I’m currently in the studio working on songs for two new albums. I’m writing and recording my own record with my band and several collaborators, while I’m also executive producing a debut album by Nashville-based emcee, poet, singer Iayaalis.
It seems natural to me to work on an album at a time, but when I see publications like Fast Company ask “Should Albums Cost $1.50?” I have to pause.
We live in a sound byte driven, instant gratification seeking society where grabbing a listener’s attention for 3 minutes can be difficult. So asking audiences for an hour to listen to recorded music almost seems like an imposition. In a world of iPods and YouTube, are albums still relevant?
When we look at sales charts like the one Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records presented at the New Music Seminar, we have to ask that question again.
Since the advent of digital downloads, single sales have dominated album sales. I know this to be true from my own digital sales figures as well. Some folks prefer to cherry pick their favorite cuts off an album instead of buying the complete work. And I guess that’s okay.
Older generations were into singles. James Brown used to put out a single every week, then maybe quarterly or every six months, he’d collect the singles and a few additional cuts and release that as an album.
Except for brief excursions, radio has always been all about singles. We always discover music one song at a time.
Personally, I’ve always loved albums, and that’s how I buy music. While I may be attracted to an artist by one song that I hear, I become a fan because of full albums or complete live shows.
If you only like one song that an artist performs, can you really say you’re a fan of the artist? Maybe you’re just in love with that song.
But I’ve found that when I really love one or two songs from an artist, I’ll give the whole album a chance, and I may grow to appreciate the nuances of the inner cuts. To me, Prince’s 1999 is a complete and essential artistic statement because of singles like “1999” and “Delirious”, AND because of album cuts like “Something In The Water” and “Lady Cab Driver”.
It took some time for me to really get into N*E*R*D’s Fly or Die album, but I could tell those brothers were on some other $h!t, not just because of “She Wants To Move”, but because on the recommendation of someone I trusted, I listened to the whole record over and over. That entire amazing record turned me into a fan, and I own their whole catalog now.
This is not to say that we should buy or produce albums with three good songs and 18 tracks of filler. That’s garbage, and often those filler tracks should remain on the shelf.
The vinyl album is limited to about 42 minutes because of the physical properties of the disc. Any longer, and the sound quality degrades. That seems to be about the right length of time we should expect someone to give us their attention.
Because cds hold 74 minutes of information, people seem to feel like they should fill up the space. But once you’re over an hour, you’d better be kicking out a masterpiece like Songs In The Key of Life or Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Don’t waste my time with nonsense.
So as an artist, and as a fan, I prefer the longer form work, if the entire album stands up. But, that’s me. I dig deep into the music, and the lyrics and the album artwork, and the symbolism and metaphors and such. What about you?
Do you believe that albums are still relevant? Do you buy albums or singles? Do you even buy music at all, or is that an old fashioned 20th Century notion?