The Death of the Album
There are two sources of entertainment people won’t pay for anymore, porn and music. If you’re smiling then you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, ehhh ahem, my sincerest apologies ;-/ About this business of a decline in album sales though. Is the album actually dying out? The answer is, it could be and my feeling about this would be, what a shame.
We now have so many options available to us when it comes to sourcing some good tunes and the playlist it seems is the new wave that has us all willingly jumping onboard to ride along with it. It’s been reported album sales are down. Like with an economic recession though that has always been the case, peaks and troughs throughout the decades. However, there was always a reason for it and I’m hoping this time around it’s just a shift in scale to cope with the change in how we now listen to music. But death of the album? God I hope not.
So, why are the sales of albums down this time around? The most obvious answer would be online streaming. We are probably now just at another controversial “video killed the radio star” phase. Online streaming it could be argued is affecting album sales but how? Well, let’s make up an LP entitled: “Bittersweet Streaming”with the track titles as reasons for the decline. If anyone out there can add more tracks to this LP please let us know. Ok, so here we go…
Track 1: ACCESS ALL AREAS. Today, we have the internet. We have apps on our phones that allow us to stream music to it without the need for transportation to the city centre to visit a record store. We don’t have to wait for Top Of The Pops to air to see live performances of the artists who are touring and releasing tracks. We can watch recordings of live performances on the net. Sure look, we can even watch footage of gigs and festivals. The internet has changed how music is accessed but where at this point does it leave the album? Surely albums are now more easily accessible? Indeed they are but along with millions of other albums too and all at the same time.
We no longer have to mull over which of the two albums in our hand we’re going to take home with us from the record store. We can have both but wouldn’t that lead to more album sales though?
Track 2: MONEY. No not really. It’s hard to predict what those sales numbers of albums through streaming apps such as Spotify actually are when for a fraction of the cost of just one purchase on hard copy at your local record store, you can have millions of albums available to you under one umbrella. In any case, we won’t spend money on an album because we can stream each release off it with video online for free, which will do us. If we really want the album and aren’t content with just single releases off it then we just need to wait until the actual release date. Stream it in its entirety as part of our very low subscription cost to Spotify.
I fork out a monthly fee of EUR9.99 to have access to an unmeasurable amount of tunes. This is still cheaper than one album purchase through iTunes and as we say in todays times, “that’s a no brainer.”
Track 3: TIME. Gone are the days when you’d take the bus into town with your savings from pocket money or a weekend job to browse the rows of albums in your favourite record store. Music was only on hard copy then and I was around to see the transition through the various decades from vinyl to cassette to compact disc. The only thing in your pocket while you walked through the doors of the record store was a few quid and definitely no phone. You could buy singles, EPs but mostly you bought your LP. One purchase, back out the door, bus home and a lay down on the scratcher beneath your posters on your wall to listen to that album, loop after loop of it.
That is not such an easy thing to do any more. People say they’re too busy to listen to an album and that it is a luxury to do just that. Other people say they wouldn’t spend their time listening to an album and that they’d rather spend it flicking through playlists instead.
So time is a factor and how we spend our time has changed.
Track 4: HELP! The record player had one job to do, emit sound and nothing else. While you were listening to an album you’d read the sleeve. You’d read to see who produced the album, co produced it, wrote the lyrics, played guitar, sang vocals, bashed away on the drums, stayed low key on bass and tinkled the ivories of the keyboard.
Having no distractions to just lay back and listen to an album from start to finish is now not only a luxury if you see it that way but an acquired ability too. Our record player didn’t send us messages from the outside world while we listened to our album. Our record player was not a multi media device. It just had one job to do and in today’s world our phone is notifying us of outside messages and contact all of the time. Someone on Instagram has commented on our photo. Now a tweet has come in. No wait, I need to tweet I’m listening to this fantastic tune. Oops, now I’m in a discussion with someone on Twitter.
So, did I really get to listen to that album? Em, what?
Track 5: RAMBLE ON. Decisions, decisions, decisions. At a phone tap away there is always a tune that is going to appeal to us and if the one we currently have playing oh say five seconds hasn’t grabbed us then we move on. Within five minutes we not only have a new album release assessed but we’ve most likely moved on to listening to another artist. Listener choice is greater than ever before and our levels of entertainment and expectations are high so if we don’t like the start to a tune we won’t listen to the rest of it never mind listen to the next tune off that same album.
Do we dismiss an album all too quickly? Yes, I think in most cases that we do.
Track 6: DO I WANNA KNOW? Today there’s a lack of interest in the artist’s statement. Contemplating an album, actually listening to it again to see where the statement is being made is no longer a consideration by listeners any more. We have our own blogs, we tweet our own points of view and we don’t really care who is singing about what.
Do we even really grasp the concept that there is a message delivered on an album? I’m beginning to think that we no longer do.
Track 7: WHAT DO I CARE? There is a moral issue to consider which most of us will mumble some response to that question under our breath and slink off. Do we care if the artists’ blood, sweat and tears is duly rewarded? I do still support up and coming bands and will buy albums on Bandcamp, pay for pre releases of them on iTunes and purchase hard copies of them from buskers but I’m not alone here. There are other sad people like me. However, for the majority of cases I am part of the gang going with the flow and riding the playlist streaming wave. I think the progression of how we can now access music is exciting and cool but I still want to keep my album options available to me.
So do I care? Hmmmm.
Track 8: ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? Finally and this was one of the best bits in the process of the album purchase. Heading in on a Saturday afternoon and finding out from other listeners in record stores what to watch out for in the coming weeks. Eyeing up the long haired broody looking rocker. Watching the get up of Punks on one aisle, MODs on the other, Goths, Hip Hoppers and Disco Beaters. And as for the artwork on the album. Awwww man, some albums are memorable just for that!
The experience of buying an album. The what? Precisely.
So there you have it. My tuppence worth and it looks like I came close to making a playlist rather with that lot looking at the track titles. As a child of the album era it is a shame sales of it are declining and I have seen it progress from vinyl to cassette, compact disc to online. Record companies are considering dropping the production of LPs and going with EPs instead and from a business perspective I get that. I do subscribe to Spotify and I do stream music on SoundCloud and watch videos on YouTube. However, I also make album purchases from time to time because somewhere inside me is still a girl kicking back on the scratcher, devouring an album cover to cover, earphones in and switched off from the world. As for the broody long haired rockers now middle aged and hanging out in old record stores? They’re still out there.
Now, as for the porn industry. Well, back in our day… 😉
By Nicola Timmons