LPDuring my travel from California to Illinois, then my long-term cold recuperation (which still isn’t complete), I thought about today’s music distribution and whether full-length albums were even needed anymore (for the most part anyway).

The thrust of music has become a long, long playlist these days since the arrival of the iPod.  Of course the iPod hastened this form of listening but honestly, if it wasn’t the iPod, it would have been something else soon enough.

It would seen that the long-player has really become a worn out ideal.  It’s seems to be held onto simply because that’s the way the music of the golden age was distributed.  And yes, it’s still a cool form.  Get the best 7-10 tracks and get them onto an album, and let the album talk for itself.  Except, I’m doubting whether many albums talk for themselves at all.

Yes, there are forms of music that still need the complete album.  But the audiences for those are built in, and more than ready to buy those albums to enjoy a full experience.   Prog band, free-form music, and such like those that benefit.  But more often than not, most recording artists create songs.

And those songs really come off better as singles sold thorough iTunes, or other sources.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been fond of a song, only to hear the rest of the album, and wonder, “what happened?”

I thought that this would be an interesting reentry point for me while I start to assemble the TAPSheets that are long overdue.

Simply put, I wonder whether the need for the album largely exists anymore.  What do you think?

By MARowe

23 thoughts on “Are Albums Necessary?”
  1. I think so. I think what’s changed are the buyers/listeners. Let’s be honest, back in the day there were a lot of bands that we bought the album because we liked one or two songs. Sometimes those albums turned out to be great, sometimes they didn’t. We would have never known if we had the option to buy only that one (or two) song(s).
    Perhaps there are bands now that cater to a singles mentality fan base because the business model supports it now (more so than in the past). There are still plenty of bands and fans that have an album mentality (not that they wouldn’t release or buy a single or two along the way).
    Once again I think this gets into a generational and technology discussion. No doubt things have changed. You almost can’t compare today to 20 years ago. Still, if a band/artist wants to have a long career I can’t imagine them doing it without putting out some albums along the way. Hell, most of the money they make now is playing live. In order to get people to come out to the concert year after year they need something to play and that takes a catalogue of music (once again, assuming the band wants to make a career in the music biz). Look at a group like Aerosmith. Suppose they only released the songs that charted? How long would it have taken them to have a set list that could fill 90 minutes live? So yes, I think the album is still necessary.

    1. Let alone someone like Bruce Springsteen, who played for more than 3 hours last week in Sydney. He played a lot of hits, but also quite a few album tracks.

  2. EPs are more popular than ever. Drivin’ n Cryin’ realized that they could release four themed EPs at $5-8 each, and make more money.

  3. I still look forward to a new album by a favorite band (for example, Wilco); a song or two just doesn’t get me excited. And for me, there’s something about listening to an entire album from start to finish that’s more fulfilling than skipping between tracks and bands. Even on the music server I’m putting together I listen to albums (or full classical compositions, not skipping the slow movements) far more often than not. But I’m sure I’m not the targeted music purchaser any more…

  4. Are albums necessary? Probably not… Bands can put out videos on YouTube, or singles on iTunes and have their fifteen minutes of fame. I do agree with Bill B that if a band wants to enjoy long term success, and make money playing live, they need a critical mass of material and that’s hard to do without some full albums. I still enjoy albums from established, icon artists, but I will opt for the iTunes download if I hear a one off song that I like by a band that I don’t necessarily care for….

    1. It was a large book with clear inserts that you could put pictures in before digital photography became the norm. Believe it or not, there used to be something called “film” which captured the image. You then needed to get that “film” processed to produce a physical print of that image to actually see it.
      Hope that helps. : )

  5. I think the album still has a place. Boz Scaggs’ Memphis and anything from Donald Fagen is an album not just a collection of songs. For many new artist, an album may for just a collection of song, say like Adele but remember, The Beatles’ early albums were just a collection of songs and then we got Sgt. Pepper. As an artist matures, so may their artistic statement.

  6. Yes they are absolutely needed. Artisits need to tour to promote their music and develop a fan base. You can’t tour with one damn song! Artists still need a catalog to play through and fans need some familiarity to enjoy the evening. Many artists change moods throughout an album and what better way to express their musicality than by offering a large collection of songs. Hell, there are many obscure songs that I enjoy more than the artisits hits! For me, albums are a must.

  7. I think that the album is still viable for a lot of artists. Releasing singles until there is enough for an album is viable as well for some artists. However, to me, for a lot of the artists I listen to, the collection of songs on an album can document a time or place in their lives. For instance, John Hiatt and Bring the Family. Would that album have been the same, even with all the same songs, if it was a different band brought into the studio to record each song at different times over the course of a couple of years?

