What Is an “Album” in 2016?

Define a “record album.” Most people will describe it as a collection of songs released by an artist. Okay, fine. But then things start to turn weird.

How many songs in this collection? Does an album have a minimum number of songs? If so, how long is an album–that is, strung all together, what is the running time of these songs? And when an album is released, does it have to be finished?

NPR takes on some of these questions.

In principle, music makers have agreed to a certain order — a certain way of doing things. First, pop artists work hard to put out finished albums with polished tracks. Second, music critics get those albums ahead of the release date so they can listen to and review them. Finally, albums come out on Fridays — they’re events to look forward to and items to spend your money on at the week’s end. And yet, says NPR Music’s Daoud Tyler-Ameen, in 2016 it appeared those rules were made to be broken.

“Major artists — not people at the fringes, but people directly at the center of the conversation — are starting to say, ‘You know what? An album doesn’t necessarily need to be a complete statement. An album doesn’t necessarily need to be under 80 minutes. An album doesn’t need to have singles,'” Tyler-Ameen says of the year in pop. “They’re taking the biggest swings they can, because — well, they can.”

Keep reading.

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.

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