The Question That Needs to be Asked: What’s the Future of the Album in the Age of On-Demand?

As much as I like albums (or at least the concept of albums), let’s face it: we’re living in an on-demand a la carte world.  If you can get just the songs you want, why would you bother with all the other tracks that come with an album?  Isn’t that what made Napster (and then iTunes) so wildly successful in the first place?

While there will be a place for collections of songs released together (at least I think so), has the idea of the album run its course?  Music Industry Blog explores the idea.

Recently BBC Radio 1’s head of music George Ergatoudis stirred up something of a storm with his claim that “albums are edging closer to extinction”. Nonetheless there is a growing body of evidence that the album does indeed seem to be losing its relevance in today’s track and playlist led world. And the implications stretch much further than the confines of the recorded music business. (Hint: live music industry, you need to be watching your back too.)

The Advent Of Grazing

When Napster emerged 15 years ago it kick started an irreversible transformation in music consumption. The music business had spent the previous three decades turning the singles dominated market of the 1950’s into the albums led market of the 1990’s, but with Napster consumers suddenly did not have to take the whole album package anymore. The labels had their own fair share of blame. When the vinyl LP had been the dominant format albums typically had 8 tracks, but with the CD labels felt compelled to fill every one of its 74 minutes’ capacity, resulting in a preponderance of filler tracks over killer tracks. Couple this with album price hyperinflation and you had the perfect recipe for consumer revolt. Little wonder that music fans cherry picked, tracks skipping the filler for the killer. Grazing replaced immersion.

Grazing.”  I’ve been running across that word more and more lately.  Best continue reading, huh?

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.

One thought on “The Question That Needs to be Asked: What’s the Future of the Album in the Age of On-Demand?

  • July 15, 2014 at 9:48 pm
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    When I randomize the playback on my iPhone, the tracks that really stand out as out-of-place are from Side 2 of Abbey Road; digital formatting has separated the suite into snippets that start hard and end just as jarringly. If artists were crafty, they’d compose lengthy arrangements like these that are impossible to cut up, like Tubular Bells or Thick As A Brick. Of course, they would be in the minority, but they might preserve the dignity of the album a little longer.

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