It’s the end of the album as we know it, and I feel fine
Since the advent of music streaming, artists have to do more to promote the release of their singles. As streaming increasingly eclipses music purchasing, many artists are beginning to move away from releasing their music in album format, opting instead to release singles upon singles. All this change in the music industry begs the question: Are albums dying out?
LPs, or long play records, were first introduced in 1948, and set themselves apart from previous records with their ability to hold much more music on them. However, the first “albums” were collections of smaller records in a case that resembled a photo album and date back to the early 1900s. Generally, the album as a modern format dates back to the first LPs.
Once LPs were introduced and brought with them the ability to fit more than one song on a single disk, artists began writing more music to fill those disks, and everyone else, excited to get more bang for their buck, began buying them. Bands would still release EPs—shorter collections of songs—and singles, but for years, the album reigned supreme.
Fast-forward to the mid-1990s, when the internet began to have widespread commercial usage and music streaming artists and record labels began to worry about the state of the record. Radio had been showcasing singles for years, but when it came to purchasing music, the album continued to dominate.
Now, as streaming has taken over music consumption, artists feel less pressure to create full-length albums. It’s easier for bands who could be one-hit wonders to direct their listeners to their other music with streaming. Spotify-sponsored playlists have, in many cases, replaced radio shows as the way people access new music. When listening to a playlist it’s much easier to click to the artist’s page and scroll through their music than it is to remember an artist that you heard on the radio and buy one of their albums at a store.
But an album is not just a collection of songs, it’s its own entity, and tells its own story. Albums like “To Pimp a Butterfly” and “Lemonade” are considered much more than the sum of their parts. These are powerful works of art that could not be captured in individual songs.
Artists are now feeling torn between releasing albums and singles. I had the chance to talk with Matt Johnson, of indie-pop duo Matt and Kim, last semester about the duo’s latest album. He gave his insight about album creation and how music trends are changing to a single-dominated market.
“Our intention has been to make an album that felt like an album from beginning to end, that felt varied and complete and rather than sometimes you try to write singles and you collect all the singles and you’re like, ‘OK this is an album.’ With this we wanted all sorts of different stuff…and it’s weird to do that now because people say that albums are dead, they say that the single is the world…but some of my favorite listening experiences have been albums that I loved the first song to the last song without ever pushing stop.”
I, personally, share many of Johnson’s sentiments. There are a handful of albums that I distinctly remember listening for the first time and in order, and no single song can compare to those experiences.
And while the album may not hold the power that it once did, I don’t believe that the format is near death. As long as artists turn to the album as a way to make art rather than a way to sell singles, the format will live on.