When was the last time that you were genuinely excited for an album to be released? Could you remember the names of the last five albums that you purchased or streamed? Have you recently been completely blown away by an album? Whether you were able to give solid answers to these questions or not, it is evident that albums are evolving.
The term, “album,” means different things to different people, so to rectify any confusion, an “album” is not just another word for a vinyl record or a compact disc. An album, in musical terminology, is a collection of songs. These songs can then be presented through any medium that is most appropriate, whether it be a cassette tape or an online platform. Thus, if you say that you love an album or have bought an artist’s new album, you are referring to something more than what it is published on. Despite your definition of an album, though, it probably will not even matter in a few years. With the way things are going, I cannot help but wonder if fans will want them in the future.
The first album that I ever wanted was Panic! at the Disco’s debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out; I was in eighth grade. When I got the CD for Christmas, I was in awe. I loved looking at the design on the disc, flipping through the album booklet, and trying to decipher the track listing on the back. And, of course, I was eager to listen to the rest of the band’s songs besides “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” Back then, new music was mostly introduced through an album. Artists would put out two or three singles max from the album before its release as opposed to now, when artists tend to release half of the songs as singles. So, when you obtained the actual album, it was like getting the newest Harry Potter book – you could not wait to uncover the mysteries that it held.
These days, it almost seems like too much trouble to buy a CD. Stores have slowly phased out their record sections, which means that you are likely to end up buying an album online if you really want a physical copy. Plus, when I tell someone that I would rather buy a CD than stream it, they look at me a little funny. It is upsetting that society places such an emphasis on streaming an album versus acquiring one in person, but this is the world that we live in – everything is done through the internet. While there are definite perks to doing things virtually, there are moments when it seems like we rely too heavily on technology. This dependency changes the way that we function in the real world; nothing seems to satisfy, which is why we check our Twitters right after checking our Instagrams, right after checking our Facebooks, while listening to a podcast on our tablets and streaming an artist’s new song on our phones. We just want all the time, which influences the way that we embrace new albums.
Basically, we are becoming desensitized by all that is out there. We are so quick to dismiss everything that we come across, which means that it is harder for certain things to have an impact. Therefore, the concept of an album is becoming harder to comprehend. We could wait years for our favorite band’s new album, skip over the singles that we have already heard when it finally drops, finish the album in twenty minutes, and then listen to something else – almost like the album was not even a real thing. Do we ever just sit with something for a while and take in what we have just experienced?
It is definitely more appealing to take what you want from an album and be done with it than to devote a large amount of time listening to it from front to back, but it is also very limiting. If you were to fast-forward through a movie and only watch the parts that seemed cool or interesting, you miss out – you need those “less significant” scenes to tie things together. The more that we listen to an album on this “as-need” basis, the less valuable it will become. Eventually, we will start to expect less from albums, seeing one as a disposable commodity that will give us six or seven tracks that we have not yet heard – not something that deserves to be heard in its entirety.
Artists are aware that fans are becoming harder to please, which is why they no longer take years to share new music. Instead of dropping an album every two or three years with nothing in between, artists are dropping the new album, then a few singles, an EP, maybe another EP, a few more singles, and then another new album. It is wonderful that they are able to produce more than enough new material to hold our interest, and it is certainly more convenient for them to release music on their own time. Delivering smaller, more frequent batches of music is becoming the norm for artists – some are even starting to consider releasing albums a couple of tracks at a time until all of the songs are out there, instead of as one finished product.
More music seems great, but how do we separate the noise from something worthy of being heard? When you listen to an album, you know that those songs were chosen for a reason. Whether they were made to please a large audience or to facilitate an artist in telling a story, you could tell that there was some real thought behind the selection. With more opportunities to release music, are artists taking the same care and attention that they would a song that was being considered for an album?
All of this is enough to rattle the album lovers out there, who will always support the idea of an album. These fans know that an album is the pinnacle of a band’s existence, and will order a new album months in advance. When the album does come out, they listen to every song, analyze all of the lyrics, and share their insights with other music fans around the world. In turn, there are artists and bands who appreciate and get sentimental over an album. Some go as far as making concept records, where the songs on the album are all in support of one specific theme or idea. When it comes to the physical album, they take time out to design the discs, decide on the photos used in the booklets, and make sure that everyone who was involved in the project is credited. When the album is ready to be released, both teams do their part to promote. Fans and artists throw release parties, share their favorite songs from the album on social media, and prepare themselves for upcoming album tours. There is enough energy out there to keep the spirit of an album alive and preserve its worth, but ultimately, it will all come to an end.
As a society, we are constantly looking for ways to evolve and make room for the next best thing. Vinyl records and cassette tapes were replaced with CDs, which were replaced with mp3s, which were replaced with streaming platforms. Newer generations are so content with doing everything remotely and through a screen; it seems archaic to buy an album and stick it in a CD player. Knowing that fans’ and artists’ preferences are changing, albums might not be around in 10 or 20 years. If they are around, are they going to be a collection of singles or will they be complete units of work? Will people solely look at CDs and vinyls as interesting, hipster pieces that should only be displayed on a wall?
Regardless of what happens, the main thing is that the music does not get lost on people. We can listen to music however we want, we can choose to buy an album or stream it online, but we need to make sure that it is being appreciated. We should find value in the music that we receive, and artists should find value in what they create – none of it should be taken for granted. There might come a time when music cannot be streamed online anymore, or the songs get taken down! Then again, if music does stop existing in an online format, then there will probably be nothing to play physical albums on either, but at least I will have proof that the music existed at all; when my grandkids discover my copy of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, they will be holding a unique piece of music history.