Friday, April 26, 2013

The Death of the Album

This week, iTunes marked its 10th anniversary.  Many credit iTunes with "saving the music industry" which had seen a marked drop-off in sales after people realized they could download CD's to their computers and share their music files for free on the internet.  But once musicians won their lawsuits against Napster--and iTunes debuted with its 99-cents per song format, sales eventually went back up.  Now audiophiles are just as likely to download the music they want as they are to buy an actual CD.

While I'm glad that artists are once again getting paid for their work, I still feel that iTunes has done irreparable harm to one of my favorite formats: the album.  As a Beatles fan, I've come to appreciate the work and consideration they put into laying out an album in a certain way--so that songs flow in a logical order.  The greatest examples of that would be their seminal Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road albums.  Other bands like The Who and Rush carried on the tradition in the 70's.  And bands like U2 and REM--along with solo artists like Michael Jackson and Prince created great "albums" in the 80's and the 90's.  A check of the top Album Downloads on iTunes today shows a mix of adult standards, alternative bands and greatest hits packages by 70's rockers--showing its the older generation that still bothers to buy entire albums. 

The a la carte nature of iTunes has destroyed the idea of a total listening experience encompassing 45 minutes to an hour.  Now, artists strive for just those one or two songs that can get five or ten million downloads and if the other ten tracks get a handful of listens--that's just icing on the cake.  I doubt even the most hardcore Pink or Mumford and Sons or Maroon Five fan could tell you the name of those artist's latest album.  Nowadays its just a list of album tracks and checkmarks for the ones you want to download and sync with your iPod.

And the iPod has also destroyed the album listening experience as well.  Features like syncing just specific tracks, playlists and shuffle allow listeners to jump from song to song, artist to artist in search of the ultimate mix of hits without the physical act of changing a disc or fast-forwarding to find specific tracks. 

Maybe some of the artists who want their entire bodies of work consumed, enjoyed and appreciated can fight the trend--by putting an entire album in just one track--and bringing the best listening experience back to it's rightful place in the industry.

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