Is the album still relevant in the modern age of music?


Featured Image “Stocking Shelves”: Bloomberg via Getty Images

I love albums. I like having something physical that I can hold and appreciate for its artwork, additional information and ten songs or so I can play at will. I enjoy browsing through them on the shelf and reminding myself which ones I haven’t taken the time to listen to in a while. My appreciation of them is much the same as that of the hardback or paperback book. They represent part of my personality and are displayed proudly in the museum of my life if you will.

But in reality, I am not taking those CDs out of there cases and putting them in a Hi-Fi with speakers like it’s the 90s. I am putting them into my computer and onto iTunes where, once it has successfully imported into my library, I’m listening to the songs I want to listen to.*

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The song-length, “popularity” and price of individual songs on a successful 2014 album on iTunes.

In the modern age of music and its consumption, the concept of the album is being called into question. A rather expensive and not always lucrative project, the album is losing it’s relevance in the age of downloads and streaming. That said, much like books in 2015, the LP saw more physical sales than downloads according to the BPI. However, ever since iTunes launched 15 years ago we have been able to pick the best fruits from the album tree and with the growth of streaming we don’t have to buy a song at all, merely a subscription to have access to them.

Let’s be honest, we are all just listening to our favourites aren’t we? Browsing through our iTunes libraries or Spotify and bypassing tracks 3, 6 and 7 because they’re just “filler”. So why are we still expecting albums from artists when really all we want are those moments of creative brilliance that produced four tracks which could make an incredible EP?

I can’t help but experience dissonant relationship with this question – I love the album as a piece of audible and visual art, but as a product it doesn’t necessarily belong in the modern market where music is now consumed in a different way. I find myself listening to the songs I want to listen to by a particular artist without listening to the whole release.

There have been many “classic” albums that are now protected by the annals of time. Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’, Hendrix’s ‘Are You Experienced?’ and so on. ‘Sgt. Pepper’ falling into the category of the concept album, which may be another lost art unless made into a short story form through an EP. The thought of those albums being reduced to EPs is simply unimaginable now, but history has been made in the era of the album, is it not time to change the approach to releasing music so history can be made again?

Pick some of your albums, physical or digital, and be honest with which songs you’re actually interested in listening to and then imagine them as a four or five-track EP. It’s a good EP don’t you think?

 

By Will Hunt

 

*Of course, when I am reviewing an album, I always listen to it all of the way through.