As I was driving listening to some CDs the other day, I started to think about all the changes to the music industry I have seen in my lifetime. Albums, cassettes, eight tracks, 45s, cassettes, cassette singles, CDs, CD singles, music videos, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, internet radio, satellite radio, MP3s, iTunes, Spotify and more. The way we consume music has changed forever that is for sure. And there is no going back.
Here are some of the things I was wondering as I was listening: Does anyone care about albums anymore? I love the fact that I can buy just one song from an album these days. I remember singles used to be on 45, then cassette single or CD single. Then the record companies didn’t make them available at all, and forced you to buy the whole album for one song. This is one of many issues I think where people really felt ripped off by the record companies.
But by buying one song are we missing out on listening to an album the way the artist put it together? In the old days, you had to listen to one side of an album, then flip it over to hear the other side. Sure, you could put the needle down on the one song you wanted to listen to, but more often that not you didn’t get the position of the needle right, and it would be too early or too late for the song. Cassettes also didn’t make it easy for us to listen to just one song.
When CDs came along, besides the great sound quality, we finally had an easy way to listen to our favorite tracks. You could just go to that track # or push skip to get to the song. Great albums have hits for sure, but often the non-hits are often worthy songs too. They may work in the context of the other songs, or be something a little quirky or edgy that wouldn’t work as a single. But in these days of “hit single” mentality, does anyone really listen to the rest of the songs?
Once upon a time, an album told a story — It carried the listener on a journey of highs and lows. It was meant to be consumed in its entirety. You would peruse the album cover, and look over the lyric sheets too. That’s not to say you wouldn’t have your favorite songs on it, but to me I feel it gave you a better insight into the artist themselves than just hearing the hit songs. For example, Donna Summer has a great live album called “Live and More”… yes the hits are there, but her cover song choices showed me the real Donna. I was able to get a better sense of her as a singer.
Back to my drive-time listening, I was listening to Mariah Carey’s “Rainbow” and Duran Duran’s “Pop Trash.” “Rainbow” has some hits on it, but it was good to hear the album tracks too. Duran Duran’s album to me, was one of their more experimental albums with a grungier sound. It is not a bad album at all, but it is not one of my favorites either. I remember seeing them on this tour and enjoyed the songs they performed from the “Pop Trash” album in the show.
Once upon a time, musicians were encouraged to experiment and push themselves. But do labels even want that from their artists anymore? You could make a flop album, and the label wouldn’t fire you because of it. This was because they valued you as a multi-dimensional artist who was in it for the long haul. Now, I don’t know that a record company views their artists in the same way as they did back in the 60’s and 70’s. They are more concerned for the bottom line and how many singles you can produce now. Not if you are a career artist who wants to be in the business 10-20 years from now.
KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.