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The End of the Music Album as The Organizing Principle

It doesn’t seem that long ago since Radiohead did what was once unimaginable - release an album without being signed to a major record company. On the long march to digital ubiquity as the means of music delivery Radiohead avoided the tar pit that seems to be major label thinking and came out clear winners. Yes, they resorted later to releasing the album as a good old CD into regular retail distribution but they were pioneers and were soon followed with great success by Nine Inch Nails and to lesser success by many others. Both these bands had an understanding of what their fans wanted [price level choice, quality and special packaging] and both bands understood the power of the internet for marketing purposes and direct reach. [NB: Although I believe that the digital music file will rule the day, vinyl still has a role to play and I’ll get to that later.]

The most interesting part of this experiment [which at the time, I would argue it was] was not only that it was wildly successful but it laid the groundwork for what I have coined the end of the organizing principle. In other words I suggest that we are now seeing the end of the album-length work as the permenant work, the everlasting body of work that represents the pinnacle of an artists’ creativity. I am fully expecting to hear the howls of derision over this but bear with me.

If you were honest how many albums do you own that demand to be listened to from beginning to end? AV Club recently came up with a list of 25, some of which I agree with and Rolling Stone, Spin and other mags regularly post their lists of the “all time greatest albums” whether its 100 or 50 or less. My band Gang Of Four’s album Entertainment!is often featured on these lists but take it from me it has its flaws. The problem with lists and suggestions is that they are all subjective. Being engaged by music requires too much of a personal commitment on an emotional level for anyone to be able to provide an ultimate list. [Imagine if an art critic attempted to make a top ten list of the world’s greatest paintings. Why does popular music suffer from this conceit?]

We live in an era of MP3 players, streaming internet radio, web apps - not to mention the iTunes music application and its ability to shuffle your entire digital music collection - now the cloud and almost-mobile ubiquity, the list goes on; in what part of digital music culture does an album-length piece of work now reside?

I’ll answer that question - I believe it has no place in a digital future.

The original organizing principle of music was of course hand written, composed. It then moved along to sheet music and with that came revenue from sales to the musical public and by so doing helped to move revenue income beyond just ticket sales to the opera or orchestra performances. This wasn’t enough though. It was as if music was demanding to be organized and soon enough inventors jumped in to the fray and began organizing music recording and playback - at first on tin foil.

“From the earliest phonographs in 1877, courtesy of Mr. Thomas A. Edison, the cylinder was the preferred geometric form for a sound recording. The first records were made on strips of tinfoil, the predecessor of household aluminum foil, wrapped around a 4-inch diameter drum. The drum was hand-cranked at about 60 revolutions per minute (RPM) and the phonographic apparatus made sound impressions upon the foil. The expected lifetime of a foil recording was short because after a few playbacks the sound impressions were either worn down or the foil had ripped.” [Source:]

And then along came the wax cylinder which turned out to be too fragile for popular use. Music lovers had to wait until 1930 which was when RCA Victor launched the first commercially available vinyl long-playing record, marketed as “Program Transcription” discs. These revolutionary discs were designed for playback at 33⅓ rpm and pressed on a 30 cm diameter flexible plastic disc. [Source: Wikipedia]

Technically then, we can say that 1930 was the year that the organizing principle for the length of a popular music album was implemented, and with the advent of that organizing principle it is worth noting that musical artists had no control over the length of time their masterpiece would run; they were at the mercy of contemporary technology. Album length, roughly 35 minutes over two sides of vinyl, was simply a decision made by technologists who did not consult artists. [The gatefold sleeve containing double and triple albums became the norm later for rock bands with more to say - for better or worse.]

If musicians and bands were not part of this decision in the first place then why would they complain of what modern technology now brings - their craft has been unchained from early technological limitations and they now have endless amounts of time and bandwidth to spread their creative message far and wide; along with unfettered artistic control.

The Browser is The New iPod.

On March 24th I attended the Leadership Music Digital Summit in Nashville as a speaker. That morning I heard the keynote speech by Rio Caraeff, EVP eLABS at the Universal Music Group. The stand out phrase from him that resonated with me was “the browser is the new iPod.”

He spoke of lamenting the loss of the experiential and tactile nature of recorded music; he missed the tactile experience of music delivered in its vinyl and cardboard form [his father was the famous album sleeve art director, Ed Caraeff.] The digital file, he argued, had stripped the experience from the music; listening to music was now a flat and unemotional activity compared with holding a well-designed sleeve filled with images, lyrics and artwork. Because of this flat experience he predicted that there would be no future for selling recorded music directly to music fans.

