I reject the claim that the album is dead since I own hundreds and I know many who also own hundreds. Moreover, I live near multiple stores that sell albums. I bought one for my brother the other day. I intend to go by some this week for myself, as well.
But if it is indeed dead, that is not a good thing. I’ll tell you why.
Albums – whether 10″ LPs, 44 minute LPs or 78 minute CDs – imposed necessary limits on artists. Artists, producers and sometimes – for better or worse – labels, were forced to pick their best music to fit the format. If they did want to put out a double album, they usually had to have some kind of commercial and / or critical cache before doing so. This lessened over the years as pressing costs went down and profits went up and so we got subjected to some unfortunate triple albums (All Things Must Pass, Sandinista!) – and with the format change many triple albums posing as double CD albums – but on the whole artists had to discard much of their crap.
But now you can distribute your music to everyone whenever you want. You can distribute 3 minutes of music or 300 minutes of music with the same reach. And because anyone can access this technology, there’s no need for producers, engineers or arrangers unless they are recruited by the artist.
If an artist releases every new song they write as they record them – especially if they are releasing them before they have finished mixing with a professional, as many DIY artists do – then there is no selection process; there is no discrimination between quality songs and failed experiments. We get the rarities and demos at the same time as we get the finished products.
Does anyone really want that? Really? The artist lives with their music every day and is rarely in a position to accurately judge their music. And nor is the obsessive fan.
So the artist releases something and the obsessive fan loves it. And the blogger loves it if it isn’t popular yet but pans it if the backlash has begun. And we lose out on song cycles conceived as wholes, on the thought that has to go into deciding what 78 (or 44) minutes to include out of the 150 you recorded, on the give and take between the artist(s), producer, engineers and label, all of whom want to put out the best record they can.
Certainly if I was a musician I would choose to continue releasing my music through vinyl or CD – in album format – rather than via the instant distribution of the internet.