Sunday, October 17, 2010

The art of music and album survival.

I was reading today about the music industry and its scramble to adapt for digital usage. Demand is high for impulse-purchased songs. There are suggestions that albums go away or get priced ridiculously low in order to compete with single-song sales.

Are we really an anti-album society? 
One song is purchased and then thrown into a sea of other lone songs. I'll admit, the iTunes shuffle setting is pretty cool. I swear it's using some crazy mind-link-technology, playing songs that I'm thinking. And yes, Pandora radio is awesome.

But what about the bands who still consider themselves album artists?
The musicians that produce an album meant to tell a story or capture where they were artistically when they produced it. Maybe they sequestered themselves somewhere, writing hundreds of songs and carefully selecting a dozen. From beginning to end, painstakingly pacing and ordering those chosen songs. Are they all going to have to go rogue?

Are we respecting the music enough? 
The hunt for new music is over before it begins. Songs are easily attained today and the supply is endless. We take it for granted, get bored, and move on fast. We may not even see the album artwork before it gets tossed aside.

There used to be an extensive album courtship followed by a serious relationship with new music. The stages went something like this: 

Side note: I think my music obsession started at age 7 if that helps put this list in context. And yes, I realize that's weird. 7-year-olds probably don't need to be members of 'tape clubs' – listening to David Bowie, Joy Division, Duran Duran, etc.
1. You were enamored with a song, and you may or may not know the name/artist.
Yes, this was a time before the magical interwebs. If you were lucky, you caught the video credits on MTV. You know, back when they used to play videos. (You're thinking, what?!! A full, uncut video? That sounds like some sort of insane urban legend. Or, you're nodding your head and feeling old.)
 2. You made a bad, static-laden radio recording of the song to get you by until you could buy the album.
Flashback: Some of you will remember impatiently waiting for the radio station to play that 'one' song. Blank cassette locked and loaded. Your old school, all-in-one-music-playing/recording device of choice within reach. The siblings warned to keep it down because that song 'might' play at any moment and you're still pissed about them busting in on the last failed recording attempt.

It's been hours since you caught the end of that amazing song. They have to play it again, right? And, since only so many songs were on regular radio rotation, they do. Recording initiated. You mentally will the doorbell and phone not to ring for a couple of minutes. Dammit, there goes the dog. Do over.
3. At last, you buy the album and listen to it over and over, until you have to shelve it for awhile.
Ah, the record store. It's a designer's dream. I could get lost in there. The album art, the smell of vinyl, the complex packaging, and the inevitably cool background song playing.
4. You see the band perform in concert.
If you truly love a band or album, nothing compares to seeing the live performance. The best performers bring their passion to the stage. The audience can't escape it. Live music exposes layers beyond audio alone. You feel it in your soul. 
5. You get the album off the shelf and play it over and over, until you have to shelve it for awhile. Again.
After seeing a much-anticipated live performance I sometimes go on a band-related semi-OCD tangent. For instance, after seeing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club this year (finally) – I watched documentaries and listened to BRMC or bands associated with a band member for at least a week.
6. If it's really good, you'll discover it again later. When you listen carefully, it can take you back to another time and place.
Nostalgia is powerful. When you've completely forgotten an album that you once loved and hear it again, it's pure ecstasy.
7. Okay, no one has time for that sort of music commitment anymore, but let's support ways to save the albums worth saving.
Artists are finding ways to deliver albums on their own. Bands like Radiohead have broken free from music industry constraints, offering online honor systems for downloading their music. It's a great way to get the music out there and offer fans a variety of purchase options with reasonable pricing. Like the best album artists, they are personally committed to the art of music.
"The Smiths was an incredibly personal thing to me. It was like launching your own diary to music." – Steven Morrissey

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