The album, for decades, was the cornerstone of recorded music. Often when people talk about great music, they will often talk about it in the context of the album. Think of the likes of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Club Hearts Band, the Darkside of the Moon, Rumours and Rio. We not only appreciate the artistry of each individual song on those albums but the artistry and harmoniousness of the album as a whole. However, with the drop in music sales over the years and more and more people consuming single tracks through streaming playlists the question is beginning to be asked: Is the Album Dead and what does this mean for Artists?
If you ask most people what an album is, they are likely to reply with an answer something to akin to, ‘a CD, Vinyl or Cassette containing around 50-60 minutes or 8-12 songs of music’ but how did this become the standard length of an album. The album came to be in 1948 when Columbia Records began producing 12-inch vinyl discs referred to as LPs (for Long Play). Each side could hold 23 minutes of music. This gave artists and labels the chance to sell multiple songs, or songs of much longer length than before all on one disc. Artists used to only be able to record songs up to 3 minutes in length as this was roughly the amount of time available on one side of the 10-inch discs that pre-dated the LP. It was the length of the LP that resulted in the album as we know it.
Artists sold albums for the second half of the 20th century, its use evolved over time with some artists using them as a way to collate a number of singles, whilst some used it to record performances too long to fit on a single and others even began to tie the music together with a core concept giving rise to the concept album. The album played a huge roll with the growth of the music industry in the 20th century with consistent growth in album based sales from $1.3 billion in 1973 to the all time high of $13.9 billion in 2000 (1). However, that is where the strength of the album began to wane, sales of albums have since fallen to $1.6 billion in 2018 (1), some may argue that focusing on such figures does not tell the whole story and they would not be wrong after all singles on traditional formats like Vinyl, Cassette and CD have also seen a huge drop in revenue from their peak of $441.8 million in 1997 to $5.5 million in 2018 (1); however this ignores the huge growth of singles when you take into account downloads which peaked in 2012 at $1.6 billion (1) and the movement of consumers towards streaming services with streaming accounting for 74.9% of industry revenue in 2018 (1) and most consumers who stream, stream playlists and singles as shown in a 2016 Music Biz consumer report that found that 77% of listeners preferred to listen to playlists or singles (3).
So is the Album dead? I certainly would not say so, it is much more like an old person who despite everyone expecting their demise some time in the near future simply clings on to life and that may not be all that surprising, albums are still a great way for artists to assemble a collection of songs and the album in itself has become a unique creative artform which I do not think will ever fully disappear. There is also growth in the sales of more traditional formats such Vinyl and Cassettes with Vinyl Sales up by 12% in 2018 and Cassettes growing by 19% in the same year (4) (5) suggesting that these formats are becoming valued collectors items. However, we do have to accept that albums will unlikely hold the same place they once did in our everyday lives.
For many, myself included, the fact that the Album is not as important as it once was may be disappointing. This is the case both as musicians and consumers. As musicians, we have grown up with the Album as a mark and milestone of success and though in many ways the Album still represents this, its lack of effectiveness in promoting us as artists means creating a single album for release can in the end be a very large waste of time and money with an album unlikely to create that much more buzz around an artist than a single would. So instead of creating that buzz for one album only for interest to wane after a short period, take each song on the album and release a song a month. As a result, the buzz of each song can build on the buzz of the previous releases helping to create momentum for you as an artist. You can then even re-release the songs on an album after the release of all your songs.
As consumers, there is something nice and tangible about owning a physical album. Having music in your hands can give you a connection with an artist, sitting with a CD, Cassette or Vinyl, listening to the music whilst scanning over every feature in the artwork can be a highly unique experience that does seem to be going to way of the dodo. Add onto this what an album can add musically that a single cannot and you can really begin to understand the disappointment of some consumers that the album is not what it once was. However, it is not all doom and gloom. The album may no longer be the bastion of the music industry but physical formats are still available and there are bands out there still making music with the album in mind. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard are a perfect example having created numerous albums that utilize the strength of the format as well as Kevin Parker of Tame Impala who has evolved his sound uniquely for each album.
So the album may not be what it once was and that is ok, it does not have to be and just because it is not what is once was, does not mean it will disappear fully or that it will not continue to evolve, you will just have to hunt a little harder to find them.
Proudly powered by Weebly