What's going to happen with albums as we know them? [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


View Full Version : What's going to happen with albums as we know them?

Jim Clark
01-09-2004, 08:33 AM
Everyday I worry just a bit more about the future of music. I've never been one to complain about the quality of music that's out there. On that front I'm perfectly happy. If my life was driven by what's on the radio, well I wouldn't spend much time, effort or money on it but my life isn't driven by the radio. What concerns me is the proliferation, and success of online music formats. We've been made aware ad naseum of the plight of the recording industry. Sales slow down and it's front page news. If there's one thing that I'm confident in it's that the recording industry is going to come out financially smelling like roses.

Things change but in the end they seem to come out even stronger because of it. I wonder how much longer the album, as we know it will exist. It looks more and more we are heading back to the days of the single. Of course that's where it all started before the concept of the album came into being and I think the popularity and success of the online music sales are going to push things heavily back into that direction. For the most part labels seem content to sell a track here and a track there via I-tunes. Few artitsts seem to be resisting that approach to sales. From what I've read Metallica and John Mayer are some of the very few to require the download of an entire album (for 9.99) rather than allow fans to grab 'that one song'. They seem to feel that there is merit in the work as a whole and to split it up ruins what they have worked to achieve. Not too surprisingly most everyone else is happy to collect their dollar and move on to the next coustomer. I wonder how much longer it's going to be before they have no choice but to follow suit?

As I said, I don't think that the recording industry is going to be weakened by this approach. Seeing profitability rise I wouldn't be surprised to see the album become obsolte in the future. If there is only the downloadable profit at stake, where is the incentive to strive to create albums? Something else that I wonder about-if we move increasingly towards the online sales of singles as the biggest profit center, what's to keep entire albums comprised of 'filler' of the shelfs. Sure that situation exists today but does anybody actually think things will improve given current trends?

Play back of music we enjoy will probably suffer as well. People who invest in at least halfway decent equipment are clearly the minority. That millions of people are happy to play back MP3's as their primary medium is testament to this fact. That doesn't even take into account the boombox user, of which there are even more. The real pisser is that these MP3 players aren't cheap. Apple even makes one that takes a whole lot more money and time just to replace a battery and few seem to care. It's not like this medium is sounds better or costs a whole lot less and yet few seem bothered.

So this is what I see happening more and more everyday: single sales of MP3's played back on HD MP3 players becoming the medium of choice for the overwhelming majority of people in the not too distant future. Not wanting to miss out on a single dime the recording industry abandons the concept of the album to focus on the money maker. I think the advent of SACD and DVDA were attempts to hang on to the present but what's more prevalent-MP3 players or SACD players? Someone, probably J, has already posted information that there is already a trend towards more EP's and that's just the start. Personally I think it all sucks.


01-09-2004, 09:57 AM
Lots of great points. It does look like singles are going to get big again with the digital downloads. I also agree that the companies aren't gonna end up loosing a thing. Just look at the way things are going. Instead of paying 15 bucks for a CD, people pay a buck a song, about the same. And, the buyer has to purchase their own media and take the time to burn the tracks themselves. No artwork necessary. So, the companies just offer less and charge the dame price. Looks like they come out ahead to me.

I do hope that digital downloads increase in quality eventually. Really, I would think adopting a new file type for computers should be easier to sell as an upgrade than a movement within traditional media. It's a lot easier to ask somebody to download a new file converter or something like that and install it to play higher quality files than it is to ask them to replace all their CDs with SACDs, for example. Of course, I agree that most people dion't really care about sound quality anyway.

01-09-2004, 11:04 AM
Folks, you KNOW what's coming.

Everything is going to a "download" type of acquisition.

It's cheap for the supplier and gives the customer flexibility to choose what he/she wants.

I read lots of stereo/av magazines and websites, and you can bet your ass that music and movies will all be downloaded probably sooner that later and that vhs, dvd, etc. will be a thing of the past.

The younger generation is already deeply hooked into the "download" mentality and no way in hell they will go retro.

Music "stores" will all be online and they will come out with some hi tech compression scheme, and eventually it will all be solid state with no moving parts.

In general I think this sucks but I betcha I'm right.

I really wish analog formats would stay but the masses decide what "we" want and most everybody could care less about sound quality.

It's funny, these hi end video rags rant about plasma this and flat screen that but they all admit that good 'ol regular tv's still have the best picture quality.

Digital is great stuff, but it really can rub you the wrong way if it goes "bad".


