It’s like The Internet is a disease and it’s slowly damaging the organs of the album. One by one it goes through the body of the album, taking a chunk here and there. The album isn’t on life support yet, but it will be soon enough.
Radiohead’s frontman Thom Yorke announced that the band will no longer release full-length studio albums and instead focus on downloadable singles.
Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins aren’t quite ready to go all the way there, but instead they’re breaking the album into 11 EP’s of 4 songs each. That way Billy can still fulfill his artwork and concept fetish by including pictures, paintings, etc. with the EPs while making the music available to people who don’t share his proclivity for the visual aspect of the theme.
While The Smashing Pumpkins method is already familiar to them (see also: The Aeroplane Flies High), Radiohead’s declaration shows an awareness of changing methods of distribution as compared with the “old world” ways. The reason we have albums in the first place is because records (and tapes, and CDs) only held a finite amount of material before their storage space was exhausted. Today, even fairly low end computers come with 80-90GB of storage, which is enough for several albums even for loss-less quality distribution. We no longer have the limitations that made the album a necessity in the first place, so why continue on with the tradition?
If you say “because of the recording industry” then it really only further serves to show how far the industry’s head is under the sand. Here’s a great example: Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 (which I like) is $10.99 on iTunes. But each of the individual tracks is $1.29. So, to buy the album as singles (with the Radiohead model) you’d pay $19.35. Yes, I realize that by releasing singles, labels run the risk of not having people buy all of the singles, but since The Blueprint 3 has 15 songs on it, each person would only have to buy 57% of the songs (8-9 of the 15 songs) to get the same amount of money.
If you’re a ruthless music company exec, why are you basically giving people 6-7 songs for free?
Do you really think that people who might otherwise download the entire thing for free are going to instead pay $10.99 because it’s a better deal than buying each song individually? No. They’re still going to download the whole thing and pay nothing. But the people who would pay $10.99 for the album, I’m guessing they’d also pay $10.32 to buy 8 of the songs individually. Especially if you release one single a month for 15 months, I bet you get a pretty high conversion rate. Then it’s only $1.29 a month. That’s not a big deal. Seems like a much easier sell than trying to convert an entire $10.99 (or $19.35) all at once.
The album is dead. Long live the single.