by Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)
A couple of weeks ago I was watching a fairly brain draining programme whose name I have not only forgotten, but is also in no way relevant to this ponder. What I do remember is one of the plastic faces declaring that the growth of music downloads has changed the industry so significantly that producers and musicians alike are warning that they may be forced to give up on albums altogether, and instead devote their resources to releasing stand alone singles.
My immediate reaction: so what?
My immediate reaction: so what?
It goes without saying that illegal downloads and music sharing have had a role to play in this latest development but a) that’s not what I’m talking about and b) I think that rather than fundamentally altering the music industry, downloads have simply accelerated the inevitable.
What I am talking about is the way that our preferred way of consuming music has been altered to become more diverse, more dynamic… more flippant? And in fact, is that precisely the point? We’re now consuming music rather than enjoying it? Or is such a distinction simply pretention all dressed up with nowhere to go? It could well be both, but regardless, what drove this change wasn’t a clever marketing ploy dreamt up by the suits at Sony. It is technological advance that has enabled us to have more control over what we listen to and how we listen to it… and to be more flippant? So perhaps it’s the correct order that musicians and producers recognise the shift as well?
I fully understand why individual artists would fight a process that has made creating albums unprofitable. But, should the consumer really care? If artists are still producing blinding singles and consumers are enjoying them, should that same consumer show an interest in the artistic angst of the world’s next Hendrix? Sat alone in an airless bedroom desperate to create an album but finding that the taste for it, and so by default funding, is no longer there?
In a recent interview with George Michael, Simon Hattenstone writes that "he says he thinks albums are passé, that you have to work in a different way today for a market that listens to music by the song." Maybe he's right.
I’m not anti-album by any stretch of the imagination. I’m listening to this as I write, you should too – it’s beautiful. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m very much a Beatles girl. I think that Revolver is the best album ever created. Not because it has the best Beatles’ tracks (it doesn’t), but because it is conceptually stunning. But that was a different age, an age when music and occasionally politics drove album creation, not sales. And sad though it may be, those days are gone. They were given their warning call when Britney hit us one more time and gave up their last gasp when Cheryl fought for her love.
There are plenty of musicians out there who are still making incredible albums. They’re the minority in the plethora of over-produced, over-commercialised discs being spun out every year, but there are nevertheless still a lot of good ‘uns about. And surely, surely those with real talent, real drive will sacrifice their profit margins for the sake of their art? Too romantic? Isn’t music itself our greatest romanticism?
Think of the image of a young writer desperate to publish his or her first novel, or get a front page headline. Somehow I very much doubt that you're imagining a literary equivalent of Britney Spears with her overnight fame and bags of cash. Art in any form should not be about the accumulation of wealth – if it happens then lucky you, but it shouldn’t be the driving force. By the same token if the monetary incentive of producing albums has been removed I’m convinced that we’ll still get the Dylans and Cobains of our time, but maybe Peter Andre wouldn’t have bothered. Do you know what I mean?
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