Listening to this week's Sound Opinions podcast about great lead-off tracks on albums, there are a couple of mentions about the state of the album in the iPod era. Like many people (myself included), Jim and Greg have a valid concern about people still caring about albums when you can have thousands of songs set on Shuffle on an MP3 player. So one can ask, does the idea of 30-50 minute, 10-12 song album still matter to a general, mass audience?
Well, instead of trying to answer that, let me say this. What we do during on our personal time is really our say. Be it vinyl, CD, MP3, terrestrial or Internet radio, I don't think there's one right or wrong way to listen to music. Just as long as people are listening to music, we can go from there. Since there's no shortage of music buffs who want to listen to an album from start to finish, there will be no shortage of those who just want to hear the familiar hits. And there's nothing wrong with this because it's always been this way.
I think of it like taking a shower or a bath; as long as people are soaking themselves in water and cleaning themselves, is it really a concern? Not everybody uses a washcloth or covers their entire body in soap, but pretty much everyone knows that bathing is essential to living. So, drawing a parallel to music listening, people listen in their own ways. Truth to be told, it's very hard to tell right now if there will be any drastic changes in the next few years.
Make no mistake, I was disturbed when I heard about college students downloading thousands of songs for free off of peer-to-peers, sampling them, deleting them and downloading another thousand. The idea of music as a close, intimate connection seems lost on these people. This kind of process is completely foreign to me and there is a reason to be concerned about where things might be heading. Can people truly claim ownership of something digital over something tangible?
I think about my own listening habits: I listen to CDs and MP3s at home and in the car and listen to my iPod while I take walks. I'm perfectly happy with my iPod nano being filled with familiar tunes I like hearing over and over again. When it comes to downloading songs, I definitely make an effort to give everything a few listens. But there's always those songs/albums that elicit such a negative response that I don't want to listen to them again. Besides, there are so many songs available to download for free, so I keep searching for something I'll really like. A great song could lead me to a great album. But I don't have infinite time to listen to everything I download. So many songs are at risk of falling though the cracks this way and frankly, it sucks.
All this said, at least the music is out there. At least we're not living in a time where music is banned and people aren't allowed to have personal music players. We have the option to create playlists on iTunes and on iPods. CD players are still in cars. Multi-disc CD changers are still made. CD burners come standard with computers. Heck, turntables are still made and people still buy new albums on vinyl. So, I have no doubt the album format is not going away, but the topic about whether people will actually pay for it is a whole other discussion.