  8. I think the music in question dictates whether there is a necessity for an entire album or not. I don’t want to impose my musical prejudices on others but I don’t need a “pop” album with 2 good songs and 7 pieces of filler. However, when that recent My Bloody Valentine album came out I was sad that after a 20 year hiatus that they only only gave us 9 tracks. Also, even though records like the Cure’s “Disintegration” and U2’s “Joshua Tree” yielded lots of hit singles those songs definitely existed in thematic and sonic contexts that marks them as part a larger work where even the running order is an important factor.

  9. I own over 7,000 cd’s and 400 lp’s(all past issues-I dont buy records at all anymore) and I ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to download or trust an iPod. I did have iPods, but I didnt charge them and they went bad. External hard drives will go bad eventually(due to moving parts). You give up that hard form, and you will BUY your stuff again. Thats what the industry wants and is trying to force. Artists(bands) are starting to think similarly. Why make new music when the public will just buy the old and the one son they heard online somewhere.
    In my opinion, NEW music fuels my purchases. Since I wont download, i will only buy cd’s. Im not interested in cd singles. Im a devout and hardcore metalhead. I seek bands out. If there is nothing to seek out, then no reason for band to exist. pi know i have lost out on songs by Motley Crue and sometimes some bonus tracks, but Oh well! If you let the younger generation dictate this cause traditionally the 16 to 25 year olds hold the financial clout, they will ruin it as labels and music owners will try to cut the middle man out(stores, shipping and packing operations, physical manufactuing) (which , people, result in job losses-another issue) and eliminate stores and hence the need for full length cd’s. My point is that these issues are tied together. If people will pay for less as an online download, companies will oblige as their output is minimalized. And then all we are left with is a greatest hits mentallity. (I love JOURNEY, but tired of always getting greatest hits shows live).
    How many songs from a ton of metal artists do I love? Thousands, I prefer to listen from beginning to end. Yeah, sometimes a band does have one great track and then a lot of mediocre or rarely relistned to songs. But, at least Ive heard them. And in metal, some good guitarwork anyways. This really applies to R amp;B and Rock too. My favorite female vocalist (Chaka Khan) has released download songs lately. I wont get them until released on disc. And I dont want 10 discs for 10 songs. I wont download them, not even for free. (They aren’t Im sure)
    The get even factor for this younger generation and those who are relying on computer memory space, external hard drives, iPods, MP3’s or any other form of get it now type download players is when it crashes, breaks, gets a virus, loses its charge-you will lose everything. And think of me laughing about it! Cause it will happen!

    1. To a lot of younger fans music seems disposable. They like a song today and then tomorrow a new one comes along and the old one is forgotten. I wonder how much they will miss a song ten years down the road. Maybe not enough to repurchase it.
      Also, here is something I have been noticing on Amazon. I have seen many cases where the cd is actually cheaper than the download. Try to figure that one out.

        1. Unless you consider Muse and The Black Keys pop, I think they might be stand-out bands from this era. That is assuming they stick around for a few more years.

  10. Both singles and albums have their merits. However, for the way I like to listen to music, albums will always be held in higher esteem for me and for my own selfish reasons I find them necessary and hope they continue. Tori Amos is the most recent artist I can think of that tried to manage both with equal respect. Her singles would have b-sides (a concept that has taken a beating in recent years) from the sessions that yielded the album. In many cases, those b-sides would be just as good as the songs on the album but simply wouldn’t fit into the concept that she had for the album.

    The rise of the digital download culture certainly has forever changed how fans will listen to music. It is good to see all the extra options for accessing and listening to music. But I would hate to see all the changes come at the expense of eliminating options that have worked for all these years. If Revolver or The White Album came out today would it have the same overall effect if it were made available two to four songs at a time? Concepts like context and sequencing would be tossed out the window.

    I enjoy committing to the idea of listening to an album of songs from the beginning to end. However, I can understand if listeners feel that albums don’t hold up to that test. I tend to disagree on this point but we are all very likely listening to different things since there is simply so much available these days. I think I’m going to start talking in circles so I’ll stop here except to thank you for this post as it should give much to think about for my podcast about music and memories.

  11. What I have not seen commented on at all is the fact that good vinyl SOUNDS A HELL OF A LOT BETTER THAN ANY DIGITAL FORMAT! I bought an excellent new turntable a few years ago and I play more vinyl that CDs or iTunes. The new vinyl is exquisite – the pressing of Lana Del Rey’s debut is remarkable. THIS is why vinyl will never go away. I also believe that many younger people are learning that today! Let’s hope – the 12″ record is a gorgeous format!

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