Friday, August 9, 2013

How the Album is Losing its Value (Guest Post)

Guest post by Liam from the 1p Album Club

I edit a music blog of album reviews. The albums that I, my friends, and a disparate bunch of strangers review are albums that were created with talent, passion and time, yet are now sold online for just 1p. The penny you pay for your album on the Amazon marketplace (look out for the 'Available New & Used from…’ option) is just a nominal token in order for their sellers to make a few pence profit from the slightly higher postal charges – a standard £1.26. Once the biggest-selling music format, second hand CD albums are now just another commodity that are no longer needed in today’s world of free online streams and downloads.

1p Album Club is a backward-looking blog that aims to take these now criminally undersold past releases and highlight the fact that cost and value are very different things. However, I'm not here simply to plug our blog, and I want to use this guest post (thanks, Joel!) to argue that the value of an album is decreasing not only financially but in other ways too. I’d argue that online listening technology is simply not geared towards the album as a format.

Picture the scene – teenage me is sat in 1995 listening to Blur’s The Great Escape having paid upwards of £12 for it. I listen from start to finish, soaking it in; from the opening single of Stereotypes to the gentle closing gem of Yuko and Hiro. There are songs that I don’t particularly like on first listen, but I've paid for it so I'm going to listen. Yuko and Hiro ends up one of my favourite songs on the album.

File:Blur thegreatescape.png

Fast forward 18 years and imagine my teenage equivalent now. He hears talk of Blur and heads to YouTube. He searches ‘Blur’ and has page after page of songs to choose from - all the singles, the big hits, live versions and alternate versions – but where’s Yuko and Hiro? Well, it doesn't matter, right? He’s got live versions of Coffee & TV to sit through! He heads to Spotify and there are all the albums, so he clicks on The Great Escape. Having invested no money in the album, there’s no nagging obligation that encourages the persistent listening that makes the album a grower. Spotify is there, like a school-gate drug dealer offering up never ending alternative hits. “Hey, you like Country House? You’re just a click away from Girls and Boys – go on, give it a try! You’re listening to The Great Escape, have you heard Pulp? You’ll just love Different Class.” Yuko and Hiro doesn’t get a look in.

You get the picture.

This isn’t to say that this is all bad. I have a friend who is always listening to new music and is a constant source of album recommendations. Where does he hear of these new bands? His Spotify recommendations. They do work and, should you have the inclination, you can of course give albums a full listen on Spotify; it’s just that I’d argue that you’re not encouraged to. Newcomers to music these days are using technology that is reliant on algorithms which, by their nature, are geared towards the most played singles and big hits. iTunes will sell you an album, but if you don’t want to take a risk on those album ‘filler’ tracks, you don’t have to – just pay per song! As I wrote in an introduction to my own blog a year ago, a result of this is that people end up listening to more bands, but less of their music.

There are pros and cons to this new listening technology for bands and artists alike; what I am firm on, however, is that the album as a format is one of the big losers. If we’re constantly directed to the singles, we lose the context of the full album. Look at the concept album, for example. Whether you like The Streets or not, the ‘rap opera’ that is A Grand Don’t Come For Free is reliant on being listened to in order. Out of context, Get Out of My House is arguably a pretty shit song, but it plays its part in the story of the album. This technological tendency towards ‘greatest hits’ steers people away from albums like A Grand..., so over time, will people stop listening to concept albums? Will people stop making them?

For my part, I still regularly buy albums - new releases as well as those for a penny – but I worry that future generations are being directed away from the format. That’s why I think blogs like The Album Wall are important. There will always be music fans like Joel out there who love a good album, but it’s hard not to agree that, on the whole, the album is not as valued as it once was.

 A big thanks to Liam for writing this - it's reminded me of just how many mind-blowing album tracks I might never have heard were it not for my compulsive need to own the CD. is well worth a visit; you'd be surprised at some of the stuff that's available for so little. I'd also heartily recommend following @1pAlbumClub on Twitter, and not just because they occasionally retweet me.

I'm off to the Knee Deep Festival today, so have a great weekend and I'll report back on Monday!

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