Is The Album A Dying Format?

The Internet has already had a profound impact on music distribution, but it also has an effect on consumption. Last year, digital single downloads outsold physical and digital albums by a factor of 2.5. So is it time reconsider how we present our music to the public?

The Meeting Of Art And Commerce

Creative Commons License photo credit: dwhartwig

This discussion may seem to be somewhat at odds with the previous post regarding creating an album in a month with the RPM Challenge – but, although I can’t recommend the challenge highly enough, it is purely an artistic endeavour.

When it comes to sales and promotion, the trends and technologies of consumption must be considered. Understanding the needs and desires of the audience is key to running a successful business, and if you want to make a living from music, however modest, then you have to treat it as a business.

Music Technology Shapes Music

In the early days of recorded music and radio, singles were the driving force behind the industry. When the vinyl LP was introduced, artists began to produce collections of songs that were roughly 40-45 minutes in duration, simply because a record could only successfully reproduce about 20 minutes per side.

This was the template for ‘the album’, but the duration was determined primarily by the technological limitations of the medium. When the CD was introduced, artists were free to create albums of 70-80 minutes on one disc, and now that the physical medium has been made redundant altogether, artists can create albums that go on for months if they so choose.

Less Is More

So, perhaps ironically, we are now back where we started – the digital single is now becoming the most important source of revenue in terms of actual music products.

This interview with Tom Silverman over at MusicianCoaching provides plenty of insights into the state of commercial music.

Soundscan reveals that last year overall music sales are actually up 2.1%. Within that, all album sales (physical and digital) were down 12.7%, but individual track downloads increased by 8.3%.

Living The Single Life

So people are embracing the song-by-song a la carte music consumption model. It’s always been the case that a single song could break an act or propel it into the mainstream, but this is probably becoming even more important again… to the extent that artists (at least, those with revenue goals) should probably try to focus on creating great songs (or even one great song) rather than great albums.

I previously considered taking this strategy to the next level of brevity – creating a preview clip of a song that is designed to lure the listener to the ‘buy now’ button, as detailed in this post on thirty-second songs.

But this is something to move on to once you’ve finished your RPM album, of course…


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