Nate Bunnyfield (natebunnyfield) wrote,
Nate Bunnyfield
natebunnyfield

No one thinks about albums today. Music is now divisible to the single, as represented by an individual MP3, and then subdivisible into snippets like ringtones and samples. When recording artists demand that their works be considered as a whole – like when Radiohead insisted that the iTunes Music Store sell their whole album as a single, indivisible file that you would have to listen to all the way through – they sound like cranky throwbacks.

http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2007/03/cory-doctorow-you-do-like-reading-off.html

Talk about a confused half truth.

People relate to music the same way they always have. Sampling and egomaniacal musicians were around long before electricity. Technology doesn't change us or what we want, just how we interact with one another.

And though it's now atypical to start listening to an album and finish it in one go, it does happen. If no one thought about albums today, as Cory claims, we wouldn't see the addition of Gapless Album Playback in iTunes after its widespread adoption. Interestingly, if you look around last.fm, you will find select 18-25 year olds who are more album listeners than shufflers. They are also some of the most rabid music fans and, conceivably, the album makers of the future.

The more casual listener demands a lot less of the market than the enthusiast. The former downloads a track, while the latter downloads an entire discography – if not share the career of Zappa/Mangum/Iron Maiden with anyone willing to give them a chance.

I'm not arguing that artists intentions should or should not be followed as in Cory's Radiohead example. But we cannot completely ignore the artist's perspective. One notable example is Gescom's Minidisc which uses the shuffle mode to create an aleatoric mix of the album's 88 tracks. Another example is Little Wings' Little Green Leaves which was recorded in three different versions, each unique to its medium. The cassette is an intimate and rough demo, the LP was recorded in a day, and the CD is the most conventionally finished version. Seems like a lot of contemporary album thought to me.

So while the album form can be readily ignored by the consumers who only listen to the first two tracks or the single, it is often critical for the producers and distributors. Surprisingly, all this can even lead to a track the artist considers to be a throwaway becoming a chart-topping single (like Sheryl Crow's All I Wanna Do).

Personally, I use iTunes' Play Count or Remember Playback Position to pick up an album or long track where I left off hours or even months later. This seems obsessive and perverse in Cory's worldview, but I want to hear track 10, 11 and 12 as much as I want to hear the first one.


p.s. I have noticed people doing this a lot with Arcade Fire albums. Can anyone tell me if they have been putting out cohesive albums or just really compelling tracks people can't get enough of? I haven't had a chance to listen to them yet and was curious.
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