Go ahead and pull up your iTunes library right now. Looks nice and clean doesn’t it? Now, how big is your left quadrant? Get your mind out of the gutter, I meant your computer or iPhone. If your playlists are vast, it’s going to kind of reinforce the point I’m going to make. No, no, blood is not necessarily on your hands. Do you remember opening your first CD? That new car smell, hopefully being careful not to scratch the back of the disc, and reading through the credits and artwork? Albums were even more of an experience at this time. Not to say that albums cannot be an experience now, they are just experienced differently. Maybe it’s because our attention spans aren’t really spans at all – more like blips. Walk with me, talk with me.
Try to remember an album that you listened to all the way through. I mean no skipping and no skimming through to the good parts where the track may liven up or catch you. To be fair, mine would probably be Tori Kelly‘s latest album, Unbreakable Smile (I have to review albums. It comes with the territory). With the conventional listener, this may be really hard to answer. Chalk it up to illegal downloading or how the music is packaged to the public. The whole microcosm of the listening experience has changed alongside us.
Let’s look at the actual anatomy of the album. A long time ago, there would be albums that were just six or seven tracks long. This was back when cassettes were prevalent as well. I know that word cassette might seem a distant memory. With more storage, there’s more desire to fill it – lo and behold, the 80 minute blank CD-R which could range from 10 to 15 tracks depending on how you record. The iPod made our music mobile and on par with our continuously “busy” lives. Channeling my inner CSI detective, while there are many potential causes of the untimely death of the album, one in particular appears the most out of the lineup. I’m referring to the “playlist”.
Technology is a good thing. We have streaming sites like Apple Music and Spotify and now instead of buying an album, you may be inclined to purchase the couple of sounds that you like. The problem with this is that you are literally deconstructing the album. More or less, we are making a playlist of songs whether it be ones for work or ones to set that romantic mood. We tailor music to our needs. Recording of albums have also changed. Some mainstream artists actually record an album full of potential singles to tailor to the “playlist” generation. This may fit albums to come off a bit uneven and rushed. What is an album cycle anymore? Gone are the days that most artists tour off one album for two years and then follow up after. More bands are recording on the road and inclined to release music at a voracious pace to fill our plates to which we consume music at a crazy rate. When Apple did away with the classic 120 GB iPod, I actually got a little sad – but when are you going to fill the thing? Have we become music hoarders?
Well, the easy solutions would be for musicians to slow down back to the conventional cycle or for us to slow down our lines of consumption, right? Nope. Probably not going to happen. The normalcy here is that playlists are here to stay and we like it that way. They are our own “albums” as composed by the listener. Music is always in an evolutionary stage and the digital aspect has only sped that up. Are we the labels now? Yes, there will be immaculate albums that come into our lives to enable us to stop the Facebook newsfeed scrolling and command a listen, but for now, we are the kings of the anthill. Que up that workout playlist.