Okay, so the traditional album is dead - Get over it. The album died when the physical product of a CD, cassette, etc. lost prominence and importance amongst the average consumer. This may make the true music fanatic question the artistic integrity of a musician - Singles? I want a body of work. But what does this really mean? The album, for all practical matters, is just a figment of our imagination - created by the limited amount of storage space on a CD and an industry standard set by hegemonic major labels. Most albums contain a few hits and the rest acts as almost a filler. There are definitely albums that can be considered an entire piece of work, take Dark Side of the Moon for example, but these albums are few and far between. Today, consumers seek out something from artists that couldn’t be produced at such scale before the advent of the internet: content and lots of it.
The move towards singels and EP’s reflects this shift in music consumption away from a physical body of work to creating unique, high quality content across multiple online and physical channels. In many ways this puts more pressure on the artist to crank out high quality tracks each and every time. The album no longer masks the shitty filler tracks of the past. Instead, artists can release a single online and allow people to digest that one track (whether they fall in love with it and can’t get it out of their head, or absolutely hate it) leaving them wanting more or wondering what else they can expect from the artist. This is what the traditional radio has done for artists in the past, except now the distribution platform is the internet, which has an incredible reach, and is open to anyone to publish whatever they like.
Releasing content gradually helps stimulate demand and leaves people coming back for more, which is especially true amongst Gen Y-ers and an incredibly short attention span. In the past a band would release a CD, then tour for a few years, and fans would be stuck listening to the same album for at least 2 years before the artist had fresh tracks. Today an artist can distribute music whenever and however they might want. If music consumption patterns continue to trend in the way that they are, the bands that will have the most success will be those who consistently and constantly create good content (music & video especially.) Through exclusive content, they can create a consistent following who will frequently visit their website, social media profiles, and concerts always expecting and receiving something new and fresh - (hmm sounds almost like a blogging strategy.) Once that community is created, artists can utilize it as a direct channel to sell merchandise, concert tickets, premium packages etc. (Things people are willing to pay for). So cheers to you Radiohead for taking another step toward a bright future in the music industry.