01-09-2004, 11:54 AM
As far as the downloadable future, here's an idea I'd like to see happen, although this wouldn't be for your average music listener: the capability to download an artist's work unmixed where you could do your own mixdown. Wouldn't that be exciting? Steely Dan releases their next album and they make it downloadable mixed down to 8 tracks and you get the recording software to mix it down to 2-tracks, or 5.1 - your own personal mixdown! That's an idea someone should experiment with down the road but I guess most artists wouldn't be too keen on it. But if you're gonna pay for the music, maybe they could charge extra for that service and you could still download the engineer's finish mix to compare yours with.

01-09-2004, 12:15 PM
Well, I didn't say there would be a trend towards EPs, but I have said for awhile now that it seems like the music audience in general has judged artists on the basis of LPs for over 35 years now. I disagree with the chorus of (mostly) middle-aged folks who haven't outgrown their musical adolescence that 'there is no good music anymore,' but I do agree that most albums seem to feature one or two good or great songs, with a ton of fillers & maybe a few clunkers too. Who the hell wants to pay $18.99 for that? What you end up with is people who resent the music industry for 'flooding the market with crap' that they're not willing to spend any money on. Some download, but many spend their money on DVDs or something else. Throw in the downturn the economy took over the past few years & you have an industry whose growth hit a big wall. The result is lots of screaming about downloading, some of which is valid but much of which is overblown. That there's such a small percentage of artists capable of putting out decent full-length works is a much bigger problem so far as I'm concerned. So I think any trend towards EPs is a long-overdue market correction that it took ITunes to move towards--and we might not even have that at this point had P2P sharing not killed the singles market. I do find it somewhat ironic that the market the business should have been focused on more so than albums is the one that was most affected by the scourge/scapegoat of the industry.

I've cited examples before of albums I've heard in the past year or two that I thought were painfully mediocre, yet could've yielded exceptional singles or even EPs if only somewhere in the goddamn food chain noticed that some editing is in order. I know some people loved the Fountains Of Wayne album, but I didn't. I loved two songs on it, but the rest of it left me very cold, and it bothers the crap out of me when I hear that an artist can produce one thing that's really great, yet not realize that this song or that song shouldn't even be on the album. Granted, it's tough when the market demands a record 50-60 minutes in length when once it was 30-40, but it'd be nice if someone could stand up & say that they know the difference between, in Lou Reed's words, their sh*t & their diamonds. (Actually, his quote was, 'my sh*t is better than other people's diamonds') I suppose there's no leverage for the Fountains Of Wayne, or Eve 6, to tell the record company, 'I'm going to put out a great EP, not a mediocre LP with a few great songs that'll get lost in the shuffle with all the filler.'

I can't speak to equipment or sound quality because that's not my passion. I have noticed people moving towards using their computers as their stereos, but most of 'em had speakers that surprised me; I thought they sounded pretty decent. I'm sure an audiophile would balk at my calling MP3s through computer speakers 'decent,' but I'm not an audiophile, & that's exactly how I'd describe the sound quality. I've heard plenty of MP3s I thought sounded like crap, but just as many surprise me with how decent they sound, so what the hey.

In the end I think moving towards singles is a good thing; maybe now people will recognize that there are people out there capable of putting out good work, instead of complaining about how it all sucks these days. Maybe that's wishful thinking, but I see a lot of undue credit given to the albums that were made when it was still being defined artistically. It's not just these days that there are tons of artists who can make good singles but not good records; I think that was mostly always true for rock, and that a lot of people got a bit of a free pass because they were able to stretch out in ways that later artists couldn't. Not to denigrate the music of that period in general...I just think the era tends to be a bit overrated, or just looked at through rose-colored glasses. I think plenty of albums from the late 60s & early 70s aren't as good as a lot of people say they are. They do float on hype from those who grew up listening to them, but then again, they do have something going for them that albums in the 80s & 90s couldn't: they were made by people who were able to experiment with a relatively new form, the rock album. A lot of that experimentation yielded good results, but not all, and the result, due also in part to the realities of the radio business, was that a lot of the artists that had the misfortune of coming along a decade or two later, were effectively hamstrung in a creative sense. To someone stuck in the late 60s & early 70s, a record from the 80s or 90s will never be as good. To a lot of us, that's not the case, but I definitely feel that most rock recs feature very little that's really good & a whole lot that's just a waste of time. A move towards a singles market may rectify this, so I'm not opposed to it.

I've been continually interrupted while trying to write this, so if it reads like a mess, forgive me. I'm going to cut my losses now & just hit 'submit.' Where's dbi? His viewpoint on this, which I think differs from mine, would be a good one to have in this thread.

Jim Clark
01-09-2004, 01:07 PM
I've cited examples before of albums I've heard in the past year or two that I thought were painfully mediocre, yet could've yielded exceptional singles or even EPs if only somewhere in the goddamn food chain noticed that some editing is in order.

