘net for fun). The Wall, Tommy, Night At The Opera, AcoustiZilla, and countless soundtracks…

Tyshaun says:

The problem is multipart...

1. I think there’s such an emphasis on profits and “maintaining hotness” that artists take one or two good songs, bundle them with mediocre ones, and throw it out there, just to keep something in the pipeline.

2. I wish that the LP (and its CD cousins) didn’t go away. Some people, like the earlier days of Prince (The Artist, or whatever the hell he calls himself) used the LP to tell a story, every song blended into the next, there were these weird interludes between songs, it was an experience, not a bunch of singles put together. I don’t know if most mainstream talent even has that kind of skill anymore.

Grant Kidd (user link) says:

Virtual music as albums

What’s even more interesting is that many virtual music releases – those that are never packaged on any physical medium, are also still being released in ‘album’ format. Sometimes they are referred to as EPs, LPs, and 7″.

In many instances this method is valuable in that it puts together a group of songs that are similar and that people might like. Economically, it also makes sense – but strictly in an ‘a la carte’ environment’ – because the songs are ‘offered’ as part of a collection but can be bought (or downloaded) seperate. Just like each album is part of a collection of musician releases (which is part of a collection of genres)

bigpicture says:

Outdated Concept

I think that you hit the nail right square on the head here. Why is it taking the recording industry so long to see this? (1) People don’t want re-buy music that they already have to get it onto a more modern or portable media. (2) If you already have the music on analogue media, and you want it on digital media, are you going to go out and buy it on digital format (Cd’s), are you going to buy an expensive A/D converter, and record these to your PC, or are you going to download these.
The choice is basically the same when the cassette tape recorders first came out, you recorded from your vinyl LPs to play in your car, but never the whole LP, just the songs that you like the most. The thing about this was that you still had to buy all the songs in the marketed package. But not any more, the internet is the great world wide distribution system that nullifies that requirement.
So now you have the RIAA trying to make people buy all the songs in the marketed package, or buy songs over that they already have on different media. They can’t seem to understand that, that method of recording, packaging and marketing is just like the vinyl LP, goooonnnne! People now have choices to buy single songs and make their own LPs as it were, so they are no longer going to pay for a bunch of crap, just to get to the good stuff.

me says:

Re: No Subject Given

I agree that some of the artistry in art is in the artist’s choice of a particular collection of pieces. I recall a news story in which Georgia O’Keefe (in a different medium) donated multiple paintings to a museum as part of a particular collection in which she saw a certain symbiotic value. A big scandal erupted when the museum considered selling a single piece. To the extent that you value O’Keefe’s art, you may or may not agree with the museum’s decision. Music can be that way, but only when the artist truly contemplates (as Ms. O’Keefe did when she made this bequeath) what it means to have these particular pieces together. I believe that, on the whole, few artists do this today, and I welcome the opportunity to buy more selectively.

BillDivX says:

