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Sunday, March 25, 2021

In a move that should surprise no one living in this age of digital music, the music industry is morphing away from the album-centric mode of doing business:

Last year, digital singles outsold plastic CD’s for the first time. So far this year, sales of digital songs have risen 54 percent, to roughly 189 million units, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan. Digital album sales are rising at a slightly faster pace, but buyers of digital music are purchasing singles over albums by a margin of 19 to 1.

Because of this shift in listener preferences — a trend reflected everywhere from blogs posting select MP3s to reviews of singles in Rolling Stone — record labels are coming to grips with the loss of the album as their main product and chief moneymaker.

In response, labels are re-examining everything from their marketing practices to their contracts. One result is that offers are cropping up for artists like Candy Hill to record only ring tones or a clutch of singles, according to talent managers and lawyers.

Personally, the emphasis on album sales was a key reason for me never getting into music during my formative years. I distinctly remember recognizing that it was a pure ripoff to plunk down several dollars for an 8-12 track album, when all I wanted was the one or two songs that were hits. I adopted a three-song minimum as a requirement for buying an album; if you’re at all familiar with the past twenty-five years of pop music, you can make a pretty accurate guess as to the paltry number of albums I wound up purchasing.

I realize I was in the minority. Plenty of my peers scooped up those albums, and justified it as the only way to get at the popular tunes. The potential bonus was the discovery of an unpromoted gem in the album’s filler tracks; realistically, that was usually just wishful thinking. But for me, it turned me off on developing any sort of music-buying habit.

Of course, I’ve since adopted the cherry-picking single selection via iTunes. And since so many other online music listeners exhibit the same preference — whether via legal purchases or file-sharing means — I guess I wasn’t alone after all. That early conditioning still holds today: I typically avoid buying albums on iTunes, regardless of price, because I figure I’m not going to like any artist/musical theme enough to want to listen to multiple tracks. I also still assume that the usual track-padding is in effect when building an album.

Will the future of the music biz drift exclusively toward singles and other short-form content chunks? I think albums can revert back to what they were in the ’50s and ’60s: Less concept packages and more like compilations of proven hit singles, released after they made their noise. That dynamic’s already made a comeback today, with the proliferation of “greatest hits” albums from artists that had barely three or four notable singles releases.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 03/25/2007 10:37:24 PM
Category: Business, Pop Culture
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5 Feedbacks »
  1. I’m a little concerned about what this means for album-oriented rock; a lot of the stuff I like relies on the long form. I’m not just talking about Pink Floyd, but more recent artists like Andrew Bird, who’s songs can rarely stand alone. There’s a lot of creative potential when you package song.

    Comment by Thud — 03/26/2007 @ 05:29:49 AM

  2. Get back to where we once belonged…

    Up until 1948, all records were singles: 78-rpm discs, ten or twelve inches across. Once in a while you’d see a set of five or six of them bound together in a one very thick package, which was called an……

    Trackback by dustbury.com — 03/26/2007 @ 03:36:34 PM

  3. Thud: Unfortunately, commercial viability sometimes sabotages optimal format. The example that comes to mind is from book, in the opposite direction: The novella, which had enjoyed modest success in the late 19th Century, got squeezed out when book publishing found those short-form volumes tough to sell when competing with radio, TV and other media. The Web always offers an alternate channel for hard-to-sell stuff, but it isn’t always enough to pay the rent.

    Comment by CT — 03/27/2007 @ 10:23:51 AM

  4. Slate has an interesting take on the issue and are much less pessimistic.

    I don’t think that the album is going away anytime soon as there are some stylistic reasons that many fans will prefer it that way, though I do think it’s correct that it will no longer be the dominant form of musical commerce and an “album” may just become an ordered list of songs released at once rather than a little silver round disc.

    Comment by trumwill — 03/28/2007 @ 12:50:01 PM

  5. NIN’S TEMPLATE FOR THE LATTER-DAY CONCEPT ALBUM…

    Just when I figured the music album’s days were numbered, along comes Nine Inch Nails and its latest album, “Year Zero”.
    The Trent Reznor-fronted band has devised an elaborate futuristic storyline to accompany the songs, to be uncover…

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 04/18/2007 @ 11:39:21 PM

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