The Album's Last Gasp
For a good thirty years or so, starting in the 1950s, musicians released singles on vinyl discs called “records”. You could also buy a full album of music by one artist, and some were worth it, but you also had the option of buying just that one song that you liked, that you kept hearing on the radio.
(You’d also get a second song on the “B-side” of the record. Mostly people just considered that a bonus.)
Vinyl made way for cassettes, and the cassingle was born. Then cassettes made way for CDs, and while I remember seeing some CD singles, they were never as prevalent as those on vinyl or cassette. I believe that’s because the vinyl and cassette singles were cheaper to make than the full album version, since they used less raw material, but a CD single cost as much to make as a full CD.
Consumers, en masse, didn’t complain about the death of the single. I did, because I won’t pay $18 for two or three songs. And let’s face it: the majority of your average pop/rock album is filler material. But for some reason, I was mostly alone in my anger.
Then everything went digital, and all Heck broke loose, people were making lossless copies, yadda yadda, you know this part. Now we’re finally at a place where you can once again pay for just the music you like, for a completely reasonable 99 cents, and there’s nothing stopping you from sending a copy to, say, your wife. (See also this controversial article: “Is it Ever Okay to Steal Entertainment?“.) In the music scene, DRM is dead, and yet somehow, the recording industry still lives. Who’d’ve thunk it? (Me. You. Everyone without a vested interest in obscene profits from album sales.)
Photo by stevecadman
But record companies, bless their pathetic little hearts, are still trying to find a way to sell full albums. There are at least two options in the works, something called “CMX” and Apple’s version codenamed “Cocktail”, which we’ll almost certainly learn more about at their upcoming press event on September 7th. These new digital album covers are meant to be interactive, and include videos and lyrics, and other mysterious “stuff” that has yet to be identified.
It won’t work. If I had an extra $1,000 (or even $1,000 that wasn’t extra), I would bet it all that this won’t work. These efforts will all die. Technical compatibility issues aside, people are simply done buying things that they don’t like. I’m not in the habit of feeling schadenfreude, but in this case, I am happy to sit back, point and laugh.
That all being said, when a music group proves itself to make consistently good albums of mostly-non-filler (in my opinion, people like Ben Folds, They Might Be Giants and “Weird Al” fit this description), I’ll buy a whole album. They deserve it. Also, good movie soundtracks. Music tastes are incredibly subjective, of course, but until music goes non-digital again, you’ll have very few reasons to buy a whole album.
New digital album format doesn’t have a prayer, Matt Rosof, CNET News, August 11, 2009
Cocktail part of Apple’s September event, Greg Sandoval, CNET News, August 14, 2009