3/26/2007

no more albums?



The NYT has a great article today on the future of the album, or what will be left of it in a few years. The article states that the current pop music climate and mp3 driven world are making singles much more popular than whole albums these days. This trend goes back decades ago to the 50s, when popular artists had high sales of singles vs. albums. The album gained popularity in the late 60s-90s, but the single is back, at least for now.

Here's an excerpt:

A decade ago, the music industry had all but stopped selling music in individual units. But now, four years after Apple introduced its iTunes service — selling singles for 99 cents apiece and full albums typically for $9.99 — individual songs account for roughly two-thirds of all music sales volume in the United States. And that does not count purchases of music in other, bite-size forms like ring tones, which have sold more than 54 million units so far this year, according to Nielsen data.

One of the biggest reasons for the shift, analysts say, is that consumers — empowered to cherry-pick — are forgoing album purchases after years of paying for complete CD’s with too few songs they like. There are still cases where full albums succeed — the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ double-CD “Stadium Arcadium,” with a weighty 28 tracks, has sold almost two million copies. But the overall pie is shrinking.


Wired recently had a cover story on bite-sized culture, something that the rise of the single sheds even more light on. Society as a whole may not shed a tear for the fall of the album, but I will. When bands like Arcade Fire who make albums meant to be listened to from beginning to end it's crazy to think someone may only hear one or two songs as part of a playlist mix. Would we really know the power and emotion of Picasso's Guernica if we only saw 1/10 of it?

This is more related to the packaging itself, but with albums, I love the smell of it all, reading the liner notes, etc. - especially if the packaging is done well. You can't get that with a cd single (do they exist anymore?), and even buying an album on iTunes can't quite replace this stuff for me. Opening that little sticker on the top of a cd has kind of a ceremonial feel to it that just can't be replicated online... at least not yet.

Steven Johnson says it best at the end of the Wired piece,
"Yes, it sometimes seems as if we're living off a cultural diet of blog posts and instant messages - until we find ourselves losing an entire weekend watching season three of The Wire. The truth is, we have more snacks now only because the menu itself has gotten longer."

thanks to ypulse for the NYT tip.

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