Pretty much cant help but agree here

And I’ve got the proof to back it up. I am a software engineer by day, but the rest of the time I am a working (but unsigned) Artist. As such, I have a pretty high criticality toward music. I do download many many songs. I also buy a lot of albums. And I think this hits the nail on the head as to what makes the difference. I will listen to all sorts of music. but I won’t go buy the album unless several songs off of it grab me. Just spent too much time and money listening to albums with one good song on them.
I’ve felt for quite a while now that the “concept” album, and indeed, any sort of cohesive album, has been dying or dead for a while. It makes sense from a marketing perspective. Why allow artists 3x the production time to produce a cohesive product when the marketing crew assumes that the average listener will only be hearing a single, off the radio, internet, or on MTV. Of course they are focused on producing good singles. Because they found that they can cram an album down most people’s throat just as easily with 1 good single as with a whole album. Sometimes easier. Have you ever noticed that on your favorite albums, the ones you still listen to in their entirety, that you first listened to the hits, and the rest of the songs grew on you later? The hits grabbed you right away, but eventually you came to appreciate the album as a whole because the rest of the songs were still well done and fit into the album well. Other albums, there’s a few hits, and you never want to hear the other songs again. Those albums were made with the “you can’t make everything a hit” mentality. They figure, I’m not good enough to make every song a hit, so I won’t try to, I’ll cram all my talent into a couple and then crank out a bunch of “filler.” Then I count on the couple hits to sell the album to most folks.
Back in the day, say, led zeppelin, for example, would take a general idea and apply it to a whole album. They made a bluesy slow album, they made a blazing hot bordering on metal album. This approach is less likely to produce mega hits, opposed to trying to cram all your hit potential in a few songs, but it makes for a better album overall. The super extension of this theory is the concept album, where the idea isn’t even a general one, the entire album is devoted to one central idea. Jethro Tull famously responded to people incorrectly labelling their album a concept album by making a REAL concept album. It was one 45 minute song.
This is exactly why I have spent the last six months on my latest project, coincidentally, a concept album. I wanted to try to bring that art form back, feeling that it has been lost and underappreciated. And, of course, also to see if I could set such an abmitious goal and actually complete it. I can say as of last tuesday that I have finished writing the songs and starting recording. And I have to say, I was still surprised to see that property of a concept album come out. Some songs are defintite hits. other songs I can already tell would not do too well on the radio. But I still like how they work in the album. It’s quite interesting. I tested it on my friend. I played him one I thought would be a good radio hit, and he loved it immediately. a week later, a song that would not do well on it’s own. This one, he did not like. but upon hearing it later in series with some of the other songs, he suddenly found that it had grown on him tremendously. That, I’ve found, from first hand experience of song writing, is the difference between the two albums. with the cohesive albums, the “filler” is filler that still works well in the context of the other songs around it. filler for the sake of filler often stands out as just filler. The difference in what I did, I think, was simply that I was focused on the album as a whole, from the very beginning. I was not trying to write “hits” or “filler”, I was trying to write songs that fit a general message I wanted the album to deliver. At no time did I sit down and say “I am trying to write a hit” or “I am just trying to write filler”. In each and every song there were parts that got me truly excited over something I did which I felt was a stroke of genius. Some of those were small some were large. but if, at any time, I felt that the genius wasn’t coming, I didn’t throw the song in as “filler”, I threw it in the trash. I think most artists these days don’t do it that way anymore, either by their own focus on writing a few hits, or by pressure from the record label to produce an album that will sell, on a set time or budget.

Nico says:

No Subject Given

I pretty much agree with the sentiment that to the mainstream media and “industry” types, a full length CD is a pretty obsolete concept. But for me, the word “album” has always meant a full and cohesive piece of work from the recording artist, that needs to be listened to from beginning to end to be properly absorbed. Sure, it’s wishful thinking that “popular” musicians would try to attain this kind of artistic integrity in their work when they can just record a couple of “safe” hits and bundle them with a bunch of crap no-one wants, in which case sinlge track downloads are better for everyone involved. But the concept of an “album” is not going away at any time soon, I think that’s pretty clear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cover Art No more!

The problem started with the dawn on the CD. Vinyl Records had cover art! they had inserts with posters, lyrics, album reviews. Vinyl had weight and substance to it. Artists use to paint a picture, it was’nt just the artist on the front cover with there name in lights. The pictures from back then were amazing, look at all old Artists, ELO, ELP, Zeplin, Doors, Stones, Moody Blues, If you collected all of Yes’s Albums they created a giant picture, Tell me a artist who can match the glory days, You can’t!! Everybody now is about the money not about the music, and that goes for quality also. It seems that stereo has been lost. Take a listen to the Doors; that is what you call stereo, the music surrounds you and fills you within. If you still have a record collection take a look at it, feel it, and listen to it. Remember the true definition of music….

