The Album Is Dead?

I'm starting to think the album is dead.., well slowly dying?

Now don't go all nostalgic on me and talk of days gone by when you used to queue outside music shops waiting for the latest release, because I'm not talking about the history of the album but more the future.

I have given this a lot of thought and decided to write these thoughts down in order to make sense of them. I am drawing upon my personal experiences as a consumer of music and, in some lesser way, my limited experience as a recording artist/producer.

An album is simply a distribution model for releasing songs. If the songs follow a common "Theme" e.g. Pink Floyd - The Wall then it makes sense to buy the album in whichever format you choose, Vinyl, CD, MP3 Flac or even Tape.

But another way is to view an album is as a "Snapshot" in time of an artist/band(s) work. This is the case for the majority of albums. An album quite simply is a collection of separate songs where the only common denominator is the artist/band that wrote it and the time when it was written.

But I remember buying singles (7" and 12"). Why? Because I couldn't afford the album? Sometimes.., but sometimes it was because I didn't like all the songs on the album. And I repeat this buying pattern online. I preview the album and if I like all the songs I buy the CD. If I find there are only a few songs I like then I buy the downloads of the individual tracks.

There are few artists making concept albums now. The advent of pirate downloads has stripped income going into the music industry. Once upon a time big record labels used to invest in their artists, nurturing their talent and encouraging their creativity. With less money big companies are focusing on those few artists that have a ready audience (X-Factor etc). They are not interested in the music but are focused on the return they can get from an artist as a commodity / T-shirts / Ring Tones / Endorsements / Products etc. This is how the music industry is shaping up. They cut the lower rungs of the ladder and concentrate on the top echelon.

Yes there are lots of smaller independent labels, but they only act as part of the distribution chain and do little to market their artists other than cross pollinate between their signed acts. The artist signed to the smaller label may sell a few more CDs by association, but the Indie Label will take their slice of the ever dwindling cake for their work.

So Vinyl’s, CDs, Digital Albums or Digital Singles?

Now I love liner notes and album artwork but these can be distributed online as digital products and are often embedded in MP3s. All that info can be found quickly online at the artist’s website.

But CDs give better quality.... yes they do but that's to do with the lossey format of MP3 files. But FLAC and other better quality lossless files are now available and I distribute my own work in lossless formats.

But Vinyl’s sound better than CDs..., yes they do? And they can't be digitally uploaded. I think that's the primary reason why many people are starting to release on vinyl. It is a product that can't be stolen and distributed illegally online. Add a limited version of an unreleased song, some great artwork and the artist regains the exclusive control of the sale of their work.

I own an iPod and it sounds acceptable. I've added some studio quality full size headphones and it sounds good. I also use a nokia phone which has a music player and there is an option to rip uncompressed music files to my phone. Add the headphones and it sounds very good. What I'm getting at is digital does not sound as bad as some people would have you believe.

Anyone involved in music production will tell you that the problem with the sound of modern music isn't the digital format in which it is delivered, but it is in the treatment and mastering process done to those digital recordings to make them commercially viable in today's world. There is a trade off between "dynamics" and "volume" and unfortunately to exist in today’s broadcast world "volume" usually wins over "dynamics".

As you can see there are arguments for and against the different formats.

So when I look at things wearing my song writers hat then things change: Focal Point was a collection of songs that represented important points in my life. There was a theme and I hope that is carried through in the CD.

Now as time has progressed I am starting to see how my digital sales have gone in the first few months of release. Roughly 50% CD Albums to 50% Digital Albums. But interestingly over 2000 digital singles have also been sold. So digital is strong, and even with an album that I consider follows the "themed" package, buyers are still cherry picking their favourite singles.

Now I have been working away on Album 2 and again it was going to follow a theme and should therefore be an album. I have been writing away with specific concept(s) in mind and tailoring songs to sit in place. Now I am conscious that it will take some time to write the full album, especially when I do it all myself. But I have been approaching my work from an "album" point of view.

But I keep getting new ideas for new songs that do not tie in with the theme of album 2. I quickly record these and set them aside to carry on with Album 2. A linear approach of one album at a time.

Now I'm starting to think about working on one single at a time, released digitally. Then releasing CD/digital album(s) as and when my body of work warrants it. The albums would be either "themed" or "snapshot".

The next "themed" CD/digital album would be released when I have approx 50+ minutes of related songs that capture a theme. Not all themed songs would be officially released as digital downloads but would probably be released on my own website.

"Snapshot" digital singles (those that don't follow the theme of album 2) would be released as and when they are finished. I did this with "Christmas Through Your Eyes". Then a "Snapshot" CD/digital album would be released once there are enough singles to warrant it manufacture.

My point is there is a demand for both singles and albums but why does it have to be the creation of an album that dictates the release of songs? I'm starting to question why I, and many other bands, focus on releasing album after album? Why not release single after single? Perhaps many do and I just don't buy from those circles. I wonder what the pros and cons are?

Remember I started saying the album is just a distribution package, whether it be a "themed" or "snapshot" album. Buying an album based on the strength of one or two songs is a great way to discover new and, many times, better music.

In the end the songs are the contents of that package and they will continue to sell irrespective of whether the album format lives or dies.

Personally I like the album format, but I think market forces and cash flow will see a rise in the dominance of singles.

I'm looking foward to reading your thoughts on this topic.

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