Mary Hodder poses an interesting question in The Musician’s Era: Do We Still Say ‘Album’? — how do the new technologies of digital distribution influence the forms of pop music? How does the “package” influence the scope of creativity in this area?
We use the word, album, to mean several things. We are describing old style vinyl records as in physical media, a metaphorical little box with songs poured into it and packaged for sale, a collection of artistic musical expression, and a particular musician’s style and mini-era.
You know it when someone mentions, say, The White Album. They are speaking about a grouping of songs, maybe the idea that they actually purchased it when it came out which would mean they really were referring to vinyl, but they are also talking about the Beatles at a particular time and place in their musical odyssey. And maybe they are also alluding to the Grey Album (BTW, Chilling Effects posted my C&D for that…) that came after. In fact, I would say the Grey Album is an interesting mix of sensibilities: digital music that can be mixed, but with an understanding of ‘album as complete musical work’ that can somehow coexist in our collective minds right now, in the simultaneous era’s analog and digital. So when JayZ put the Grey Album out last spring, we all understood both metaphors of album as a work, and digital remix work. In fact, it is one of the things I found so delightful about the work.
So, now that we’ve ditched the idea of the little box full of songs, instead buying one song at a time, and we listen to 10,000 song on the biggest remix tape you can imagine via our iPods or phones or whatever, and we don’t think about physical media except in relation to the speaker/player system, how will we refer to the musical development and era transitions an artist goes through?