#TBT: The Album is Dead. Long Live the Album

Happy #TBT. In light of the fact U2 is going to tour 1987’s The Joshua Tree in honor of the album’s 30th anniversary, we thought we’d share this oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: The Album is Dead. Long Live the Album.

The album is dead.

I agree with many observers who say that the future of a collection of songs packaged up as a single commercial product pressed onto plastic or even encoded into MP3s with the expectations of significant sales is a thing of the past.

I’m not celebrating. I like albums. I like the way certain songs that will never be hits fit in and make the whole mood work. I even like concept albums.

There were certain albums (or tapes or CDs) that I used to basically just play until I came to the end of the side, flip it over, play side two and just flip it back over to side one again and again. I could recite the Pretenders first album by heart to you when I was in high school, and I knew just about every crazy little noise and insane verbal snippet on the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique.

Well, boo hoo. I liked albums, and now there’s no way to make money on them, so they’re disappearing.

But if you’re going to ask why concertgoers would like to go see an album performed by their favorite artists live, you should at least allow for the possibility that there’s a reason. Here’s what I said a few weeks ago on the topic:

“ … here’s why I think [performing an album at a concert] is so great. It brings a coherence and a total experience to a musical performance.

And while the album as a unified musical artistic expression is dying, the importance of storyline in a live performance is not.

In fact, isn’t it just possible that musical careers could be built on bucking the trend and developing music with a throughline, intended to be listened to and then eventually performed all in one go?

I think it could. It would be a powerful differentiator in the marketplace if someone could do it in a way that really jazzed a group of fans.

So obviously, the oldies are going to juice this particular lemon as much as they can because people already know and love certain albums. It’s kinda easy money for them at a time when concert sales are less than stellar.

But beyond that, creating an album with a ‘story’ (literal or not so literal) is a great way to be special and to encourage people to listen to more of your music. It also makes for a good reason to go see a show live.”

If there are clever musicians out there who understand that differentiation is what careers are built on, they will use this trend to long-term, permanent advantage. The days of making millions on selling recorded music may be (well, are) over, but a time in which people want to see a long-form musical performance may be upon us.

Maybe instead of performing albums live, perhaps there are long-form collections of music (don’t call them albums) that only get performed live.

Now there’s a concept the right kind of musician with the right kind of following could build a career on.

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