He mentioned one area of success for Universal; the advent of the video game. An all-encompassing experiential medium that included more than just the games - the games came with a community of like-minded people and music. They also generate millions of dollars especially through the subscription fees that are required for online gaming activity.

Welcome to the Cloud

With his phrase ‘The browser is the new iPod’ Caraeff alludes to the ubiquitous access that we have to music. The browser is no longer limited to laptop or desktop computers - mobile devices have browsers too and in the case of the iPhone the music apps have been wildly successful. 4G promises to expand music delivery to mobile users even farther. Very soon there will be even less reason to ‘own’ music as it will be easily available at our fingertips everywhere. The cloud is the perfect place for storing your music collection. All of the above condemns the album to the trash can of history, it also suggest that online music subscription services may finally gain the upper hand.

So what are musicians to do?

First they must put nostalgia, tradition and the old business models and paradigms far behind them. They must, as Umair Haque argues with regard to any business - provide something of value. Haque also pushes the concept of ‘ideals’ - “because they are what ensure the value we are creating is authentic, deep, meaningful value — not just the shabby, threadbare illusion of value.” [Ideals were sorely lacking when the labels sold CDs full of filler for $18.99.]

Humans are subconsciously moved by the emotion of music, it provides a link to their ancestry and to their tribes, it stirs not only positive but sometimes negative feelings linked to moments in time and is often steeped in nostalgia and memories. No other art form is ‘consumed’ as broadly and passionately as music on a daily basis around the world.

How music was delivered used to be in the hands of the few - bands, concert promoters, record companies and their retail distribution companies, radio, and video shows such as MTV. In tech-speak this system embraced ‘push’ - we the mighty and powerful will “provide you” [at a price determined by “us”] with access to our treasures when “we” feel like it. These days that system is rapidly breaking down as music fans now ‘pull’ what “they” want to listen to.

Control has moved from the few to the millions of many. Dull labels and dull bands offering dull, flat, non-experiential product e.g. a CD, will go the way of the CD as it goes the way of the Dodo. Consider what Cirque Du Soleil provides as an experience compared to Barnum and Bailey’s circus. Or Burning Man compared to your average music festival. Even the Las Vegas Beatles-themed show ‘Across The Universe’ wipes the floor with most rock concerts these days.

Music fans are no longer patiently waiting for their favorite bands to deliver new music according to the old customary cycle - album, press release, video, radio, tour. No, the fan base has to be regularly and consistently engaged. Some Ideas:

• First, communicate openly and ask your fans what they want from you
• Listen to what they have to say. Really listen
• Provide unique content such as early demos of new songs
• Never under estimate the power of a free MP3
• Forget completely the idea of an organizing principle. Invent a new one
• Use social media wisely. Twitter and Facebook Pages are best, MySpace is too cluttered
• Don’t push messages to your fans, have a two way interaction with them
• Invite them to share, join, support and build goodwill with you
• Scrap your web site and start a blog
• Remember to forget everything you know about the CD “business”
• Start to monetize the experience around your music
• Remember - the browser is the new iPod

And finally I leave you with one organizing principle that works as a tactile and experiential format and gives great pleasure - the vinyl album. Having said that I do not want to contradict any part of this article as I do not suggest using vinyl as a format for delivering an album-length piece of work. I do suggest using vinyl for the physical manifestation of your demos, out takes, live tracks etc, and always accompany it with a coupon for free download of any related digital product.

Related articles I’ve written on this subject:

My Love of Vinyl Records
The End of the CD and CD Retailers
David Byrne Tells The Record Labels to Embrace The MP3
How Killing the CD Single Killed the Recording Industry
How Bands Can Make More Money By Not Pricing Their Merchandize at Shows

Reader Comments (39)

As a fan, I agree with a great deal of this. It's the artists that are doing that engagement with fans that are maintaining my interest and loyalty and money. I've blown hours playing FOBTrail and following along with their latest viral-ish campaign. I've loved every minute of it, and I'm buying their music (in two different formats) and going to their concert because of that love.

I'm far less interested in subscription music, however. Repeat payments for access and my narrow musical tastes would make such a system a waste of money for me. But for most people it would probably work just fine to have a music subscription that they pay like they pay for their phones and cable.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterCalysta Rose

This is a very well thought out article - quite different than most "the CD is dead" diatribes that get pushed out weekly.

