Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Album Is Dead least in the form we know it.

Music sales have declined massively over the last eight years, and though the record industry would have us believe that illegal downloading is largely to blame, I think a big factor is more and more people are buying single tracks rather than albums.

This is not necesarily a bad thing (unless you're a money grabbing major label, or a prog rock band creating three hour concept albums) - it's a byproduct of spending years having to buy albums where the majority of tracks are more 'filler' than 'killer'.

But is there a future for anything bigger than single song downloads?

Radiohead think EP's are the way forward.

Image by Manohead

Thom Yorke, speaking to The Believer magazine said,

"None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off, I mean, it's just become a real drag. It worked with [2007 album] In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we've all said that we can't possibly dive into that again. It'll kill us."

He added that Radiohead "need to get away" from releasing albums in the traditional format...hinting that the band may release new music via EPs or online (as they did with new song 'Harry Patch')

Doing EP's would also free them up to experiment without having to commit to a way of working for an entire album like their plan for

"writing songs for orchestra and orchestrating it fully... and then doing a live take of it and that's it - finished. That's one possible EP because, with things like that, you think do you want to do a whole record like that? Or do you just want to get stuck into it for a bit and see how it feels?"

Image by SuperPimp

Weird Al is another fearless pioneer (You can even paste yourself into one of his recent videos!).

He is releasing Internet Leaks, a 5-track digital EP, on Aug 25. Unusually he pre-released the tracks one by one, with the final one, Ringtone, being released the same day as the EP.

But then all the tracks will appear on his next full album some time next year and those who've bought it on iTunes will be able to use the 'Complete My Album' function to "painlessly add the missing tracks [with] the price of the EP [being] deducted from the cost of the album".

Others, rather than subtracting from the album, are adding to it. Yahoo reports that

"Apple and the four major labels are working on launching...a music offering code-named "Cocktail" that aims to add value to digital albums sold [in the] iTunes Store." The rumours are that "the new package will include liner notes, artwork and potentially cell phone ringtones and music videos in a unified software package that the labels hope will boost sales of albums"

In a similar vein Apple and EMI unveiled an 'iTunes Pass' in February, "which gave music fans...access to early release singles, a new album upon its release and exclusive videos, remixes and other content".

Reuters, in an otherwise turgid report on Apple's attempt to wring the last bit of money from music lovers via varible pricing, posited this interesting concept

the lowest price tier may also give labels the flexibility they need to develop digital products other than the album. For example, if a popular new single sells for $1.29, labels or retailers could identify four other songs from similar but unknown acts and sell them as a bundle.

Creative as some of these solutions may be, the greatest hope for the good old 'long player' surely rest in the 'music like water' model predicted in the outstanding book The Future of Music and starting to come about in

new digital business models...such as Nokia's Comes With Music model and the kind of collective licensing being pioneered by Choruss, both of which would bundle the cost of music into other services or products. Both rely less on a revenue-per-unit model and more on revenue-per-user. Or "pricing the consumer versus pricing the content," as one label digital executive puts it. "We think the real story around price as it relates to the audience for digital music is with respect to the new business models that are user-based as opposed to wholesale price-based."

In other words, when we're playing a flat fee to get access to all the music we want, perhaps we'll find more and more people going back to enjoying whole albums.

Related Posts: Get serious like Weird Al
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