I have a theory about albums that they are the enemy of modern
Why? Let’s start with reasons on why albums are good in general / have existed for so long…
1. Biggest reason: Sell-ability.
People like packages, they like everything wrapped up together, they wanna get it all when they’re really into it. Buying an album isn’t just about collecting and ownership, it’s a lot about satisfying a desire. Satiating an appetite. If you hear one great song by someone, you’ll likely want to hear more. If you buy an album, then you can rest, you know you have the bulk of their current work in your hands.
Also, before iTunes and before listening stations, shrink-wrap was the thing that made the album profitable. Not only because it was shiny and fun to unwrap, but because you didn’t know what the other songs sounded like, unless they played all of them on the radio (which radio rarely did).
What this meant is that to sell an album, it just needed a few good songs, specifically the one or two they play on the radio. The rest could be total garbage. But of course, the rest of the songs were just the weaker ones, and that was ok. You could even experiment or kind of repeat yourself on throughout the album.
Back then as a customer you couldn’t pick and purchase only the songs you liked, obviously, so you had to buy the whole album. This was great both for the record industry and for the artist. It meant that those less bombastic songs were often the ones that endeared themselves to people over time. Songs ‘grew’ onto people, because they were the detours interwoven with the hits throughout the album.
Drawbacks of the album format:
Albums are often judged on the whole, so even if there’s one great song on an album (which is so often the case, with some genres / eras), if there are a few that just don’t fit in or are otherwise forgettable, it almost damages the reputation of the good songs. You might forget about the whole album, only to hear it a few years later and say something like “Oh, yeah, I remember there were a few pretty good songs on here.” But because of the bad ones, you got sick of listening to the whole album, and eventually those good songs might even get ignored with time.
If the overall opinion of an album is “meh, not that good”, then any good songs that were on there will get overlooked. Word of mouth can be detrimental to the future of a good song because of a mediocre album.
In the non-album era:
Nowadays, you’re better off making sure every song you release is good. Those mediocre ones that used to sneak themselves onto longplay albums are the ones you should toss.
But HOW do you know which ones are GREAT and which are simply mediocre?
You kind of don’t, sometimes. Even Paul McCartney said he never knew which ones were gonna be hits and which ones weren’t. But by then, it didn’t matter.
So there needs to be a critique, an open critique of music where you can get opinions.
Where does this open critique exist on the internet?
Youtube is about as close as you can get right now, if you really want openness. It’s still relatively anonymous, so some people feel free to be extremely critical, occasionally turning into bullies. Or maybe Soundcloud, if you want a more supportive community. And I’m using community in the loosest terms. Chances are you’ll get comments instead of critiques.
Comments vs. Critiques
The meaning of ‘comment’ depends on where you are. On Soundcloud, where everyone is a musician and hoping to promote their work and network, comments are almost always good things.
On Youtube, a comment could be either positive or negative feedback. That is assuming you get enough listens on a track for someone to finally comment on it.
YouTube is the melting pot of opinions and viewpoints. It reminds us that no matter what, people like and hate things for their own reasons. There will always be positive and negative comments about nearly everything on YouTube. Who’s comments do you trust? Who’s approval are you trying to get?
Even with the advent of the internet, you’re still kind of alone, left on your own to judge for yourself what you think is good and what isn’t. And in a way, it doesn’t matter, does it? Are really you trying to appeal to everyone? How about quality over quantity, in terms of fans?
What makes a bad song?
I think a bad song is often one that had a good idea, but somewhere along the line somebody dropped the ball and the song wasn’t developed enough. The ones that people who have fell into a rut make are ones that started out on a bad idea and are over developed to their increasing detriment.
The worst kind of music is ‘serious’ music made by someone who is just tinkering, and so proud of their little song that they go about uploading it, branding themselves and pushing it out into the world. These add to the noise that make quality music harder to find. It’s true. If every human who could download Traktor made a damn song and uploaded it to Youtube, you’d have alot of garbage, with a few surprising gems made by someone who happened to be good at imitating good music.
And the thing about music is nobody is allowed to call bad music bad. As if there can be no standards for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ anymore, because taste is relative.
Why would you put out a song that is just halfway thought out? I’ve done it before, of course, and often received no response. And it shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be encouraged for half-assing a song, because that makes it patently BAD. Even punk music, which is simple and quick & dirty, is not half-assed, not in spirit.
When I release a way better song and get a lot of praise almost immediately, I realize why the last one was lacking. The half-assed song started out uninspired. When you’re rusty, and you haven’t written anything in awhile, you’re more likely to put something out without putting a lot of thought into it.
Why albums are especially bad for us multipotentialites:
We don’t think in terms of albums. That seems so singular. How can we make ourselves think about what this ALBUM is about, when each song is it’s own creature? We usually don’t even think in themes, or even in genres.
Which is why, if you’re like me, you need to try new genres, as much as possible.
I don’t know about you, but each song I make covers new territory, in some way it sounds at least slightly (if not totally) different than the last. I want it to be better than the last. And if there’s a few month gap in-between making of tracks, it totally shows. Mentally I’m somewhere else. My tastes have changed.
I have laboriously gone back to an old track from years ago to update it and make it sound like my newer stuff, and it was painful. Maybe like editing a journal you wrote when your perspective on life has changed.
It worked out, but the song jumps around a lot. Nothing wrong with jumping around, right? But for me, within a song, I like to limit a song to one idea / theme / feeling so I can make many tracks of varied ideas instead of fewer tracks with (too) many ideas… make sense?
And trying to smoosh together four songs that sound enough alike into one EP was laborious enough.
I have always wanted to put something out on vinyl, which is why I agreed to put out a four track EP (instead of a two track EP), but it’s taken almost three years for that to happen. Sure, there was a long period of resistance I had to fight just to update some tracks, and perfectionism reared it’s ugly head, but finally the EP is done!
(And I secretly don’t wanna hear those tracks anymore! I was so precious about them… But luckily people keep commenting on them, because it’s new to them!)
I think I chose a genre to limit myself, in a way. I chose boogie / disco, with a modern house touch. Probably because of all the great late 70′s early 80′s tracks that have surfaced in the past seven or more years, thanks to crate digging blogs like Beat Electric. I’m not trying to imitate albums, though. Something about boogie / early 80′s disco-inflected R&B, it never worked well with the idea of the album.
Ask any DJ, they will tell you “Yeah the single is great and so is the B-side, and there’s like one or two other great songs on the LP, but then a bunch of slow jams and throwaways.”
(My personal opinion is that the production quality was so good, so much work went into one song that made it a hit, that the rest of the songs suffered from lack of attention.)
It seems to be true for dance music, for some reason! It makes sense that they’re released as singles (or at most 4 song EP’s). Dance music is forward-thinking and never needs to be held in the constraints of the album.
So if I’m not making an album, what am I making?
You’re just making music.
You’re also making whatever you want to make, and talking about it. You should be telling people what you’re working on, maybe let them have a say in how your progress is going or what you could do next. Maybe ask them if what you’re working on has legs or not. For so long, the process of making music has been such a sacred domain of the artist’s life, that many will simply refuse to allow other’s advice in. Maybe they fear it will cloud their vision for the track…
But sometimes other people, especially your fans, can often be really astute in telling you what works and what doesn’t.
You don’t have to be beholden to them or a slave. You don’t need to be a slave to yourself, either.
Oftentimes, an artist makes the mistake of NOT thinking about trying new stuff. They end up repeating themselves, falling into a ‘niche,’ which is fine if that’s what you wanna do, but I feel like niches are for people who like to fit things together nicely into predictable algorithms, not musicians.
Just let your audience inspire you and trust you.