Thanks for taking a thoughtful and thorough position.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterTaylor Trask

I've considered this. It's a valid point, but it only applies to popular culture, I think. If you're a "band", you write "songs". There is a wide world of music that exists out there that has nothing to do with writing songs. All of the musicians I promote are closer to composers and producers, and we create a body of work. That body of work is organized as an album, but I consider it closer to a symphony where the tracks are movements.

Also, personally, most of the music I listen to the whole album is great. Again, there is a whole world of music out there that exists outside of "song" writing. What you're talking about may matter for some pockets of pop culture, but I don't suspect it will be any sort of universal phenomenon.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

I disagree. I think albums certainly have place in a digital future. Just a vinyl still exists so does cd. The future gives us options not new direction entirely.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterChris Russell

This is a great article, thanks!

I think the word album will still be around, but the meaning of the word will change - you say we will see "the end of the album-length work as the permenant work, the everlasting body of work that represents the pinnacle of an artists’ creativity," and I'd like to add to that by predicting that the word "album" will come to mean "a collection of works released in one package." Instead of an artist spending a year in the studio, they'll be slinging out live recordings, demos, basement recordings, and who knows what else at a fairly steady clip.

These will still be called "albums," but their process won't be anything like the double albums that classic rock groups would spend countless years and dollars recording.

The new media landscape is about lots of regular "pings" to engage fans.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterNate Trier

A great album will always have a place in human culture. I think what we'll witness is "artists" realizing that they can't compete at that level, and creating a New Normal built around singles and fast turnover -- an ecosystem for less talented/ambitious folks to still build a career and make their money. Certainly "the album" is a meaningless organizing principle for hip hop or most genres of electronic music already.

This was a great read, though. I would suggest that the only "organizing principle" that's ever existed in the music business is simply fan experience, which is individually unique but broadly universal.

(Snarky side note: there's thousands of "world's greatest paintings" books, just do a quick lil' Amazon search.)

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Good article, but I think high quality music should always drive technology and marketing, not the other way around. If great, life-changing albums are created there will be a way to deliver them to the public.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterEric Jensen

I agree with the above, however for us artists, I think we kind of need the album as it frames our effort. It's a goal that can be easily benchmarked against the others, and also against yourself.

i.e I need x amount of songs, I need to record them, I need to tour them. I think this needs to be packaged, because I for one am not a fan of buying songs, rather a package.

I guess we just need to be more flexible now, because what works for me doesn't work for everyone. Progress is great, but so is history. By the way that state on the first LP player was very thought provoking....I still produced my album last year with an A-side, B-side mentality.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterDave Anderson

I completely agree about the end of the album as an organizing principle. On my own music site I release solo piano works as soon as I record them. Fans get the music faster as a stream of content rather than an annual event. Packaging is good, but music is better. I release my MP3s right on my blog for free streaming. Then people go to buy it if they like it. So why only release 12 songs per year when you can release dozens, try new things, get instantaneous feedback from fans. Experiment and correct course if needed. Sky's the limit on what you can try, and then stick to what works for you.

I wouldn't downplay MySpace just yet. I've heard of artists without MySpace pages having trouble getting bookings. Yeah, I know MySpace sucks. But it's important because of the fact that people think it is, regardless of whether that's right or wrong.

April 2 | Unregistered CommenterShawno

I don't really believe in the death of the album as an organizing principle.. just the end of it as the dominant organizing principle.

I've always listened to whole albums.. start from finish.. on my iPod.. play lists are organized by albums.. I want that experience. I make play lists of singles.. and whatever.. of course.. but for me it's like.. something about the artists vision.. how a song works in the ecology of these other songs.. the way an album can take you on a little trip..

The value of that probably varies by album.. any album that's a couple singles plus filler.. obviously who wants the filler.. or albums that are like.. well lets say old blues and jazz.. where it wasn't really about making an album experience..

As an artist.. I'm drawn to the album as.. like a certain form.. I think I might be better at it then singles.. like a great novelist not being so great with short stories.

But yeah.. I'm sure there'll be lots of interesting new forms.. and new consumption patterns, as we are already seeing.. around music.. and I know I'm now personally experimenting on these like.. 20 minute or so long tracks.. and blah blah blah..

