We’ve all heard it, albums are a dying breed. Just taking a stroll through your local big box store will tell you all you need to know about the music industry as it existed up until now. Any of the big chains that carried compact discs have reduced the selectiondown to a single aisle or two, shoved off to the side of the electronics section. You will be lucky to find three or four titles by mainstream artists, and good luck finding anything you would consider “obscure”.
Even the bands with huge legacies will tell you in interviews that albums are a lot of work for little to no financial gain these days. The current scenario is the reverse of what is was for decades. The old model was you recorded an album, then toured to support that album. Many of the biggest acts of the seventies, eighties and nineties would break even or even lose money on a massive tour. This was the trade off to bolster record sales. Selling physical records was where the profit was for both the musicians and the record companies.
This is no longer the case, especially for “classic” bands. A new album is sadly simply a reason to justify a new tour. The concert circuit is the only serious revenue source left for these acts. Downloading, iTunes, and apps such as Spotify are a huge boon in convenience for us listeners, but provide the creators of the content fractions of a cent per play. This also makes it tough for up and coming musicians to make a real living from online music sales.
What I have often wondered, is why not embrace the strength of both these scenarios? Writing, recording, mastering and packaging an album of 10-15 songs is a big undertaking! Since everyone acknowledges that most consumers will listen to music online, why not abandon the concept of albums?
If an established band can still tour and make a profit, they still want to entice fans and probably still want to enjoy the creative process. With home studios and computer editing options, a laptop has more ability than the professional studios did that created all the biggest albums we all know. So here is my proposal. When a band comes up with a song, simply record it on your own time, and when you are happy with it upload it to your site and/or your record company’s site. Make it available as a .99 cent download. The band can do this at their own pace. Come up with one song a year? Fine. Come up with four cool songs per year? Great.
This way even a “nostalgia ” band can launch a tour, and fans know they may look forward to at least one new song never heard live before. As an example I’ll use Van Halen. I don’t really expect them to get all the wheels turning and record a full new album, but if Eddie and the boys were to jam around in his backyard studio and end up liking something? Heck they could email tracks to David Lee Roth and let him work up melodies and lyrics. Within a short time they could release a new stand alone song for sale on the web. Rabid Van Halen fans would devour that. If they ever tour again, many who would otherwise think “Eh, I’ve gone to the last three tours, and I don’t want to shell out money to hear the same stuff”, would be instead thinking “Man, I hope they play the two new songs they released last year!!”.
So, the internet has given music fans infinite access to everything. Don’t fight it, go with it. Embrace the ability to quickly produce product. When inspiration strikes, answer the call. Write that song and release it. I feel like we could get more new music from more artists, just in smaller doses.