The problem with that approach seems obvious, at least to me. Do you really want the guy at the record label deciding what those "exceptional singles" are going to be. I'd prefer to have the ball in my court, but that's just me.


Mr MidFi
01-09-2004, 01:24 PM
I think it's obvious that the download/on-demand model is the future of all home entertainment delivery, for better or for worse. It's just inefficient to manufacture, store, ship and retail physical media...when you're just selling 1's and 0's. The real revolution will come when everyone has fiber-optic (or something like it).

So how do you maintain the "album" format as the primary musical unit sold? I think the answer lies in pricing. Back in the old days, an album (vinyl) was $5 on sale, and a single was like a buck and a half. Today, a song is 1/10th the price of the album at the iTunes store. That's why the song format is more attractive to a cost-conscious market. But if you simply close the gap between the song and album price, people will be more inclined to check out the whole thing instead of grabbing a couple tracks.

Similarly, artists, producers and labels will be incented once again to make their albums into something worth listening to start-to-finish. Because if they're worth a damn, that'll be the buyer's first choice...instead of automatically seeking the "hot" song.

That's my 2 cents.

01-09-2004, 02:26 PM
The problem with that approach seems obvious, at least to me. Do you really want the guy at the record label deciding what those "exceptional singles" are going to be. I'd prefer to have the ball in my court, but that's just me.

I think that the bands aren't taking enough responsbility when it comes to self-editing, but of course they aren't really able. The industry standard is ludicrous, so they're in a position when they submit 15 or 20 songs when you could put together a good product from 5 or 10. The labels aren't discarding the chaff for the wheat, so it'd be nice if a band could say, well, we came up with 15 or 20 songs, but we think only 5 to 10 are really any good. So we're not going to give you the 10 or more that we don't think are worth releasing--at least not while we're trying to build a fan base, not until after there's a decent-sized audience that's willing to buy anything with our name on it. Once the band's audience grows because they put out good records, why not sell the filler to those people? They'd eat it up: "The Unreleased Blah Album: includes outtakes, bonus tracks, and lots of other stuff that shouldn't have seen the light of day!" Instead if I want the two really great songs on the FOW album I have to pay upwards of $15 for a rec I don't want. In a practical sense I think the business is completely a$$-backwards & it seems to me that ITunes can't do anything but help.

Dusty Chalk
01-09-2004, 08:51 PM
You know, you people really do paint issues too much in black and white. Why does it have to be this format or that format? Why does it have to be this delivery medium vs. that delivery medium? Why can't we all just get along? Sure, the big corporations are looking for the quick buck, and they're pushing their thing as THE NEXT BIG THING, but it ain't necessarily so. There's enough markets for everyone. The population is large enough and -- more importantly -- diverse enough to please everyone. There's the download for cheap for students/cheapskates/homeless people; there's CD's for most baby boomers; there's analog and high-res for us audiophiles. The problem is that, if you diversify, you're not as likely to rake in the big "Britney Spears needs a new set of shoes" bucks. Guess what? Too bad. They need to manage their own expectations. They need to stop driving BMW's and Mercedes' and Lexi, and start driving Honda's and Acura's (cheaper yet still quite good vehicles, being my point). Notice, I specifically did not say they need to start taking public transportation -- there certainly is still enough money to be made. They just need to STOP PUTTING ALL THEIR EGGS IN ONE BASKET. Quit looking for the "get rich quick" schemes. The only people that get rich quick are people who are born into money, people who sleep with money, and the few who make it the old fashioned way -- the win the lottery. Hard work gets you nowhere -- just dead.

Just like there's music for everyone -- some of us like prog, some of us like the blues, some of us like indie, some of us like pop -- there's formats for everyone: some of us like "songs", some of us like "packages of songs" (greatest hits, compilations), some of us like actual "albums" (longer things that have more stuff going on than just songs), etc. L, how many of you have the patience for a 7 hour audio DVD of a "sleep concert" (http://www.hypnos.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=HOS&Product_Code=hyp2131&Category_Code=rich)? Not many, I'm guessing. It's a niche market. Guess what? Niche markets will survive. If your target audience is 0.1% of the world population, that's still...erm...(does not do the math)...a lot of people.

So anyway, back to the answer to the original question -- records survived the advent of the compact disc, and they're not going away, so why must "albums" go away? They mustn't, and they won't. Sure, there's a lot of turbulence up ahead -- it's going to be a bumpy ride -- but it's something we can ride out. Sure, the fat cats may have to ween some driftwood, but...we're in a recession. We all could afford to lose a little weight. Materialistically speaking, that is.