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Searles

I only agree with this in as far as the length of albums being dictated by restrictions of physicial media, rules which are now losing their relevancy. I do believe that presenting collections of songs to fans still has quite a bit of merit left and I fully expect that, after the digital transition, we'll be seeing both much longer (here's 100 love songs I written on my boat trip) and shorter (here's 3 new gems) compilations from artists.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterJim Offerman

i'm torn about this issue.

i think that a lot of people misread the whole IN RAINBOWS phenomenon and came to the "the album is dead" conclusion when all i was able to conclude was that radiohead are as big as i thought. if a band release a cohesive collection that is improved be listening to the tracks serially then great. if not, there might still be a handful of tracks that are worth the bother - no big?

the question in my mind is not whether the cd or any other format will continue to sell but how new artists are to publicise their work. if an album is no longer profitable then why will labels sign acts? if an act can't get signed then how are they to raise their heads above the level myspace/twitter/etc playing field?

a related idea which you touch on is of 'added value' - particularly in indie circles where kitsch value carries some kudos adding other things to a physical release can swing a sale. take los campesinos! most recent release - cd, tour dvd, badge, poster and artwork book for £15, in a limited edition of 5000. maybe this kind of thinking is the way forward?

April 3 | Unregistered Commenterthom ashworth

Great article!

I stopped buying CDs and MP3s 2 years ago, preferring a subscription format (I'm with Napster). My partner and I have a Napster compatible MP3 player each and both our computers are hooked up to Napster, so for a monthly fee (which makes it easier to budget), we get our fix of music. I've never listened to as much diverse music as now, and this is helped along by the subscription model.

As a musician, I used to think of the album as a goal, a way to organise myself, but now, I think of each song or piece of music as the goal. Whenever I finish a song, I release it on my website.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

Great article!
You could organize around your performance/concerts. Much like the death of newspapers (waiting til next morning to get news), it's difficult in the 'now' society to wait around for a year or more to get an entire album. Why not focus on one kick ass tune and then release it for free?
I organize around 'me', my songs, my guitar lessons, blog, twitter, etc - I allow access to me through a paid membership site and live via webcam for guitar lessons. I have no need to create an entire album/cd.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterWill Kriski


I think my idea relates just as much, if not more, for composers and symphonies if you consider my point that old technology is the only reason an 'album' is confined to a particular running time. I'm also not sure that in the vast landscape of popular culture, especially online, that you can ghetto-ize music genres any longer.

Also we don't have to be so music-centric about this idea, it applies to newspapers and magazines too for instance. Anything currently "organized" according to old business models or old, inferior technology will soon break free.

April 3 | Registered CommenterDave Allen

I would suggest that it also applies to fiction writing.

For the fiction writers out there, check out, and in particular a post titled Software, The Internet and The One Man Show.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

I tend to see the album as organizing principle linked more to human psychology and the physiology of attention span, rather that being wed to any engineering development. When I think of forms that evolved over 100 years or more, the symphony, the feature film, they all tend to find a median length that lends itself to a satisfying & meaningful experience. The mp3 isn't going to replace the 4-part symphony anymore than the 3-5 minute youtube clip is going to replace the 2 hour feature film.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterSuperfly

I agree that the CD is an increasingly irrelevant medium. Please check out this article I wrote for an interesting alternative:

A New Business Model for the Music Industry

-- Don Tillman

April 4 | Unregistered CommenterDon Tillman

More technoromanticism pouring forth from the bleeding, blogging edge. It's funny watching writers hedge their bets with technology-led fetishes, yet surely it's utterly pointless speculation -- hasn't the market fragmentation proven we can't talk in such generalisations any more. I'm fairly certain there will still be a market for CDs for quite some time yet, as not everyone's an iPhone-toting Wired-reading tech-geek. CDs serve their purpose very well, especially as we're nowhere near as close to the state of 'almost-mobile ubiquity' as we'd like to think. Hell, we've got enough problems getting broadband rolled out cheaply enough. It'll take quite a few years for the SXSW-style milieu to become commonplace.

As for the 'cloud,' shouldn't we be taking more control of our music rather than further entrusting it with big business? Let's look at the next logical step -- buying and storing music directly within iTunes to be streamed to our portable devices. Because that's what iTunes will want to push ahead with -- a chance to further secure their current market share monopoly, given this 'mobile ubiquity.' No thanks.

Even the term 'cloud' smacks of theological connotations -- as though we'll soon reach the point where our music can finally 'transcend' completely; ourselves following swiftly behind as fully-fledged neuromancers! Let's pull ourselves out of the matrix for just a minute.

