(Sorry — No Boston Globe to read at breakfast today <G>)
Bemoaning the decline of the album format: Downloading squeezes the art out of the album: A growing single-song culture is wiping out the multiple-track format [pdf]. A lot of column-inches set aside, describing the return of the single as the leading edge of the end of music culture. Really.
The digital age, driven by single-song downloads, threatens to eradicate the multiple-track album, whether on compact disc, cassette or old-fashioned vinyl. It’s not just the physical artifact that’s joining shellac 78s, turntables and 8-track tapes in the pop graveyard: The very concept of songs integrated into a whole faces extinction.
[...] ”The disappearance of the album as an entity would be sad, but anything to do with the evolution in how people access music excites me,” singer Alanis Morissette says. ”I’m very album-oriented, and my highest preference is that people experience my album as a whole, but I know people can gravitate to a certain song and listen to it ad nauseum. That’s their right. It’s about freedom of choice.”
[...] Paid downloads, expected to reach $80 million this year,$1.1 billion next year and $3.2 billion in 2008, account for a fraction of music sales but are expected to explode as Generation Y brings its entertainment dollars to the marketplace. While baby boomers maintained an allegiance to the album format as they graduated from vinyl to tape to CDs, the so-called echo boomers, a staggering 78 million of them, increasingly prefer the pay-per-tune route. And they favor shopping online over standing in line. In the week ending Sunday, downloaders bought 1.3 million tracks while stores sold 186,000 physical singles, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
[...] Joe Levy, music editor at Rolling Stone, theorizes that the CD has killed the album; that is, the arrival of the shiny digital disc with expanded room for sound helped push the concept of a bundled batch of songs toward extinction.
”The CD has been responsible for the death of the album in two ways,” Levy says. ”One is technology. Once music was sold in a digitized format, it could be easily traded on the Internet. CDs began to disappear as consumers collected music one MP3 at a time.
”The second factor is artistic. If you grew up with vinyl, you got 30 or 40 minutes on a record. Now you get 70 on a CD. The album format got swollen, unmanageable and, to some degree, unlistenable. Either you don’t have that much time to listen to it or the experience isn’t rewarding.”
Give me a break! When’s the last time you bought a pop CD that had more than 45 minutes of music? At least Dave Matthews gets it:
Dave Matthews sees the album’s demise as just another pothole in the music industry’s road to ruin.
”The real issue is that the technologies of how to access information have exploded, so everything the industry took for granted has been shattered, and now the industry has to get up and figure out how to deal with it,” he says. ”The industry as it stands is going to be antiquated out of existence. And there’s no question we’ll work our way through it and become accustomed to something new.”
Or something that predates the recording industry: performing live. The album’s doom may be a boon not for singles but for the concert circuit.
”I don’t feel threatened financially by the collapse of the industry,” Matthews says. ”The vast majority of my living is made from touring. Nobody’s going to be able to download that.”
But, striking a blow for the Paris Hilton Weltanschauung, we get Michelle Shocked:
Michelle Shocked considers the album’s downfall a another step toward a cultural wasteland. When she finished 1991’s Arkansas Traveler, an ambitious song cycle inspired by the blackface minstrel tradition, her label demanded she add a radio-friendly single. She dutifully delivered Come a Long Way.
”You can adapt to mundane things like marketing, but when the tail is wagging the dog and you generate singles for their own sake, you can pretty much kiss the concept album goodbye. That’s the direction labels are going in, because that’s where profit lies.”
Shocked refuses to dissect her 1988 breakthrough, Short Sharp Shocked, for track-by-track online sales. ”I control the destiny of that album,” she says. ”I own the rights so no label could chop it up and sell it on the Internet. If I did that, they’d only buy (hit single) Anchorage, which is only a part of that whole image. I refuse to be treated as a one-hit wonder.
”Trust me: We’re heading into a novelty song culture.”
Sorry, Michelle — get over yourself. You can create anything you want; but you shouldn’t expect me to sacrifice real technological advances, much less my own freedom to create and innovate (not to mention to elect not to buy your art), just to satisfy your artistic vision.