July 30, 2024

The End of the Album

It's recently occurred to me that aspects of my technological accoutrements are so advanced as to put me at a disadvantage. I speak of my "music delivery system," whereby discreet packets sound are delivered aurally to my brain. I've recently moved, and so the little desk stereo that once was in my bedroom, whose sole purpose was to provide bump-chika-bump-bump background noise has now been dusted off and must serve as my apartment's main source of sound. This is a problem, because I rarely buy CDs anymore. This has already caused me to improvise on my trips to the beach. Because my little desk stereo doesn't have an RCA plug-in, there's no way to hook up my iPod to it. My iPod contains all my music--days and days of it--and I have no way to broadcast it into the kitchen while I cook noodles or into the bathroom as I shave. I've gone through storage and have found a shoebox full of CDs, but they're so old it's like 1997 again. Indigo Girls, Portishead, Boyz II Men. Cough. It's quiet at the edge of the precipice!!!

Clearly, we're seeing a major evolution in the way we consume music, and as a result our relationship to music is changing. While in the past twenty-five years or so the single faded to make room for the album, we're now witnessing the quick demise of the album itself. In return of...the single again? Not quite.

I rarely buy a CD anymore. I can purchase an entire CD on the iTunes music store for $9.99, or a single song for $.99 if I choose. Why would I go down to Cheapo or Treehouse and pay six bucks more? I make a conscious choice to buy my CDs in physical form nowadays. It's important to support one's independently-owned record store and to support one's favorite indie bands. Buying a physical album has now become a political act. I'll download Toby Keith off Limewire (in secret, you can be sure!) but I'll proudly purchase Best Friends Forever at full price.

A year ago I predicted that CDs would become as useful as software--merely the means of bringing music from the store into your personal network of computer-iPod-stereo, where the digital file would circulate freely, relegating the plastic disk of irridesence to the basement. But technology has long jumped beyond even that.

Agency returns to the listener, at the expense of the record label and the band itself. On my iPod songs from particular albums freely mix with each other, cross-fertilize, inform and cancel out each other. I have no conception of album names or album art or liner notes anymore. Some of you might argue for their preservation, in the same way you might prefer making mix tapes on actual cassettes. Isn't this a bit regressive? I'd argue it's more important--and more fulfilling--to allow listeners control over their own playlists. The playlist is the new mode by which the cacophony of sound available is brought into meaning for the listener--and the listener is the primary alchemist.

And playlists have a meaning beyond merely serving as the blueprint for an hour's music. Playlists state something merely in their theoretical positing these days. Numbering off twelve songs in a particular order is a rhetorical flourish, a reply, a soliloquy. Hell, we don't even need the actual songs anymore.

Posted by Jason at July 30, 2024 08:55 PM

The fact that you can't use your iPod to listen to music while shaving or at the beach is a significant little blemish on the sheen of the vision of technological utopia. There is always a degree of incompatibility and planned obsolescence built into every technological medium, and one purpose of that is to force you to buy stuff, sometimes over and over. Think 10 years ahead and wonder if you'll still be using your iPod. More to the point, look ten years in the future and wonder if you'll BE ABLE to use your iPod then.

The 99-cent song from iTunes is great, but of course most people aren't getting their music from iTunes, they're downloading it for "free" (though it's not free--read on) or they're burning their own CDs using multiple sources but not, for the most part, paying for what they're burning--or so they think.

The result of this, we're told, will be a radical change in the recorded music business. That's probably true, and the major change will be increased corporate control at the expense of both musicians and listeners.

It's a nice vision, the anarchist musical paradise of bands selling their own music over the internet, directly or through boutique labels. Sorry, that's never going to amount to much, because the corporate music industry effectively controls live concerts and broadcasting of music--and, increasingly, narrowcasting as well through legal tactics. The corporations control what can be heard, and one way or another we're buying it from them. Musicians, much less listeners, will never get around that except in small and temporary ways.

All of us will still have our music and our playlists and our cool toys to listen to it. But don't believe that we won't be paying for all of it, pretty much the same as always.

And don't believe that we're necessarily hearing what we want, as opposed to wanting what we hear--but that's another post.

And my iPod won't hold a charge very well.

Posted by: glen at July 30, 2024 11:58 PM

Right back you:

Posted by: Mighty at July 31, 2024 01:21 AM

I just realized I typo'ed the fuck out of that.

Scenario 1:

"write back, you"

Scenario 2:

"right back AT you"

I think it's a combo of both.

I'm glad we had this conversation.

Posted by: Mighty at July 31, 2024 01:28 AM
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