Albums may be dead for pop fluff, but it's still very much the norm for more experimental fare, which as suggested above, has more in common with classical music than pop/rock/indie. Anyway, surely the practicalities of recording in a studio (as far as I can tell, some bands still do this) means a block of time will be spent recording and producing a collection or music, which will then be best represented as a cohesive body of work. An album, if you will.

CDs sales might be down, but I'm selling far more CDs than either downloads or vinyl, so I'm sure there's a little more mileage in them yet.

April 5 | Unregistered CommenterChris Leary

As neither a 'technoromantic' nor a 'technology fetishist' I find it fascinating that it is always musicians who are the ones that dig in their heels As a pro musician [Gang of Four] I have long been fascinated with what the future holds for music, never the past. Nostalgia is a burden and a curse, and of course our memories can not be trusted. You say mobile ubiquity is a long way off - I disagree, by 2010 we will see 4G that I mention in my essay.
And why do you fear the Cloud? Its your conceit to throw the Cloud in to religious terms - the Cloud is not just about music neither is the Organizing Principle that I write of. Musicians can be so myopic at times. Newspapers, magazines and books all fall foul of the Organizing Principle. Why would you want your work to be locked up in a time-constrained container? It doesn't make sense...
Also who exactly would be "controlling your music" in the Cloud? Only you of course. I presume you don't have any music currently available on a server or a platform like MySpace because your paranoia of technology appears to run that deep?
And why are you so arrogant about pop music dismissing it as "pop fluff"? Are you suggesting that great pop artists are less than.....what exactly?
And please explain what you mean by a "SXSW-style milieu" becoming commonplace..

April 5 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Taking this line slightly further, many online streaming sites offer short clips of songs, so the work has even less time to make an impact... and it is also much easier to complete a song than an entire album, so we are being flooded with choices in this regard. Barry Schwartz has some good observations on this in Should We Write Thirty Second Songs?

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterDan Foley

Hi Dave,
I’m not digging my heels in about technology, but merely trying to keep my feet on the ground. I can assure you, I’m very much all for utilising technology to help me make the most of my music and its distribution, and have indeed been releasing my music online long before iTunes et al popped up. Nor do I hold the slightest nostalgia for vinyl or any other music format that has passed its heyday (I’m 29, grew up with CDs and mp3). Without my PC and associated music software I couldn’t write the music I write, simple as that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take a critical stance of technology and its use.

4G may well come along next year; perhaps it will mean that spotty connections, roaming fees and over-use penalties will cease to exist, along with the current £30-ish a month subscription fees too, but I won’t hold my breath. It’s not the technology that I’m sceptical about, but the implementation of it – the costs to the end user. And seeing as though just 23% of the world’s population is currently on the net, with a fraction of that on wireless internet, I’d hesitate to call that near-ubiquity. Paying £30 for the privilege of being online wirelessly, never mind the actual additional cost of downloading music, just doesn’t look quite so democratising to me. We’re completely ignoring generations of music lovers for whom the internet isn’t an option for buying music – many are happy with CDs.

About the SXSW milieu bit – it’s easy to assume the whole world is using the internet to engage with music the same way, if you’re at the SXSW festival watching masses of people twittering from their phones. It’s the same on the net – we’re blinkered by our observations of the net, while on it, forgetting a world of users enjoying music offline.

I don’t fear the cloud in the slightest, but I do think it’s a mistake to assume that it will preclude the current means of music distribution. It’s always tempting to look at the tantalising technological opportunities dangled in front of us, and make great sweeping proclamations about the death of format X or distribution method Y – here we are with multiple music formats existent side-by-side, CDs, vinyl, even tapes in some circles. It’s just another option, another means of access.

I noted the theological connotations because it’s something that crops up quite often among Western technologists’ evangelising, and I just find it amusing to see the symbolism continue. It’s pure technoromanticism.

Time-constrained container? You say this as though storage technologies will cease to advance for mobile devices, yet continue for online services. Why would that be the case? I’d rather have direct control over my music service, rather than rely on a company to store it and have to pay for the privilege too. If the technology’s in place to be able to purchase and stream music, then I’d rather have it download instead. Relying on streaming services places the content-providing company in the advantageous position of having your ear at their mercy. There’s no reason for it. I don’t see how I’m myopic, paranoid or reactionary for taking this position. These companies don’t exist to provide a public service for the greater good. Yes, I am on MySpace, Facebook and a few other social sites, as one of the millions of artists on there who’ve helped the sites achieve their ridiculous valuations, but I don’t store my whole music collection on there! I’m amazed that you think a healthy corporate scepticism is cynical or paranoid.

