The Death of the Album?

Is this the death of the album?  In this internet age that is a very valid question.
The video below features an interview with rapper, ‘Nelly’ talking openly about his views on the current state of the music industry.

The big question asked of him is, “Do you think a record label is necessary these days?”albums

Nelly speaks his opinion with regard to labels and uses his limited knowledge of ‘Chief Keef’ as an example of someone that probably would have been better off without a record label.

The main part of this interview that I found particularly interesting was his suggestion of releasing singles rather than albums.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this.  I’ve listened to music marketing specialists such as David Hooper talk about this too.  In his book he refers to it as the ‘drip method’.

I still love listening to albums in their entirety (I’m listening to one as I write this very post…) and I myself have recently released a concept album Lord of the Dead.  I have read some interesting criticisms of the singles over albums model from the likes of Meghan Morrison and Moses Avalon.  Nonetheless, we have to admit, it’s not the 90’s anymore and it most certainly is not the 70’s!

The golden era of the album was perhaps the late 60’s to early 70s where for the first time, an artist could escape the confines of the three-minute pop single and express themselves as never before across the expanded artistic canvas of an album or LP (Long Play).  During that time it was more about creating a cohesive collection of songs that were supposed to be listened to as one full piece.  The album became almost a cash-in on the single rather than the other way around as albums out sold singles in the UK and US.   The LP allowed popular music to become an art form from the artwork adorning gatefold sleeves, to the ideas and concepts that bound the songs together, to the unforgettable music itself.  Legendary groups the likes of Led Zeppelin made it big by refusing to release a single.  Their success relied largely on their musical greatness and the fact that it was only available in one cohesive piece of compiled music.  People were spending more money on albums than any other form of entertainment by the mid-70s.

It was a great time for musical indulgence and artistic expression.  A time where artistic creativity really did pay like it never had done before.  As both record companies and artists (in a lot of cases) made a huge amount of money from this.  If people wanted to get a single, they would have to spend £10-£15 to get the whole album.  Even if you chose to buy the single from the album individually, it would still set you back around £3.  Compare that to the standard 99p download available today!

This was of course in the pre-digital download days and even the pre-cassette and music video days.  Releasing an album was the more lucrative option because it was more cost effective to press a record with numerous songs bundled together, rather than spending more cash on a fresh pressing for every individual single.  Added to that, many consumers preferred the album format rather than a single as they could sit and listen to it without having to move the record every few minutes.  If you enjoyed taking drugs, albums were great because they allowed you to get smacked off your tits and mong out at your own leisure from whatever narcotic indulgences tickled your fancy, as the hassle of having to constantly turn the record over, was kept to a minimum.

Budgets weren’t stretched like they are now.  A record company’s budget for a band could be spent entirely on the creation and pressing of their album.  With the arrival of the 80’s that budget had to be stretched to also fund music videos and so forth.

Since then the album has had an initially slow, to drastic decline with the arrival of digital downloads.  The costs of recording are drastically lower than it ever has been before.  There’s been an explosion of choice for the consumer.  It’s just as easy to listen to thousands of songs on shuffle as it is to listen to a full concept album.  In fact shuffle could be considered easier with the almost unlimited number of songs to listen to one after the other.  People don’t need to change disc every 12 songs.  They can literally press play and leave their phone to constantly play thousands of songs until the battery dies.  Most people actually like more choice and more customisation.  They don’t want to necessarily be confined to the collection of songs the artist intended them to listen to.  They want what they want, as and when they want it.

Artistry aside and looking at things from a strictly business perspective, consistent releases of individual singles are likely to be more profitable than albums unlike the golden album era.  Singles bought individually actually pay the owner better at 99p each than releasing an album or collection of songs at £5.  With music being available for free it makes even more sense as it is easier to build a following off of consistent new content being made available.  Building following of people that have your attention is what allows us to make a profitable living nowadays.

I still feel a since of nostalgia for the golden era of albums despite me being too young to have actually witnessed it.  As I said earlier, I still like to listen to albums in there entirety.  Listening to a disc rather than download, I have a big vinyl and CD collection comprised of many classic albums, both classic in a cult sense and classic in a best selling sense.  I came into DJing and music production through vinyl!  My album Lord of the Dead will eventually come out on vinyl.  I fucking love the dusty bastards….  The resurgence of vinyl shows that there are a large number of people that feel the same way as me too.  For that reason I don’t think albums will die out per se.  It will just become even more of a niche consumer choice.  There will still be a market for them because people want choice.  Part of that choice being the ability to listen to albums the old fashioned way.

All that being said, the market has changed and not necessarily for the worse.  Just because it might turn out to be more profitable to release consistent singles rather than an album doesn’t necessarily mean the death of creativity.  The really important thing is that we as artists are now the ones with the power.  We no longer need any gatekeepers to make a living expressing ourselves.  We can pick ourselves, build our followings and make money on our own.  Of course labels can help but they are no longer the necessity they used to be.  As Napoleon Hill said, “Do not wait, the time will never be just right.  Start where you stand and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”  The great thing is the tools available to us in this day and age are already pretty damn good!

Watch the interesting interview with Nelly below.

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