Modern music media is quick to write off albums as a thing of the past, pointing at dwindling sales figures as a sign that the end is nigh. Industry moguls can often be found lamenting over the apparently fickle nature of modern consumers and the fact that people these days simply can’t be bothered to sit through an entire album. To paraphrase Mark Twain: the reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated, and I for one am fed up of this bleak and out of touch outlook. The truth is albums have more power now than they have done in a long time, you just need to know where to look.
To be honest if I was at the top of the ladder in some major label then I’m sure I would understand where they are coming from. For many years albums have indeed been in a steep decline. With the advent of CDs albums became longer and therefore often had a significant drop in quality. The new format also saw a rise in price as well as making it a lot easier to share music around without having to actually buy it. Then along came downloads which presented people with the option of buying single tracks without buying the whole album, and again made sharing music illegally even easier. Today the price of albums is at an all time high and people just can’t afford it. If albums are in a decline then it is an issue of the industry’s own making.
Then we get to one of the most exasperating claims; that people aren’t interested in albums, they only buy singles. Let’s take a moment and look at the official singles chart, it doesn’t particularly matter what week you do this as the point will still be evident. I’m going to say that the majority of it involves mass produced pop, banal electronic dance tracks and a modicum of hip hop. I don’t recall hearing most of them on the radio (with the exception of dedicated chart shows), I haven’t seen them advertised or in shops and if I interviewed every single person that I know by name the vast majority will never have bought them. I know it’s easy to take cheap shots at chart music but the point still stands, these are not artists that work with albums in mind. The music industry instigates viral interest in a track aimed at people who essentially don’t know any better, milk it for all it is worth until the interest fades and then starts the process again. It’s highly hypocritical to point fingers at the fickle minded single buyers when they are the main target of your business model.
In reality thanks to streaming albums are back on the way up, as they should be. Granted it’s easier than ever to just gather singles together into playlists, but it is also the easiest it has ever been to listen to albums. Whether it is a through a paid service or via Spotify’s free ad-assisted plan, you can listen to as many albums as you like for the same price. Music fans can delve into albums that they may never normally have listened to as there is no risk involved, you haven’t bought or downloaded an album that you ended up hating, you can just put it to one side and keep exploring in search of something that you do like. Although streaming services are yet to pay a fair price to artists, when all the music in the world is at your fingertips illegal downloads that eat into profits are completely unnecessary. Pair streaming with the vinyl resurgence and you’re on to a winner. Streaming can introduce you to a world of new music, but when you stumble across something that you truly love you want a physical copy to cherish and there is no better way than vinyl. If you ask any ardent music fan they will tell you that this has quickly become the norm; discovery via streaming and a few treasured vinyl, but for whatever reason the industry has yet to catch on.
Above all else the reason that the album simply cannot die out is because there is no viable alternative. If there were no albums, just the constant release of stagnant singles in a flooded market it would be a very bleak musical landscape. Albums create a snapshot of a moment in time and show artists and their fans in a distinct creative period. There will always be crap mindless songs spoon-fed to the masses but there will also always be people clambering for something far greater to push boundaries, challenge preconceptions and make grand statements of free expression. As long as there is music there will continue to be albums.