As for pop fluff, I take issue with the technological determinism that may have informed practical limits on early pop music, but there’s nothing to stop us write 79-minute songs on CD. But we mostly don’t – most whole albums don’t even reach that length. The technology has long-since stopped being the limiting factor on the length of music. You ask, “In what part of digital music culture does an album-length piece of work now reside?” In my opinion it resides in the same part it has always resided, as part of the music-lovers’ listening activity. Bite-sized chunks of different music might fit in nicely together with a homogenised playlist of sound-alike artists creating ABAB-structured songs, but there are plenty of musicians who don’t write music like this, and who enjoy crafting an album long enough for listeners to enjoy submersing themselves in an emotional experience that can’t always be had in 3 minutes of pop. I don’t care if that sounds snobbish.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterChris Leary

But I know you're not alone in what you say -- speakers at the Is This It conference have said very similar things:

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterChris Leary

"It’s the same on the net – we’re blinkered by our observations of the net, while on it, forgetting a world of users enjoying music offline"

The User Illusion gets the best of all of us.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterPat

There are so many things I simply cannot agree with:

• First, communicate openly and ask your fans what they want from you
• Listen to what they have to say. Really listen.

This is a classic argument and I'm not surprised to see it coming from a marketing person who is also a journalist. The reality, however, is that music is as much art as it is business, so asking what your fans want, and trust me, they usually like your older stuff better, is like asking how to design your product to be faster and more easily consumed. I think it might be better to ask your fans how they want it, but asking them what they want is suicide.

• Provide unique content such as early demos of new songs

There are many artists who provide content only once every three years and still have a bigger following. As a short-term goal, quantity and exclusivity of content are great. As a long term, they can't compare to plain good old quality. Sometimes you have to raise your price to find the right customer?

• Use social media wisely. Twitter and Facebook Pages are best, MySpace is too cluttered

I'd argue that fans are more predisposed towards getting audiovisual content through myspace rather than twitter or the gossip-oriented facebook?

• Don’t push messages to your fans, have a two way interaction with them
• Invite them to share, join, support and build goodwill with you
• Scrap your web site and start a blog

..Pages torn right out of any marketing/branding book, I'd bet on this. The point is, if musicians want to be marketers, they can go read up on marketing, no?

• Remember to forget everything you know about the CD “business”

The CD business has monetary rules, which mirror the principles of the music business as a whole, and by studying it, one can find a lot of clues on what is strategic to look after, and possibly try to protect. I am not a proponent of copyrights and DRM, but then, I don't think many people realise how easy it is to be ripped off by a smart middleman. Middlemen make and run the cloud... Convince me they've changed.

• Start to monetize the experience around your music

This is easier said than done. Bear in mind that it is a market built by middlemen, and the reality is many fans would prefer if it was driven by somebody else, even with taste-agent tools at their disposal ( etc).

• Remember - the browser is the new iPod

The browser is tethered to a computer (be it portable or handheld). It will never be the new iPod, as far as listening to music goes. We might get new music through browsers, but it won't necessarily be our preferred way of experiencing it?

I do, as a whole, agree to the idea that the traditional music album consisting of two or three hit songs and five fillers is no longer a viable idea. But it was a bad idea in the first place, so it is logical that it goes away.

Works of art have consisted of separate parts for ages. The music album is a valid way of organising work of art as much as any other. To me this looks like an article about the music business, that therefore deserves a better heading.

April 6 | Unregistered Commentereesn

Dear eesn,

Before commenting I must ask that you read the article first. I am neither a marketing person or a journalist - I consider myself a researcher, blogger, community director and for almost all my adult life a pro-musician as a member of both Gang of Four and Shriekback.


April 6 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Dave, in your bio, it says "He lives in Portland, Oregon where he works as Director, Insights & Digital Media for Nemo Design, an integrated brand, marketing and interactive firm." and "Allen has been a strong proponent of the online distribution of music for the last 15 years while working at companies such as and Intel on Internet music strategies." ?

All that does not matter to me. I am just annoyed that every day we are offered the same angle on a developing story. CD is dead, vinyl keeps going, embrace MP3 and live in the cloud. This was a new message a year ago.

