It’s been a while since my last article. I’ve been making an album. But why and for whom? Scarcely a day goes by without some music industry commentator arguing that the album’s popularity is on the wane, that sales of both physical and digital collections are falling, that we all might as well just stick our songs up online one at a time, as we record them, a steady trickle to maintain a constant stream of traffic. A good currency for harvesting email addresses. After all, it might lead to T-shirt sales if we’re lucky.
Yes, the times they are a changin’ and the long player teeters on the brink of the pit.
BBC 4 are commissioning documentaries with titles like “The Golden Age of the Album” that sound worryingly similar to “When Dinosaurs Walked The Earth” while big retailers like HMV and FNAC – their species a major feature on the high streets of every town for generations – are now in administration.
Where does this leave the album? Everything hints at extinction. The evidence is falling together with a neatness that usually only hindsight affords us.
Or are we getting ahead of ourselves, distracted by the irresistible lure of tragedy?
The public’s attitude to the album is shifting in two key areas: one seems to centre on a confusion over dominant formats and the other concerns itself with the wider notion of ownership itself. Neither issue is restricted to the music business though. File sharing/piracy got major headlines with the Napster free-for-all controversy of 1999 that meant everyone became predisposed to see the mp3 as a a thing of little worth. The subsequent glut of torrent sites and the grudging too-little-too-late major label treaty with the likes of Spotify have only muddled and muddied things. But still this is not peculiar to music. The film world is struggling with the same developments in technology and now the streaming services that are shaking the music market are taking similar bites out of cinema attendance and DVD sales. Not even good old trusty books are sacred. It’s only a matter of time before Kindles manage to simulate that lovely smell of old once-damp paperbacks.
It’s an on-demand society we’re moving into and people are traveling light. The idea of owning the physical artifact is becoming increasingly irrelevant…