Rock Biz

Are Albums Doomed?

I recently read an article in the Montreal Gazette titled “Music fans get single-minded. As one-track minds are ignoring full CDs, they may be writing the format’s swan song.” (I cannot find an online link to this article but you can purchase it from the Dallas Morning News if you’d like.) The article basically states that album sales for the most part are declining because music “fans” are taking advantage of digital downloads of singles and essentially putting together their own mix tapes. According to an Apple spokesperson, single sales on iTunes are beating out album sales 15:1. Today’s music fans, the current thinking goes, don’t have the attention span to last through an album. They need the instant gratification that only listening to singles can give them. The article even quotes B.B. King and Peter Buck of R.E.M. who complain of wasted time and money on albums with their fair share of dud songs on them. Of course, while trying to find a link to the article I came across this editorial, which states that the album isn’t dead at all, stats be damned. I think the reality is somewhere in between. Album sales are declining, that part is undeniable but part of the reason that it is declining is more related to the current concept of “put out one or two hot singles by Britaney/Justin/Christina and fill the remainder of the album out with a bunch of filler.” Now this has been going on for as long as rock and roll has existed so it should come as no surprise. It should also come as no surprise that a lot of artists do care to put out a quality album from the first track to the last and these artists will continue to proliferate in the future, the problem is that these artists are often not as much in the media spotlight as the current “pop” sensations. As with everything in this digital world, it all depends on what you listen to and whom you like. Pink fans might very well want to download only her latest Top 10, but High Dials fans will be excitedly anticipating their next full-length album opus. Their only decision will be whether to download the album or buy it. As the article rightly concludes with a quote from Joe Levy of Rolling Stone (of all places) “Ultimately, the fate of the album is in the hands of the artist. If they keep making great albums, the album will survive.” That is something that I can actually agree to, even if a guy from Rolling Stone said it. Will wonders never cease?