Hope all of the above clarifies my point of view.

April 6 | Unregistered Commentereesn


I do work with Nemo that's true but I am not a marketer nor a journalist. And yes, I have spent many years trying to find a solution for music online and now I am tiring deeply of that task. [I'm actually more interested these days in the future or lack thereof of our major newspapers.]

I strongly believe in music's power to move people but I equally strongly believe that those in power today, trying to control how music is delivered, are digging a hole that they'll never climb out of. The future for recording companies does lie in the hands of people like Universal's Rio Caraeff purely because he has the nerve to say what's happening today and what should be happening going forward. Very few people in the recording industry seem to be listening.

In my essay I was just outlining many thoughts and ideas, shared by many people I interact with by the way. It's just an opinion.

Nostalgia is no one's friend.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

How about if we just end the set length album rather than abandon completely the idea of an album. With the ability to set prices a band can choose to release a three song album or a 30 songs album. Music, like much art, often does well in series, and by concentrating your efforts on a group of songs that play off each other you can often find ways to improve the other songs.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterColin


Great idea.. I realized on reading your comment that I never made clear the idea that the end of an album as the everlasting work, or the permanent work is where the organizing principle comes into play. Albums can be, and should be any length....even call them something else.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

IMO - The album 'style' of composition can still exist / always exist. Like a "concept" album, those things will always be around... But in what form???

The musicians must all embrace the idea that they may no longer only be creators of art... But also entrepreneurs - something we used to let management/labels/PR handle. Those skills are still readily available for hire if you have the money. For the rest of those less financially fortunate musicians seeking to make a living from their art - it's time to get your intellect and creativity shifted into high gear. The tools of opportunity are overwhelming in the digital 'music market' - But it's only of any value if you have the technical skills to make use of them.... More than just playing a pristine melody or singing with the lyrical content of Dylan - you got to get some B. Gates and S. Jobs skills!

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

The slightest glance at the landscape easily shows that the MP3 file is already by far the dominant music medium. Tape is dead, and all three remaining alternatives (vinyl, CD and DVD) are basically 'niche'. CDs (sooner or later migrating to a DVD format) are a big niche, but still niche and growing 'niche-lier' every day. CD/DVD and even vinyl are likely to always continue to live -- but only for the people who care about them. If that's you, welcome to the world antique car collectors and fine wine connoisseurs.

I'm a musician (though classical/avant/something rather than pop), and my own last few releases have been 'virtual' CDs; i.e., I don't even bother with all the production and inventory involved with manufacturing a physical CD. If I did that the best I'd do is break even; but with a virtual CD (one that still has things like Artwork and liner notes available for download at some other fixed site), I can still place all my music on every major -- and many minor -- download sites like iTunes and eMusic, and everything past the first $20-30 is profit. In less a month after the mastering is finished, my music is online and purchasable from Seattle to Helsinki to Rome to Tokyo to Brisbane.

Anyone concerned with the integrity of their entire album always has the option of releasing the whole thing as a single MP3 file. With a little tweaking we could even add indexing, so that if you wanted to hear the song that starts at 6'38" you'd just punch that in and you're there. Of course any number of enterprising folk could still slice up the file into separate tracks pretty easily; and some download services pay by track, meaning the artist gets the same few cents for the track whether it is two minutes or fifty minutes.

Make whatever integral package you want; just know that in the real world the track is the main unit of musical currency, and once your work is available anywhere that's the currency it's likely to be reduced to.

April 7 | Unregistered Commentersteve

My thinking runs parallel to Chris Leary in many respects. There is definitely something going on behind the scenes silently manipulating things. The onwards march of technology has been Western society's new religion for a few centuries now, so much so that we deem it inevitable. That may be, but just because something CAN be done doesn't mean it should be done. I certainly don't control the technology...but somebody does :). How much does everybody pay their ISP monthly? That's gotta be a lot of zeros. Lots of panic these days, but really as long as I can still pick up my guitar, write songs and entertain people then I'll be ok....that's where my control lies. Old world label exploitation sucks, but with the way things are going online, I just see us heading for the same exploitation as always, just decorated nicer.

I think a song should be released however an artist seems fit to package it. If its a cohesive collection of songs, then release them as a collection! If you are a songwriter and excited about that brand new song you just wrote and recorded, release it as a single tune! There can be no rule-book anymore. The only rule book you should play is the one that lets you keep your vision. On another note, I know it seems tempting to ask fans what they want, but I feel my role is to create art that expresses me, what I feel; if they accept it, they accept, if they do not then so be it. I can't even imagine all the great works of art we would be without had the artist asked their fans for their opinion before they even started.

