Let’s Let Go of the “Album” Concept

“Music is dying,” said Apple’s Eddy Cue at a recent Code conference. “It hasn’t been growing. You see it in the number of artists. This past year in iTunes, it’s the smallest number of new releases we’ve had in years.”

Most of us saw the turn of the millennium, and thus were a part of what I consider an amazing excerpt of human history: The control and franchising of recorded music.  Think about it, before the 20th century, music was a fleeting experience where people could experience a live performance and that was it.  With the dawn of technology and the ability to record and replay music, big companies with great reach were a necessity to deliver music to the masses.  It was a glorious time for everyone, where artists’ stories and releases could be carefully controlled marketed to the world.  Well, that’s all done now.  Kaput.  Bye.  Moving forward, I’m not talking about the streaming vs. digital sales conversation, that conversation is over and streaming is the victor.  I’m talking about the artistic delivery system.  Why as humans are we still latching on to the idea of an album, EP, or radio single as the primary means of communicating works to the world?  Sentimental reasons? Cause we haven’t figured out the next best way?  Forget about the technological and financial obsoleteness of the album, we all know that story; for artistic expression I think releasing a body of work in that capacity is old fashioned and impractical.  In a world where everyone is tweeting and following each other on a real time basis, music needs to line up with that.  It makes ZERO sense to try to work on an album for a year or two, release it, and have it be relevant to the artists current state of affairs, never mind culture’s.  Oh yea, it’s the age of the single.  Let’s just create radio dribble that will hopefully appeal to the lowest common denominator and make tons of money. That’s GREAT for art.  I think we’re close to figuring out a new way to deliver music to the world and we need to open up the conversation and let go of the past.

So check it… I’m not a marketing expert, a branding wizard, a lawyer, a digital media guy, or anyone who considers himself to be the expert to make advances like this, so I’m not crunching numbers over here or anything. I’m just a simple musician thinking out loud.  WHAT IF, instead of using the album as the goal method to release content, the artist’s vision is communicated in a more real time fashion, like the rest of social media?  I’m talking about releasing one song a month, with one video a month, with a digital media campaign and live shows to follow suit.  Making music doesn’t cost as much as it used to, and theres nothing to duplicate or ship.  Videos cost way less than they used to, and as far as servicing all of this, work with all the blogs and license that shit!  Why should it cost a million to campaign a pop song when with the right push (and awesome content) it will blow virally on the internet?  Everyone is hungry for great content.  This way, the artist can communicate a relevant vision in a more real time fashion, and the audience will be PUMPED that they’re constantly being fed material and they get to go down this journey with their favorite artist.  They can’t and shouldn’t be all radio smashes – they should be an honest look into what the artist is thinking and feeling at the given time.  This will coincide with all the tweeting and other media.  If at the end of the year the songs are a success, then yea, package that shit as a special album release and attempt to sell it.

I want to note that there are some cases where an album makes sense: if it’s a musical, an opera, a TRUE concept album, or any other vision where a group of songs is necessary to tell a story.

These are some of the ideas we’re discussing at Chest Rockwell, and we’d love for more people to be a part of the discussion.  Hope this tickles a conversation!


  • Evan Bogart

    The idea of delivery in a different method is right but the abandonment of an artists “album” of material, and the corresponding set up, marketing, touring and support, will gut the music BUSINESS to the point of no return. I refuse to believe in the singles method as a sustainable method for all artists. Only the ones with consistent multiple hits can actually make a career of that and even then it’s a risky game. Delivering in pieces could be interesting as would other ways we have not yet imagined. Consumers still need to be taking on a journey of sorts in order to really invest their energy and MONEY in all ancillary revenue. But like you, just my opinion and experiences.

    • Greg

      Would the entire business model actually be gutted? Or just re thought? I believe also in the need on taking the listener on a journey, and that’s what I’m trying to talk about: bringing the audience along on a journey in “real time.” Of course the whole model would have to be re thought, but wouldn’t that be an ok thing at this point? Obviously I can defer to your expertise and experience… A good podcast topic perhaps?!?

      • Michael

        I think the entire industry and the partners they work with need to get on the streaming band wagon. People obsess over Sound Scan charts as being “anemic” yet that same artist has 50 million views on YouTube. Streaming is here and it has won indeed! I think if we can discover a viable streaming model, we could then look into doing more with the technology and the release of music as money will be flowing in to allow this to happen. Artists will be able to become more creative with their releases. The problem to me is the fact that technology has progressed as it always has and as it always will i.e. with vinyl, with radio, with CDs etc and the industry didnt work fast enough. The industry was able to adjust to new technologies in the past i.e ASCAP and BMI with the development of radio and earn money from the new technological developments. We as an industry have yet to develop fully with streaming. I think if we can get up to par and figure out how to make streaming work, how to make the new method work, then the debate of releasing an album or single will not matter. Singles are great and albums are also great. Bruno Mars’s last two records were fantastic front to back, if they came out one single at a time, not too sure if I would have bought an additional record of all the singles compiled together after the fact. I agree with both Evan and Greg which is why I think the problem is not whether to release an album or a single. The problem is in the relationship between the music business and the technological innovators pushing the way we get our content forward. Artists will always find ways to release their music creatively.