Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The album is dead. Long live the album!

The album is dead.

It's official - no more "albums." I'm not going to release one, nor will I participate in their production going forward. It's serial-singles from now on.

I feel alone on this - every single one of my peers is diligently working on finishing an album of their own. None of them can write ten hit songs (sorry guys'n'gals), much less two or three. Still, they persist....

I don't know why that model has such a firm grasp on the imaginations of young (and old) musicians. Maybe it's because the album is our only point of reference for identifying (and by proxy, legitimizing) a musical artist. You're not "real" until there are thousands of shiny discs with your name on them. It really is an indulgent exercise, isn't it?

I conducted an informal poll several months ago asking whether or not shiny CD's mattered to people who might be buying mine. At the time, almost everyone over 35 said they wanted a shiny CD. I've recently polled a few of these folks again, and across the board, not a single one of them has bought a CD (of any artist). But every one of them has purchased a single via iTunes.

So here we are, musicians - people telling us one thing and doing another. "I want to buy the CD" they say. But then they buy a single on iTunes. "I want the art and liner notes..." they'll say. But when they can't remember a detail or want to show someone the art, they'll look it up online.

Used to be the single sold the album. Fans tolerated this because there just wasn't any other way to get the songs 'ala carte.' We bought albums knowing it would have songs we didn't like/understand. We even had a common colloquialism for songs that weren't very strong: "B-sides."

Can you imagine putting a product into the market knowing full well it wasn't of the highest quality? Can you imagine that being built-in to your existence as an artist?

Not in 2010. We don't have time for that anymore. We only have time for the best. The term "B-side" now refers to a kind of obscurity or stamp of artistic merit (that something was developed outside the old system.)

Which is why artist development is in the tank. Nobody wants to risk the cost of development except the artist. So we're in a situation where only the artists (and their families) are all-in...who else? How many friends do I have who's CD's are lingering in their garages, ever hopeful for the DIY-heroin hit that is the CDBaby re-stock email? They'll never get that investment back. Why repeat that model? Why is it so prevalent?

I think its because the only history we have is the album history. Every artist that's come before has done an album, for better or worse. It's the first step in establishing credibility and legitimacy, at least for now. But credibility and legitimacy with who?? Are your fans demanding it from you? Are they helping you fund it?

And that's the only album you or I should be concerned about anymore: The one that's demanded and financed directly by the fans.

Long live the album!