The death of album listening

The death of album listening

I know, I know – the talk of “evolving” and all that has some merits. And yes, as “change” encompasses us – the majority move with that tide, most often completely forgetting what was left behind as they float to the next section of socially-accepted life. All interesting points of discussion. But for the sake of this article – the topic is the death of album listening.

The “music industry” has been weird

For almost as long as commercial music has been around – it has been “paid for” by someone. Makes sense for the most part – because those that create music full time, need to eat and have a place to live, right? Imagine if all music was done part time by people who have jobs otherwise?

Concerts, CD’s, MP3’s or other mediums, memorabilia, etc.

It’s fascinating that the creative entity known as “music” became a commercial entity to begin with. Same with art, acting and all other “creative” outlets. What some might say is just a form of expression came with a price tag. You ever wonder how the monetization of the performing and visual arts came to be? I do – but haven’t delved into researching the origins.

To us – “value” comes from providing a profoundly USEFUL thing (food, services, medical help, etc.) “Entertainment” is a more grey area. It’s not required by anyone, and it’s purely that – entertaining to those who consume it. Heck, we can entertain ourselves for free, can’t we? But fixing your natural gas furnace might require paid help.

It’s clear to me – that (whenever this billion dollar racket) began, entertainment and music was much more local. And rarely global in scale. There were obviously people who injected themselves into the scene in order to skim (money) from the talents of others. Yes, it’s a two-sided coin, as those who were successful were able to reap massive profits and long careers. So I understand the motivation on both sides.

But I digress. Just a little background stream of thought… If anyone can point us in the direction of how this inDUStry became a prominent money funneler – I’d be interested in reading.

Back to the album

In our early lives, we were “blessed” with Long Play Vinyl Record Albums.

Some called them records. Others said albums. Some said “LP’s.” They played at 33 and 1/3 revolutions per minute on a rotating platter along with a “needle” which picked up the subtle grooves.

Back in the day, you had one, maybe two Frequency Modulation (FM) radio stations that you preferred that would play designated “singles” from the then-popular artists. Heck, I recall a time where you’d essentially hear the same songs on a given day every two or three hours. It was what was “IN” according to certain “powerful” movers in that industry.

That shaped many of us.

It also motivated us to purchase “full albums” of that particular artist. Those that wanted just that song (the single) were able to buy a “45” and save some cash. Usually around a buck or two – instead of spending up to $10 or more for a full “album.” But many people had a blind hope that the rest of their tracks would offer similar pleasures.

Sometimes you’d say “that whole album was great!” Other times, you’d be disappointed, suggesting that the rest of the material was “so-so.” That is how you built your long-term favorites. The ones with “good albums” made the cut as your preferred bands.

“Greatest Hits” and the “Mix Tape”

As a group assembled a good collection of popular songs – another way to monetize the music was by making a single record with all their so-called “hits.” People who didn’t want to be bothered with their other work were pleased. Then cassettes allowed people to aggregate their favorites from one or multiple artists. This was the beginning of the end of truly listening to songs in album format.

The digital era

I recall Napster (and other underground file-sharing protocols) that allowed us to get what “hot” songs we wanted (most often for free). It was a huge game-changer. In multiple ways. Good and bad.

One, people starving for music often expanded their horizons beyond what the radio stations offered – and without the expense of experimenting by buying albums.

Two, it took that “mix tape” to the next level, giving a lot of people immediate access to the “best” or most popular. We used it a lot to curate massive libraries for our successful DJ operations in the 90’s.

And lastly – it accelerated the demise of giving all music a chance. People had less inclination to repeatedly listen to a “body of work.” They wanted ONLY what they liked the best, and provided only brief opportunities for other less-popular pieces to earn their appreciation.

Thus, the official death of album listening.

Today

Albums still exist. The digital or mix-tape era did not eradicate the album outright. Which is nice. But it did put a huge dent in the number of people who own or listen to entire albums.

The majority of music listeners do not buy albums. They buy tracks. Thanks to music services like iTunes, Amazon Prime, and the like.

Add in a massive collection of free (albeit sub-standard audio) tracks to stream via YouTube – and the other apps like Spotify and more – music has reached it’s lowest point in history.

Albums we’re listening to…

There are presently THREE albums we’ve had in FULL-ROTATION for the past six months. Almost non-stop (no other music), and almost only while driving:

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016:
My absolute favorite album. Every single track is incredible. Gets better with every listen. That is the power of listening to an entire album over and over. You start picking up on subtleties and other minor aspects of brilliance. I cannot recommend this album enough. A diamond in the rough of crap.

Beck – Morning Phase, 2014:
I love this album too – a close second to Radiohead. Just good old fashioned rock music with a country touch. The super-talented Beck really has the knack of composing songs that are easy on the ear and mind.

Cheap Trick (self-titled first album), 1977:
After re-watching that post we published about Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special (and videos), I decided to do a little research about Cheap Trick. I never cared for them when I was younger. For whatever reason. I decided to listen to their first album (self-entitled), and HOLY CRAP! I was blown away at how good it was. Musical brilliance without the manipulative control of the record company. Don’t you love finding treasures that you overlooked decades ago?

I guess my point is – that there was a point in time, where you just played entire albums many times over – for extended periods of time. Sometimes music is a bit complex, or it takes you a while to “get” what went into a production – or why the notes and words and other instruments were layered in certain ways. And “giving it a chance,” as they say – you are often rewarded in ways that are otherwise impossible if you’re impatient.

Footnotes:
As a person who has lived through many technological and societal shifts – I have to say that today’s “music” is bizarre. ALMOST EVERY SONG SOUNDS THE SAME. It’s disturbing to me – from the onset. Even after hearing over and over – I cannot summon any valid strong points. Sounds extremely forced and digital. Even the faux violin songs dopey kids think is sophisticated music. Make it stop, Jimmy Tango!

The vocal styles, the musical energy. Everything. So unappealing. The style and individuality feels like it has been removed (or merged). It’s plainly not good, especially to a non-lyrical person.

the death of album listening

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