Digital technology has revolutionized music. Recordings that rival the best of decades past can be created on an iPad in a closet. A quick listen to any new music playlist reveals just how sophisticated and lush even the most obscure indie artist can sound. On the consumer side, fans can download their favorite music instantly, without the need for a trip to the mall or big box store. When you visit most digital retailers, however, there is one vestige from the past that refuses to loosen its grip, the album.
Anyone who has ever purchased an album, in any format, has felt the sting of paying for 15 songs, only to discover that 13 of them weren’t worth a dime. You might think that in the digital buffet line of today’s music, where you are able to load your auditory plate with just your favorites and ignore the rest, albums would be a rarity. You’d be wrong.
It’s easy to understand why digital music retailers hold onto the album format. Ringing up a sale of $9.99 is preferable to a measly $.99. For the artist/label, the equation is much the same. Motivating your fans to buy 10 tracks at a dollar each is much more difficult than getting them to buy one album, one time, at $10.00. The only party at a disadvantage in this current scenario is the consumer.
Digital retailers like to feature albums and bury singles. This practice became very apparent to me when I began to distribute my music digitally. I chose Distrokid as my distributor. Each time I uploaded a song, I indicated that it was a single and not part of an album. After several days, when the song appeared in the Amazon store, it was listed as a single… and an album. The same thing happened when my music populated the iTunes store. Thinking there had been some kind of mix-up, I contacted Distrokid. They assured me that my songs had only been submitted as singles but that the retailer’s systems were set up to categorize music in terms of albums first, and then singles.
I understand the need for grouping certain songs together; soundtracks and concept albums are good examples of that. What I would like to see, however, is a system of singles and collections. Collections, as a class, could be much more flexible. It would not only include the traditional delineations of EP and LP but also allow for new concepts such as multiple works that are not linked by release dates. Let’s say an artist occasionally dabbles with a style of music for which they are not necessarily known. They could gather those works under a unifying umbrella, while also being able to add new tracks over time so that the collection constantly evolves. Whether or not the music industry follows suit, I intend to use the “collection” approach for certain groupings of my music. I’m currently working on just such a collection. It’s a series of modern country songs. You can expect to hear the first of these later this year.
Having said all that, at some point I might come up with a concept that demands to be labeled, “Album.” If that does happen, feel free to file this rant under another new category, “Never-mind.”