Is the Album Dead?


I came across this year old article in The Times (of London), discussing the Mercury shortlist, and asks the question: "in the iPod age, is a best-album award obsolete?"

Perhaps the better question is, is the Album dead?

"The Mercury was conceived to counter a growing perception that a lot of modern CDs were no more than a couple of singles wrapped in filler, remixes and self-indulgent waffle. Despite a few serious omissions and a couple of prize turkeys, the Mercury has done a pretty good job of bolstering the notion that an album can be more than the sum of its parts. Yet that job has got exponentially harder recently. In short: what price the album of the year in the year of the iPod?"

"Before albums took off in the late 1960s, when singles were all the rage and often all there was, the record business was con-sidered so unimportant in the larger corporate scheme that conglomerates such as EMI did not bother to keep detailed figures of sales. Today, all major recording contracts are still expressed in terms of the number of albums an artist must deliver. This is why Napster and the other illegal file-sharing networks so exercised music-biz moguls at the turn of the millennium. 

Never mind the fact that they were nicking copyrighted material, the pirates were also threatening to turn back the clock to the days before fans acquired the album-buying habit. 

Unsurprisingly, thinking beyond the album has so far been confined to artists, via their personal websites, rather than their record labels. Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno have launched MUDDA (Magnificent Union of Digital Downloading Artists), an online service that allows musicians to issue music at whatever length they choose. 

However, like many of Gabriel’s ideas, this one remains at the planning stage. In the meantime, the Mercury Prize is still here, holding the line.

Interesting question . . .

Here’s this year’s nominees:

The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers
M.I.A. – Arular
Polar Bear – Held On The Tips Of Fingers
Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
Maximo Park – A Certain Trigger
Hard-Fi – Stars Of CCTV
KT Tunstall – Eye To The Telescope
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
Seth Lakeman – Kitty Jay
Coldplay – X&Y
Antony And The Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now
The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike

The winner will be announced at the prize ceremony on September 6.


Death of a sales format?
Robert Sandall
Times Online, July 25, 2004               ,,7948-1189033,00.html

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Karmakin commented on Aug 2

    The album died shortly after the B-side, for much the same reason. The b-side exists for the hardcore fan. The people who have all the albums, go to a ton of concerts, probably have a ton of merchandise. Only a few artists have really been able to do a lot with this anyway, (the two examples I keep in mind are U2 and Smashing Pumpkins, both have released b-side collections in one form or another).

    So the b-sides died. And now the albums are going the same way, where the albums are for the hardcore fans. And this is a matter of marketing, I think. The various music promotion industries are marketing a more superficial, a broader but not deeper view of music. And this is strange in a digital world. Because to me it seems to enocurage people to just “tape off the radio”, and not buy anything.

    But that’s just me.

  2. brian commented on Aug 2

    the thing about the album as a composition is that it offers for the fan more work by the artist than just the hit song played on the radio. Until the mp3 came along with cd-rippers consumers had to buy the whole package aka the album. What the album offers is a richer variety of tunes from the artist, some explicitly made so as to be not radio friendly.

    I don’t see that in a world of 10K song ipods that one must only acquire top 40 singles and feel the rest of the music is “trash.” just as when people read books they don’t consider the only value in the intro and conclusion and the middle as “filler” (although sometimes authors don’t know when to stop).

  3. dsquared commented on Aug 3

    It’s been a while since I last made my joke in this context about movie fans paying 50c to just see the car crashes and sex scenes and not have to sit through all the “filler” dialogue that people put in films these days. So here it is again.

  4. Floozy Speak! commented on Aug 3

    strange days upon us

    You remember the movie Strange Days?  Flash from the past eh?  I tell ya, there’s more and more in old scifi movies and especially anime that is manfiesting into reality right now.  Especially in advertising technology and consumer…

  5. Floozy Speak! commented on Aug 3

    strange days upon us

    You remember the movie Strange Days?  Flash from the past eh?  I tell ya, there’s more and more in old scifi movies and especially anime that is manfiesting into reality right now.  Especially in advertising technology and consumer…

  6. Fenton commented on Aug 3

    I think that in the long-run, you’ll be less right (not totally wrong though) about album v. singles.

    For the people who actually spend money on music (i.e., the people who download it), the trend is 100% geared towards albums. Only the mainstream laggards are moving towards singles, and they will come around quickly.

    Why/how? The downloaders have all started using bit torrent. This makes downloading a full album take 20 min. or sometimes even just 5 min. for the popular ones. If the music industry embraced bit torrent, they would be selling 10% more albums within a year’s time.

    99% of the time, music blog recommendations come in the form of “pick up Band X’s album.”

    It just makes more sense (and MORE MONEY FOR MUSIC COMPANIES) to promote bit torrent.

    It’s only the technology that’s holding back albums now. The supply side (music companies and bands) prefer albums) and the demand side prefers albums, but they demand side can’t be fulfilled until they’re allowed to use technology that supports what they want.

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