The album is (not) dead.
On June 1st, 1967, The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of the most influential albums ever produced. As vinyl progressed for longer play times, Sgt. Pepper’s seized the opportunity, illustrating that an album could be a cohesive work rather than a collection of singles.
This isn’t to say the latter version of albums ceased to exist; collections of singles are a staple for pop artists. But in the digital age, the consumption of music has changed yet again. Record companies coercing record shops in pushing the new CD format soon found themselves kicking and screaming against the tide of digital piracy. Strangely enough, it seems pop stars can only make traction through singles.
I came upon a Variety article arguing that digital consumption of music leads to a grazing of sorts, and that build up anticipation of albums is no longer a reliable method for the industry. In other words, hype is dead.
Here’s my take: hype is alive and well, it just depends on what kind of crowd you’re talking about. Naturally, the Variety article uses large pop stars as examples. But the vast music outside the realm of mainstream pop is a different sort of music industry. Pop stars are highly consumable; their music tends towards easily consumable to attract the largest amount of people. But turn to say Arcade Fire for instance, with a large crowd of devotees as well as casual fans. This massive hype for Reflektor was no doubt successful, though no doubt Arcade Fire proves to be an exceptional case.
If anything, I write to say that people still care enough to support the artists they love. How many people is impossible to determine. I find myself turning to the popularity of Pitchfork as proof of their existence. Surely people out there care about those artist and seek to support their well being?
But I was taking about the art of the album. No, the form isn’t dead. Not yet. We still use it, and think it a reliable means of organizing music. The majority of mass consumption disagrees, of course. It makes sense why singles are yet again the bread an butter of the industry. They’re clean and compact, easy on the digestion.
Only the future will tell how the digital age will continue to shape our consumption of music and art as we know it.
Albums aren’t dead yet. Long live the album!