Is The Album Format Really Outdated?

[Note of explanation: It occurred to me that the term “album” can mean different things to different people. Here I am not referring to the vinyl LP media, but rather the grouping of songs into a collection as opposed to songs sold and consumed individually, regardless of media. So, an album can refer to a CD, vinyl LP, an “album download”, etc.]

An old, dear friend of mine recently signed up for my newsletter mailing list, and since the list is managed via Fanbridge.com, there is a place where people can ask me questions. He asked me what my favorite all-time Chicago song was, as he remembers I was really into Chicago back in the day. (Some of you may remember the Seventies.) Tongue in cheek, I replied that my favorite song was “The Death of Rock and Roll”, which was not by Chicago, but by Todd Rundgren. My friend–I’ll call him A.J.–was really into Todd Rundgren and introduced me to his work. To this day, I consider Todd as one of the top influences on my songwriting, so thanks be to A.J.

One of my all-time favorite Todd records was the quirky “A Wizard, a True Star”. This was his second release, a year after his highly successful “Something, Anything” which served up his most successful hit, “Hello, It’s Me”. With “Wizard”, Todd shattered any preconceptions that he would be a conventional music artist. Back in those days, primarily due to the fact that artists were given a lot of leash by their record labels, Todd managed to evade any critical commercial success throughout the rest of his career. Instead, he survived, along with his band Utopia, as cult artists, with an occasional bottom of the charts hit.

His work is, for the most part, jarring and spectacular. And one of my faves is “Wizard”, the first side of which is one continuous medley. Since he pushed the bounds of how much material one could fit on a side on an LP, unfortunately, the sonic quality of the album is lacking. But, for me, despite some disturbing bits, the whole record is a joy to listen to, and as such, really should be experienced start to finish.

There have been other truly groundbreaking records that need to be listened to all the way through: Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Peppers, the rock operas by The Who, the second side of Abbey Road, and all the many more “concept” albums.

Yes, I am sounding sentimental. Sorry. Actually, not sorry. The point is, there are musical works that are meant not only to be listened to, but listened through. Yet, recently I ran across a blog post stating that the album format is pretty much a goner. You can read about it here. Apparently, people don’t listen to, or even buy, full albums anymore. People consume music by the song. This is no surprise. I too have to really be into somebody before I’m going to shell out a paltry $10 + tax to download their entire album. And then I am truly committing myself when I purchase an actual CD at $12.95 + tax. But I am old-fashioned enough to want to buy a full album, as in, please let most if not all of the songs be compelling enough that I will want to purchase the whole thing for about the price of a burger at Red Robin. (And yes, I believe it’s a good idea to actually pay for music.)

Why am I spending any time thinking about this? Well, it turns out that I am coming out with a new album that evolved into something more than just a random collection of songs. It can be experienced as an entire piece.  Not that it has to be of course, but it will be more rewarding if it is. Yes, I am lobbying that it be consumed as a whole, for less than the price of a combination plate at a Mexican restaurant.

I am hoping that people are willing to listen through the album. Be warned, it is not a small bite to chew. It is about 70 minutes long. (Yeah, what was I thinking in this ADD-saturated age?) It still works well as relaxing background or “soaking” music even if one is not giving it their undivided attention. And you don’t really have to listen to the whole thing. My last instrumental was 66 minutes long and also featured an 11-minute song, so I am not breaking my own mold here. Hopefully the music will be compelling enough to keep you listening. I think it is.

So, in my own best interests, I am hoping that the album format has not completely gone extinct. In fact, I am betting the farm on it.

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1 Comment

Filed under Art, Music Career, Vol. 2 Project

One response to “Is The Album Format Really Outdated?

  1. Sue Finney

    Excellent proposition. I guess for me, I do tend to buy “songs” rather than whole albums, and the songs on my ipod are grouped according to “mood”. For driving, meditating, worship, listening, background, or whatever. So if you’re putting together an album that is to be listened “through”, rather than individual pieces of random and eclectic thought, I would buy the “album” vs just one song.

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