A few years ago, my friend offered to download a song his teenage step-daughter liked. When he asked if she wanted the whole album, she said, “What do you mean?” That’s pretty telling. Not only are today’s young people not buying or listening to albums, many of them don’t even understand the concept. The digital age has definitely had a major impact on music. Is it killing music? That’s what the industry would have you believe. Labels and musicians aren’t making the kind of money they used to. I recently came across an article that raises the possibility that what’s actually going on is the return to a singles model: The state of internet music on Youtube, Pandora, iTunes and Facebook.
As illustrated by the chart above, people are still buying music, but appear to be abandoning the album. It looks like the album model that has dominated the music business for the past several decades was an anomaly. If that’s true, is it a bad thing?
I don’t know that it has to be a disaster for the music industry. Popular music has been singles-oriented before. When my mother was a kid, she and her friends didn’t buy albums, they bought 45s and played them over and over. Yet people were able to make a living in the business.
I think the digital age really has changed the way we think of music. And it didn’t just start with Napster and downloading. The seeds were sown when they came up with the compact disc (in a way the industry asked for it by forcing us to switch to another format to squeeze more money out of us). When the CD met the personal computer, people were bound to figure out that an album didn’t have to be a unit any more. A song is a “file” that can be separated from that album, and an album when you get down to it, has become a “folder” or directory.
I’m still not sure what I think about that. Does it mean musicians will just start doing singles? No more coherent themes, no more Dark Side of the Moon or Led Zeppelin 4, no more 2112? The idea bothers me, because I’m a collector. Anytime I find a song I like, I instinctively wonder what album it came from and if I would like it too. Maybe I just have to change my way of thinking and learn to love a good song for its own sake and forget about albums.