Evan (user link) says:

Re: its all ridiculous

I think it is all too much of a hassle. CDs are too expensive, iTunes is too proprietary to iPods, and any pay for music downloading service doesn’t necessarily offer the any song you could want, like iTunes doesn’t offer Beatles, right? And when they do have songs you want, you’re paying for a compressed track, mp3s are not as high quality as CDs, even though you can’t always tell.

hollums says:

No Subject Given

i cant say i agree with this at all! the people buying one or two songs from an artist are complete idiots! the people doing such are mainly listening to top 40 music.

the smarter ones that really care about the music download it illegaly, and download the full albums. as i do. sure pirating music is wrong, but im not gonna stop. because if i did stop, i would loose all touch with music. all of it. no way in hell im going to buy overpriced music from the bull shit companies just trying to get in touch with the next big money maker. no way in hell.

Nico says:

No Subject Given

I’m noticing a pattern here. It’s not downloads that’s killing the music industry, but the music industry itself. Sure, Techdirt has stated dozens of times that the old business models can’t carry through to the digital age, but the old business models were never good to begin with! Exploit the artists, produce mediocre crap and try to squeeze top dollar from the consumers. It’d be foolish to think there’s going to be any big idealistic turnaround just because the format is different.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No Subject Given

For what its worth i’m adding my opinion:

Dont you just hate putting an album on for friends to listen to(i mean an ALBUM not a collection of 3 alright(ish) songs and some crap filler to make the CD last 45mins) only for them to start skipping tracks after hearing only seconds of each one because they want to get to the hits!?

I know you could say that maybe i’m misguided and infact the tracks they are skipping ARE crap filler but you’l have to trust me that this happens no matter what i play and i’m not some top 40 listening teeny bopper !! If you ask me (we are talking REAL music here not crap top 40 style stuff) albums are how the artist intended you to listen to their songs. They intentionally packaged the songs in that order to create an atempt at atmosphere. OK not all manage to pull this off but to ignore their wishes and listen to the album in any other order is an insult to the artists work. If you dont like their work, dont listen to it but please dont start skipping parts just to get to the “best” bits!!

Sorry if that seems a bit off topic but what i’m getting at is that an album as a whole can mean a lot more then just a collection of songs and shouldnt be allowed to be forgotten !

Nico says:

Re: Re: No Subject Given

I agree with you wholeheartedly Annonymous Coward. To me, an album is just as much a costruct of the band as an individual song, much the same as a chapter in a book, etc. Of course, not always the case, but whatever.

And Paul, even Seventh Son had some rubbish. I, for one, can’t really handle “CAN I PLAY WITH MADNESS!?!?” over and over and over, it gets on my nerves. Damn cheesy. The rest of the album is amazing though.

~CW~ says:

Re: Re: Re: No Subject Given

yea the industry is killing itself

by producing run of the mill garbage they are encurraging us to only get a couple of songs, or not buy the album at all. so there profits are going down so they put the prices up and say “downloads are destroying the artists!!” i wouldnt be surprised if the industries profit margins have hardly changed and its the money the artists are getting that is going down

the fact is there is something magical about an album (weather its on cd, vinyl or even tape casset) you open it up and sick it ur in player and you are involved in this ride of emotion and passion, trapped in the music.

downloaded music just dosnt have the same effect.

albums are artworks, they need to be mixed and ordered properly to keep you intrested and on the edge of ur seat enjoying everything you hear

or at least thats how it should be.

simon says:

Re: Re: Re:2 No Subject Given

Can you imagine never hearing “The Wall” or “Dark side of the moon” in its entirety? or what about “Undertow” or “Aenima” ? If you are a rock fan you know that these cd’s should never be split into single tracks like that. Selling single tracks is another way of bastardizing a dying art form. If you want to make a mixed cd then fine, but only after you’ve heard the full project. I don’t think 15 bucks is too much to ask.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 No Subject Given

