Do People Still Care About Albums?
In the 21st century, are we losing touch with full-length feature LPs?
When looking at an album, you are looking at a full body of work that an artist has put a great amount of time and effort into. Each song was carefully chosen to be placed on the album for a particular reason, and in some instances can serve as a window into what the artist was going through when it was written. Albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, The Wall by Pink Floyd, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and in more recent years, Green Day’s American Idiot and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly have all served as a cohesive experience for the listener. The best way to listen to any one of these albums is from front to back in its entirety, helping the listener understand what story the artist was trying to tell. But as of recently, it appears that the audience’s patience and willingness to hear that story may be disappearing.
Since the introduction of music being shared and streamed online with companies like Napster in the very early 2000s, then later with iTunes and the streaming giants Spotify and Apple Music, it seems that the idea of listening to an album from start to finish has gone away from the general music-consuming public. These platforms allow users to buy or stream an individual song from an artist from most of their catalog of work without ever needing to hear a full album, even going as far as to save specific songs you should listen to. For many people, if asked "when was the last time you listened to a full album on your Spotify account?" it would not be the recent past!
According to a Music Ally article from 2015 featuring the founder of Slice Music, Justin Barker, research found that less than 10% of the streaming site's users were actually listening to an entire album start to finish. It seems that most people are using streaming services to create their own playlists by selecting their favorite tracks from numerous different albums to create their own listening experience rather than listening to an album in full. Whilst this may not be as engaging as the artist would have hoped for, in the digital age, the latter can be convenient at times.
In past decades, we've seen the buzz that comes with an album release. Record stores would be packed full if it was a big release, sometimes the stores would hold in-store appearances for the artists, and lines could travel far and be hundreds of fans deep. If the artist was especially well-known, such as Madonna or Michael Jackson, there would even be a midnight release for the album. This was seemingly prominent throughout the '80s and '90s at the height of stores like HMV. Local news media would report on these big releases, and even caught a young Pete Doherty waiting to pick up his copy of Oasis' 1997 release, Be Here Now.
While the resurgence of physical media (such as vinyl) has certainly made an impact on the music industry and shown that there is still a market for albums to have physical releases, especially in larger cities that have big record stores like Rough Trade, we have yet to see the large outpouring of fans lining up to get their hands on these releases. We also still see intimate listening parties and midnight releases at some remaining record stores and small venues, but the energy and excitement that once was attached to these events in the past have yet to see a return. The thought seems to be: why stand in line to get the latest Arctic Monkeys record when a streaming platform has these tracks at the click of a button wherever in the world you are, at your closest convenience?
There is much to be said on how important the album format is and that in order to support an artist we love, no matter the level of success, it is more important than ever to give their entire output of work a chance, instead of selecting a couple tracks and forgetting about the rest. So the next time that new Radiohead album drops, consider going to a local record store and picking it up on vinyl and listening to it front to back - just as the artist would have imagined.