April 9 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Meanwhile U2 and Anton Corbijn unwittingly prove my theory can be applied - Anton Corbijn Linear U2 movie

April 14 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Look, I'm the frontman of Telling on Trixie, a soulful NYC pop band. I am not a writer, nor am I business guy, so I'm not going to try to compete here. The only thing I can do is speak from my own experience.

We've made two albums. Our self titled debut, and now, "Ugly, Broke & Sober," the March 24 release. I know that after playing the first album for a year and a half, we had twenty new songs ready to be recorded and no money to do it. Whiddling down to ten songs for the album was hard...but I think ten is a good number from an artistic point of view. It's sad, though, because I don't feel like all the songs get heard, and certainly not purchased. I personally LOVE the end of our album. But our advisors advised we front load the radio friendly tunes in the begining. On itunes, I can see right away that the most popular songs are the first single, "Crash Me Up," the cover "Mad About You" (yes, we took Belinda Carlisle and roughed it up a bit), and the title track. It makes me sad, and I feel like next time, it might be smart (and less expensive) to make an EP. Could this maybe be a happy medium between your extreme positions? A baby step? To me, it seems reasonable.

Next, about asking fans for their input. Now, our album was entirely fan-funded. We let our fans experience the making of an indie album through a password protected site and a private facebook group. We did NOT give them creative control. All the songs were written by us. But we let donating fans go along for a ride and weigh in on decisions. For example, I put a poll up on the website and they voted that we should do a cover song. So,....for the band, it was fun challenge. What could we surprise them with? They made suggestions, but their suggestions were like..."do Jimmy Eat World...Matchbox 20. Candlebox, etc." Um, no way. We sound a little like each of those bands. Bad idea. Putting Mad About You in a minor chorded dress was the right choice...the artist's choice. So, we let them in a LITTLE, in the passenger's seat, but never the driver's seat.

Also, I'm often asked about our songwriting process, and I let the fans play a "Lyric Challenge" game with me,....they gave me crazy words...four or five at a time, and I was challenged to write a body of lyrics with the words...a stanza at a time. At the chorus, I said, "It's the chorus, so give me some action verbs...let's make it take off!" And they did. I picked some, rejected some words, and explained why. There are probably four words per stanza that came from the fans...arranged in a story I created, and they got to watch this unfold. The song ended up being "Crash Me Up." Now, some artists hate that I did that and Time Out New York made some snide comment about me doing it.....but the fans didn't write the lyrics, I our game. I did this early on in the fundraising when the time came for the funding drive to be over, the people who participated were really emotionally investing in seeing us reach our $20,000 goal, which we did.

Myspace. I find Myspace to still be the best repository for what's going on with Telling on Trixie, although we don't actively friend request people, unless we have somehow learned of them elsewhere. The Making April example of holing up in a room and friend requesting the shit out of strangers is not our speed...we are songwriters and performers and prefer to live in the real world and report back to the social media sites from it. We don't live in CyberSpace. I love twitter, just because I think it's fun, like a game and do it mostly from my iphone. And we have a blog, because posting the pictures is and video there is fun. exists, but it's more like a business card. I think they all serve their purpose.

The Radiohead example is not relevant to an indepedent artist like Telling on Trixie...because Radiohead had major label backing for years before they launched their giveaway project. It's not a model we can follow from the outset. Right now, we're a little train that could...not a luxury liner that was powered for years by a top notch engine.. and now is giving free rides. Although it's a ride I'll gladly take, they're a fantastic band. So I love that they did it, but it doesn't apply to us and people should stop talking about it like it applies to any indie bands. A free mp3 as a taster? Sure. But a whole album? Not for us...just yet.

Subscription music is not the wave of the future. (See XM Sirius) I want to own my music, as do most true music fans. I'm too attached to it to let it just float around in the clouds. Now, this isn't to say I need the music to exist in some physical form (although I do love my turntable). But I do need to have full control over and ownership of my music library at all times.

April 15 | Unregistered Commenterthelottery

Just found your blog through Google, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoy it.
Thank you for the info. I’m looking forward to the additional valuable information here.

"The browser is the new iPod" that's something. However, it depends on the quality of the music too...crap doesn't last long....

September 18 | Unregistered Commenterjt

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