For every album that is a whole construct there are 1000 that are just eight or ten songs churned out to fill an album. This was just as true 30 years ago as it is now. The Beatles generated just as much crap as gold. Back then you could buy a 45 of a song you liked for a buck and if you could buy the whole album for five or six. I have a whole shelf full of CDs with one song I like and seven or eight that just blow. The last CD I bought was an oldie off for a song I couldn’t get anywhere else. Other than that I download from iTunes because paying 99 cents for a song is reasonable but having to pay 18 bucks for the whole CD is not. They even used to have cassette singles for a few bucks up until about 1990. About the BMG thing: isn’t mail-order music deader than vaudville? Who wants to wait 2-3 weeks for a record that will probably be off the charts by the time you get it anyway and probably won’t be available from them until it hits the cutout bin at Wal Mart.

Paul says:

Album quality has droped

The problem with buying albums is that barly any are all good songs, one or two good ones and they rest is
crap,why arn’t there albums that are either, A. a story or concept album, eg: Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
and why are people putting allthe crap on an album in the first place, if you cant fill it with good stuff don’t
just cram it with the leftovers.

BigDogg says:

It's about the consumer not the artist

Companies are in the business to make money, plain and simple. Consumers want what we want, plain and simple. The two concepts don’t always converge. If a business can’t find a way to make a profit, they go out of business. A good business knows how to listen to its consumers and make products which we want to purchase.
Now with that said, if I like an album or concept album, I’ll purchase it. If I’m in the mood to only purchase the ‘hits’ from the latest CD, I’ll do that too. It is partly the pricing and partly the music. I would rather spend my money on what I think is of value than waste my money on music which I know I won’t listen to again.
A musician or artist may want to produce a CD with 10-15 songs on it, but if I as the consumer only like or want 2, 4, or 5 of the titles, that?s all I want! If you as the artist are making music for the money, then you need to find some other way of making a living. If you are passionate about the music then do it because you need to fulfill something in yourself. Don’t think that everyone should or does share you opinion of your passion.
There is a pricing point where both artist and consumer can be happy. I think there are too many others that have their hand out between the two that make the prices where they are. I also think that with podcasts and other electronic means of distribution this makes the playing field much more even for the new artist.
As for myself, I don?t like piracy, but I will download new music for new or established artists so I can listen to it and decide if I like it. If I do like it, I will go to one of the downloadable services and purchase the song. If I don?t like it, I will delete it from my hard drive. Make things reasonable and people will do the right thing, but butt-holes like the RIAA that go around and sue everyone (even those people who can?t download songs because they don?t own a PC) and you make consumers turn against you.
My two cents

Tim (user link) says:

People buy what you produce and whinge about the r

10 years ago, I was fairly serious about CDs. To this day I prefer to listen to my music by the album-load, on the grounds that I tend to think some thought has gone into the track-order, etc. (Kudos to those who’ve pointed-out it’s far more flexible than that, too.)

OTOH, on ITMS, I download *mostly* individual tracks (and browse in order sorted by duration, descending) or the occasional piece of music – no sense in getting just one movement of Bach’s Cantata 82, when the full thing runs to 5 tracks and occupies half a CD in an album, is there?

Diogenes says:

One track mind

I am old enough to remember when 45 rpm was the playing choice of record for songs. Even then two sides were recorded (why waste the space?) and sometimes, not often, the reverse side track would be as good as the highly promoted side 1.
Then came Rock albums, then came CDs, following the historical music company penchant of geting more bucks from the music lover.
Now that even the most rabid fans of U2 and others can, and will, pick individual tracks to buy, why would we assume that other tracks won’t be purchased as well?
If they are reasonably priced, they will be. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see less songs recorded in total as an album, rather than more. Maybe we’ll find that releasing an “album’s” tracks over a period of weeks will actually generate more money, for both the artist and the label. Maybe not. But choice works best, so let’s have more choices.

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