Rush, 2112. The Who, Quadrophenia. Chicago Transit Authority. Paul Simon, Graceland. Van Halen, 1984. Metallica, Black. Better Than Ezra, Deluxe. Beck, Mutations. U2, Achtung Baby. The Tragically Hip, Fully Completely. Any Radiohead album…
These albums had continuity. These albums had excellent sequencing. The song order just made great sense. The album felt like an album. The B sides were not only listenable, but sometimes just flat out great.
Somewhere along the way artists started to take advantage of the B side. In my experience the last 10-15 years of the life of the CD, artists were really releasing 1 or 2 great songs with 1 or 2 pretty good songs amongst 6-8 pretty bad ones. They would release a single, a great song, and it would inspire me to buy the album. Then I’d find out that there might be 1 or 2 more songs I was glad to have. They basically were selling singles.
Now, the modern listener, at the first opportunity to do so, has elected to buy ONLY the songs they like. In fact, they don’t even care that they might be ultra-compressed file formats that lack any of the spacial detail or original transients that were captured in the recording. The modern listener is buying the single. (If they’re not already downloading them for free either legally or not.)
Why should they buy the whole album if the artist is just gonna charge them $15 or more for 8 mediocre or bad songs?
So, from my perspective as an artist and producer, why should I release an album? Even if the entire album is full of great songs, can I expect the modern listener to buy it versus just buying their favorite tracks? I know there are listeners still out there that buy whole albums. I’m certainly not saying they don’t exist. I’m simply saying that there appears to be a trend in the behavior of the modern listener. Similar to how we found that many of the listeners that balked at the 99 cent download didn’t mind paying 99 cents for 30 seconds of that download as a ringtone.
At an early stage of an artist’s career, can they justify releasing anything more than a single at a time and, at best, a 3 song EP?
Don’t misinterpret my rant as I am an album hater and don’t want to buy albums. The albums I listed above are in my collection along with so many other incredible albums, WHOLE ALBUMS, that I wholeheartedly adore. I LIVE for complete works that are built on an artist’s idea and where the entire collection is amazing from start to finish. You ever hear a song and because you listened to the album so friggin’ much you started singing the next song in your head?
I miss that.