Different Slices Of Sky

9 August 2014

So, in shock news it turns out the album is going extinct.

That’s a shame isn’t it?

I’m not what the exact protocol is in this sort of situation; do we need to start a kickstarter or something? I mean, there’s quite a few albums I was looking forward to. Why isn’t someone doing something? Won’t someone think of the children?

Etc etc.

It’s no surprise, of course, that George Ergatoudis, the Head of Music for Radio 1 doesn’t believe in the relevance of the album format and sees playlists taking over. He’s in charge of a station that has a whole industry – an army – of pluggers specifically pushing single tracks at them day in, day out in the hope that they get added to… a playlist. The emergent popularity of streaming services from a radio station controllers point of view is simply realigning the recorded music industry to fit with how they see the world already.

Let’s not dismiss the concept straight out of hand, however. There is a fascinating flourishing growth in the significance of popular playlists on Spotify, each having the ability to significantly drive exposure (and hence cash cash money in the form of streaming revenue, although still fairly small) if you manage to get a track added to them. The funny thing about this, though, is that to my mind this has far more potential to disrupt radio then it does the album format; the point of these playlists is to solve the “what should I listen to” dilemma that has traditionally been solved by radio, rather then the “I’d like to listen to something like this” question solved by an LP.

Either way, new technology is changing the way people listen to music. (Side note: I almost put “consume music”, which I’ve seen written so often recently it’s evidently entered my subconscious even though we have this perfectly good word that works pretty well for almost every circumstance unless you’re actually fucking eating some CDs…)

The more pertinent point is that he’s right and yet wrong all at the same time.

It’s a natural response, but over and over again the music industry is defined by people based on their narrow viewpoint, as if they were looking at the sky through a telescope, seeing the moon and assuming that was the only thing out there.

For Radio 1 and the slice of the pie that they play in albums just aren’t that relevant, and never really have been – it’s all about individual chunks of 3:30 long music and whether or not they resonate with their audience. The singles chart is in rude health and they represent that section of the industry.

But hey, guess what? There’s plenty more slices out there! For a whole swath of artists, and fans, albums are the primary way that they listen and I see no sign of that abating. Sure, the way they listen might ebb and flow between vinyl, CDs, downloads and streaming but it doesn’t change what they listen to, or what those artist create. People said the same sort of thing when iTunes first became popular – people would cherry pick tracks and make playlists – and I think that’s true for a certain set of audience, but definitely not for an equally valid other set.

We could talk about other genres like rock and metal, which so many people in the industry seem to be permanently surprised by and where bands that seemingly “no one” has heard of can regularly sell and venues like Wembley Arena. Or classical. Or jazz. Or a million one other slices that all have different audiences, that engage and listen in different ways.

So the album isn’t going to become irrelevant then – but it already is, and always has been, just depending on exactly which bit of sky you are looking at.

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