Friday, May 22, 2009

The End of the Music Album as The Organizing Principle

A great April post by Gang Of Four's Dave Allen on Pampelmoose:


We live in an era of MP3 players, streaming internet radio, web apps - not to mention the iTunes music application and its ability to shuffle your entire digital music collection - now the cloud and almost-mobile ubiquity, the list goes on; in what part of digital music culture does an album-length piece of work now reside?

I’ll answer that question - I believe it has no place in a digital future.

The original organizing principle of music was of course hand written, composed. It then moved along to sheet music and with that came revenue from sales to the musical public and by so doing helped to move revenue income beyond just ticket sales to the opera or orchestra performances. This wasn’t enough though. It was as if music was demanding to be organized and soon enough inventors jumped in to the fray and began organizing music recording and playback - at first on tin foil.

“From the earliest phonographs in 1877, courtesy of Mr. Thomas A. Edison, the cylinder was the preferred geometric form for a sound recording. The first records were made on strips of tinfoil, the predecessor of household aluminum foil, wrapped around a 4-inch diameter drum. The drum was hand-cranked at about 60 revolutions per minute (RPM) and the phonographic apparatus made sound impressions upon the foil. The expected lifetime of a foil recording was short because after a few playbacks the sound impressions were either worn down or the foil had ripped.” [Source:]

And then along came the wax cylinder which turned out to be too fragile for popular use. Music lovers had to wait until 1930 which was when RCA Victor launched the first commercially available vinyl long-playing record, marketed as “Program Transcription” discs. These revolutionary discs were designed for playback at 33â…“ rpm and pressed on a 30 cm diameter flexible plastic disc. [Source: Wikipedia]

Technically then, we can say that 1930 was the year that the organizing principle for the length of a popular music album was implemented, and with the advent of that organizing principle it is worth noting that musical artists had no control over the length of time their masterpiece would run; they were at the mercy of contemporary technology. Album length, roughly 35 minutes over two sides of vinyl, was simply a decision made by technologists who did not consult artists. [The gatefold sleeve containing double and triple albums became the norm later for rock bands with more to say - for better or worse.]

If musicians and bands were not part of this decision in the first place then why would they complain of what modern technology now brings - their craft has been unchained from early technological limitations and they now have endless amounts of time and bandwidth to spread their creative message far and wide; along with unfettered artistic control.


Music fans are no longer patiently waiting for their favorite bands to deliver new music according to the old customary cycle - album, press release, video, radio, tour. No, the fan base has to be regularly and consistently engaged. Some Ideas:

* First, communicate openly and ask your fans what they want from you
* Listen to what they have to say. Really listen
* Provide unique content such as early demos of new songs
* Never under estimate the power of a free MP3
* Forget completely the idea of an organizing principle. Invent a new one
* Use social media wisely. Twitter and Facebook Pages are best, MySpace is too cluttered
* Don’t push messages to your fans, have a two way interaction with them
* Invite them to share, join, support and build goodwill with you
* Scrap your web site and start a blog
* Remember to forget everything you know about the CD “business”
* Start to monetize the experience around your music
* Remember - the browser is the new iPod


Read the full post HERE at PAMPELMOOSE.

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