In Defense Of The Album
Guest post by Scott Perry of New Music Tipsheet. If you haven't already, sign up for his great free weekly new release newsletter.
We have a branding problem. Somewhere in the past five years, artist release cycles have sped up from a CD / album cycle to an MP3 "leak" given to a blog to a random, “Oh yeah, I remember that” download
that shows up in your iPod's shuffle a month later.
I remember a recent Lefsetz Letter telling musicians to stop making albums. And I just can't agree with that advice — establishing yourself as a singles artist is akin to committing financial suicide. You may be able to make quick money now if the song is a smash, but it does verrrry little to show that you merit the chops for me to spend $50 to see you live or $1.29 on your next single.
I still feel that the album is THE focal point of the launch of an artist's marketing cycle (but of course, the marketing shouldn't stop there if the first single doesn't click). I just don't feel like you get the same impact if your album is just a compilation of three four-song EPs (I love Ben Folds, but for the life of me I can't name a single song off 'Supersunnyspeedgraphic').
Lefsetz compares releasing an album to dropping the whole relationship, from courtship to divorce, right in the fan's lap in one huge chunk — and I am cool with that. I see the single (cover your eyes mom) as a booty call – sure, it's fun, and you go back to it again and again until the novelty wears off, but if you want a RELATIONSHIP with the artist, then you get the album — you WANT to take that 45-minute journey into that band's world.
I don't want Neko Case's ‘Fox Confessor Brings the Flood' in three segments delivered monthly, I want the whole thing at once! I'm glad I got MGMT's ‘Oracular Spectacular' as a whole album — them boys had a multi-dimensional vision they needed to flesh out over the course of 10 songs, and the impact would not be the same had those songs been parsed out one at a time over the course of a year. You dig into Pearl Jam's ‘Ten' or Dr. Dre's ‘The Chronic,' and you're there, in their world – and the impact of those ALBUMS personally resonate with fans moreso than if they had just gotten the singles.
And if you're just starting out without a real fanbase, you NEED to show you're more than just a clever act that can write one good hook — I think “She Loves Everybody” by Chester French is one of the best songs ever, but I'm really excited to hear the full album, to see what the band is fully capable of at this stage in their career. At the same time, I love Janelle Monae's 2008 debut EP, but left feeling, “That's it? I want more!” after seeing her play for only 20 minutes last year.
Unfortunately, as consumption habits change from CDs to downloads to streams, in only a handful of cases is an album's worth of material offered altogether in sequence; CDs / iTunes / Amazon / Rhapsody / Napster / eMusic all offer paid album options, but of all the free streaming services, only certain titles can be found each week as full-length streams on MySpace Music, AOL's Spinner, imeem, and Buzznet.
Things are moving pretty fast these days; we all need to slow things down a bit and add CONTEXT to the content before music becomes completely worthless. We need to build that artist's mythology, build a world to replace what's been lost in the absence of album art and liner notes.
Maybe back in the day when singles were sent out as 45s, there was money to be made on a single-by-single basis. And yes, there is still good money to be made via download and ringtone sales for certain acts. But in a world where illegal torrents and legal streams eat into single sales revenues, it's going to be a lot harder for singles acts to make the cash in the long run.
Sure, if you have a smash on your hands, get it out there as soon as you can to as many ears as possible. But in a time where you can be on Stereogum today, KROQ tomorrow, and in the virtual cutout bin next week, without the depth afforded by a good album's worth of work, the best you can do is pray your single makes it on an episode of “House” and maybe next year's NOW compilation in order to pay the bills.