Not too long ago, a good friend of mine still working in the music business said something that struck me: “music’s been cheapened”. I agreed immediately, not knowing exactly why, but gave it some more thought. It relates to how technology will affect music — not how we listen to music, but how we digest it, buy it, perceive it.
Let me first say that I love the iPod, and the device has even allowed me to rediscover music that was previously boxed away in racks of old CDs. The technology is wonderful, making it so easy to carry around your entire record collection at all times. But is the art of recording an “album” — an LP — in danger? I guess that’s what I’m questioning here.
One of my favorite rituals has always been going to the record store and buying a CD or two. The physical act of purchasing something, taking it home, opening it up, lookng at the artwork, reading the lyrics, etc. Will that become something of the past? Probably. For years we’ve been hearing things like “yeah, but you’ll be able to print out your own artwork to go along with the digital downloads”. Somehow that just doesn’t sound as nice.
The album as an artform
Creating an album — not just a collection of songs, but an entire “experience” has long been an artform in and of itself. It’s part of what got me interested in design early on: studying the packaging design and album artwork of bands and artists I worshipped. The collection and artwork combined with a group of songs recorded within the same time period always seemed like a time capsule of what the band was doing at that moment. But with the ability to buy a single song immediately via the web, will a shift materialize? Will we go back to the days of 7″ 45s, where the single ruled?
When my friend said that he believed music has been cheapened, he was referring to the fact that music is now everywhere. It’s in your cellphone, on the web, on your microwave, TV, toys, etc. It’s even a marketing tool. It’s become easier to get, but will that affect the music itself?
The web site “album”?
What has become crucial is the band’s web site — the depot for news, info, photos, music, videos, etc. It’s possible that the web site will become even more important as digital distribution gains even more steam. Perhaps an “album” will really be a web site devoted to a group of songs released at the same time. Each “album” will stand on it’s own like an archived article.
I don’t have any answers, of course. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out. The Compact Disc is the end of the line as far as a physical medium for music — but even as technology progresses, I hope there continues to be a way of relaying the special qualities that only a packaged album can deliver.