While creating an album has for many bands and artists been a cornerstone of artistic accomplishment over the years, our shift to a predominantly playlist based culture means that we're shifting away from the album format and living in a world of singles - just not everyone's accepted it yet.
Guest post by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0
To many music artists and bands, making an album has always been the epitome of their art. This group of songs was a statement to their voice and current state of mind, not to mention a reflection of their social and physical environment. It was thought to be the highest form of recorded experience the artist could offer. It wasn’t always that way though, and for the most part, it’s not like that now. The trouble is, too many artists fail to recognize that the album is quickly becoming a relic of the past and even detrimental to their success.
We live in a singles world today. No longer does anyone consistently sit down for 40 or 50 consecutive minutes to listen to an album from front to back like they used to. In our portable music society today where streaming music from Spotify or Apple Music is the king, there’s no reason to be tied to the music playback system or to listen to songs that we don’t care to listen to. If that’s the case, why should an artist even bother to spend the months it takes to create an album? It’s not like people are consuming them in any great numbers, and the costs involved can sometimes put both the artist and record label in financial jeopardy.
For example, album sales were down by another 17.7 percent to 169.15 million copies sold last year according to Nielsen Music. This includes all forms of the album including CDs, digital albums, vinyl LPs, and cassettes. Compare that to 1999, when 939.9 million CDs alone were sold, according to the RIAA.
Not only that, the top selling album really didn’t sell that much compared to the past. Taylor Swift’s Reputation topped the list last year with only 1.9 million sold, and much of that was tied to her controversial buy-an-album-get-a-concert-ticket plan. There was only one other album that topped a million last year, and that was Ed Sheeran’s Divide at 1.1 million. Remember the days when a hit artist could sell that in a week? They’re long gone.
For the most part, hip-hop artists have seen the light way before the rest of the industry, concentrating on releasing more frequent singles instead of waiting until a group of songs were finished to release an album (the traditional way albums have been made). The idea is that having a new song on the charts right now is better than waiting until next year to release an album of 10 songs, of which probably only one or two will get attention anyway.
So we return to the ways of the early music business, which was based on the single. The only way an artist was even considered for an album in the 50s and 60s was if he or she had a few hit singles first. If an artist reached that point, the contract usually stipulated that the artist was responsible for completing two albums per year, which in reality wasn’t the greatest thing for consistent song quality, although that didn’t seem to hurt some legends like The Beatles and Elton John, who still managed to release beloved hit albums from that period that are still considered classics today. It wasn’t until the 70s when artists began to spend as much as several years crafting an album, which is almost career suicide in today’s instant access mindset where your audience can move on if they haven’t heard from you in a couple of months.
Apple’s recent decision to no longer accept iTunes LP submissions shows that music consumers aren’t currently interested in a bundle of songs and/or videos, at least until a new format comes along that changes consumption patterns. While some rare artists are able to make a statement with an album of interlaced songs that form a concept, they’re few are far between these days. It’s time for artists, bands and record labels to give in to the fact that we live in a singles world and an album just isn’t the product that consumers are looking for.