Monday, July 09, 2007

The Death of the Album - or, Dancing on the Grave of the Music Industry

Over vacation, VoxMoose sent me a Slashdot posting on “the death of the album.” Nedmusic posted something similar recently as well, on the sorry state of the music industry. My take on it is this:

In terms of the ‘death of the album,’ the single was king in the 50s and early 60s and it was really bands like The Beatles who made albums important. Their attitude was, let's make EVERY song as good as a hit single so when you put your album out, it was strong – a collection of killer singles. And if you go back and listen to Rubber Soul or Revolver, that is exactly what those albums are.

Then of course with stuff like Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road, the linear nature of the album and how the songs were laid out were paramount. That paved the way for stuff like The Who’s Tommy and bands like Floyd, Yes, etc, who used the whole album to tell a story.

To me, bands like Van Halen (post VH II) who put three good songs on an album and a bunch of crap filler are the ones who started to bring it down as an art form.

There has been discussion about how we live among a generation with a very short attention span. We prefer to randomly hit our iPod shuffle and don’t sit and listen to full 45 minute pieces of music anymore.

That may be true, but to put it in a positive light, at least today you have a choice. You can get the one or two songs that are good and skip the crap, or if it's a band like Tool who still respects the long format of a CD, you can get the whole thing and trip out on the whole album.

If the record industry encouraged artists to actually develop, you'd see more album sales and less the buying of one-off singles. I am not a big fan of them, but Portland's The Decemberists seem to be a band that is doing this, and people are really responding. And there are others.

In terms of the sorry state of the music industry, I’d say it’s about time the big labels start to suffer after totally commoditizing music with commercialism and the ‘let’s make as much money as we can’ attitude that started with the big stadium shows in the 70s and continue today with outrageous ticket prices and a plethora of one hit wonders churning out forgettable crap.

Note that to have a “number one” today, you have to sell a fraction of what the top ten moved just a few years ago. People are buying less music and it ain’t because they are stealing it off the Internet. It’s because what the big five (four?) are throwing at us via Best Buy and Wal Mart is total crap I wouldn’t listen to if it WAS free. So they can all eat it as far as I am concerned. So there.

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