Life After the Album Is Going to Get Weird

The concept of the modern album goes back to the introduction of the 33 1/3 RPM record in June 1948. Before that, all records were singles with one song per side.  The term “album” was a holdover from the days these 10-inch 78 RPM records were bundled and sold together in books that resembled photo albums.

At first, albums were reserved for so-called “good” music:  classical, jazz and original cast recordings from movies or Broadway productions.  It wasn’t until the Beatles arrived that the idea of rock music on album began to spread.

Rock albums started by being collections of singles with a few B-sides or filler tracks thrown in.  Later they became considered works on the leval of novels with each song forming a chapter in what was supposed to be unified and linear listening experience.  Artists loved it.

For the record labels, the album became a retail event, a chance to sell something with a huge mark-up.

And lo, the times were good for many decades.  However you want to look at it, though, the album has been around for a long time.  But now its days are numbered.  It’s dying.

Looking back, the end of the album began with the release of the original Napster in June 1999.  Freed from the tyranny of having to buy entire albums to get just the one song we wanted, music fans went apeshit for the a la carte menu.  iTunes cemented that.

So what’s next? Digital Music News has a few thoughts:

If the album is dying, then the stuff that goes into the album has never been more alive. We still have the songs and creative processes, the recording has never been so free-flowing, artists still go through creative cycles and evolutions. But how do you release all of that?

Welcome to one of the most complicated questions for an artist today. Do you release a traditional album with ornate packaging, treat it as an event, tie it to a tour, give it an iTunes exclusive (if they care)? Or, are songs and outtakes released as soon as they’re baked, online or onstage, spread out over time? Or, it is one of a million variations in between?

Read the rest here.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Life After the Album Is Going to Get Weird

  • July 15, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    A new artist would still have to put out something like an album would they not? Would you go to a concert for the sake of an artist that has 1 or 2 songs? It seems to me you still need to have a body of work to justify having a tour.

  • July 16, 2012 at 5:37 am

    The death of the album isn't a matter of MP3's being able to be downloaded individually. Sadly, the masses listen to lower quality music in which an album doesn't make sense. How many popular music 'albums' tell as story? Not many. There have been exceptions, of course, and there are many amazing bands out there, but overall today's 'popular' music is nothing but disposable tripe. Overall I think its recording companies being out of touch and giving quantity instead of quality. An 'artist' is a person or group that preform their own music. The popular music today are just performers – four people write a song and sell it to the highest bidder. Its a sad time for music.


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