|Why Don't We Listen To Full Albums Anymore?
Posted: September 19, 2013
It's money. And time.
And quality matters, but not as much as the fact that everything's available. For free.
Do you remember going to the record store? It was a thrilling experience, but also a disappointing one. Because you could not afford everything you wanted. You scanned through the new releases, you thumbed through the catalog, and you slowly started to formulate exactly what you would purchase.
Oh, back in the sixties, it was all about singles. The Beatles broke that curse and made it so the whole country, the whole WORLD, was album crazy. But MTV and the CD brought us back to the single, the only difference being you had to buy an entire CD just to hear it, but the album era was very brief, from '67 to '77, when disco came along to obliterate corporate rock.
I'm not saying you didn't enjoy your albums thereafter. But suddenly, it was more satisfying to watch MTV than to turn it off and play your LPs. Because media, when done right, is all about the club. Not only the one you go to dance your ass off, but the mental one, that makes you believe you belong. That's what the album era was all about, belonging. You played every cut, sang along in concert and felt a bond with not only the act, but the audience.
And then the Internet comes along and blows it all to pieces.
You used to look forward to the new releases, you wanted to hear what your favorite acts had to say. Other than some squibs in print, you were completely clueless as to what they were up to. But today, no one ever really goes away. They're available on Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram! Never mind their Websites, which are a cornucopia of information.
After buying your favorite new release, or catalog album, you played it. You paid for it. You had an investment. And no one likes to be a poor investor. You never hear anybody boasting of their losses in Vegas, their lousy stock picks. No, you have to prove to yourself that you made a good decision. So you scoured the album looking for that which hooked you. It sometimes took two or three plays, but by then there was a track that pricked your ears, made you smile, you started playing that side again and again. And when you knew it well, then you flipped over the LP or cassette to learn the other. And when the band came to town, you went. It was cheap. Way under ten bucks. And you were in nirvana as they played your favorite songs. And you knew you had to go to every show, because most of the new album would never be played live again.
But now when the album comes out, it costs you nothing to hear it. Whether on Spotify or YouTube. You dial it up and... You're rarely impressed. Because the acts don't realize the era has changed. That good enough is not good enough. That they've got to smash us over the head with insane quality. Otherwise...it's not exactly like we get bored, we just know what else is lurking, cuts that will satisfy us.
And even the albums of your favorite acts... You don't play those that much either. Not so much because they're substandard, but mostly because if you play them, you can't play something else. And there's so much else you want to play.
But they're not making more time.
And it used to be all about what was new. The edge. Now it's about what maintains. If you like something and nobody else does...you go look at what they do. You don't want to attach yourself to that which has been plowed under by the plethora of product.
It's got more to do with distribution than product. With the candy store door wide open, with the stock chock full 24/7, there's no desperation. Remember when you had to rush to the store because your favorite album might sell out? Boy, those days are through. As are worrying about price. You don't wait for the sale, everything's on sale all the time!
And of course iTunes and Amazon have sales. But if you're buying MP3s you're little different from those buying CDs. A step behind the rest. Everybody else is streaming.
And of course there are a few acts where everybody knows all the tunes. But most people only know the singles. It's one of the reasons the old acts do so well in concert, everybody knows the material!
And of course there are niches, a small group of people who know every note. But a lot of the time this is more about identity, belonging, a badge of honor, than the quality of the music. You know, they tell you how they listen to something incessantly and then you spin it and you say HUH? In the old days, you'd have bought it and played it too, because spending money meant you spun it. But in the old days there was so much less music. The entry bar was so much higher. The relative quality was much greater. And isn't it funny that all those sour grapes acts that said they were squeezed out of the system have not emerged triumphant? Yes, in the Internet era everybody can play, everybody can distribute, but it's a thin layer of mostly major label acts who succeed, because most acts are just not good enough to gain mainstream acceptance/success.
But, since there's so much in the pipeline, we gravitate to excellence, even fewer acts break through on a big basis. It's even harder to reach critical mass.
And of course I miss the old days.
But they're never coming back.