The long player game: How the album can survive the streaming age

National Album Day

For some of us, of course, every day is National Album Day. But the new event on the music industry calendar, which takes place tomorrow (October 13), will have to do a lot more than preach to the choir if it’s to become a national institution.

Because the seachange in music consumption over recent years has moved a lot faster than 33rpm. While the vinyl revival hints at a desire from some to embrace the old ways of listening to music, most people’s preferred method of consumption is light years away from gathering round the gramophone. And, while everyone currently working in the music business has no trouble naming their favourite album, will future generations be able to say the same if they don't grow up listening to the format?

Streaming now regularly represents 60% of the albums market week-in, week-out, but it seems unlikely that much of that listening comes from people truly giving a record their full attention and playing every song in order. And National Album Day will have its work cut out to break that cycle, let alone boost actual album sales. The skip button and shuffle feature have liberated listeners from the curse of the filler track or the poorly sequenced tracklist but, by and large, the industry still presents “long-players” in pretty much the same way it always has.

This is not the case in other industries. TV has responded to the threat of the internet by producing ever higher quality series, available how, when and where the viewers want them, and engineered for obsessive consumption.

Albums have long had built-in convenience, but too often their presentation, particularly on streaming services, seems throwaway. Meanwhile the lowering quality threshold means it’s been a long time since there was a undisputed front-runner for the Mercury Prize, let alone a truly generation-defining album.

And that’s why, if National Album Day is to become a regular event, it can’t just be about old masterpieces. If albums are to remain central to UK culture, artists must be empowered to make new records with the vision to compete with the classics. And record companies and streaming services must promote them as essential bodies of work, not just for one day, but all year round.

* For more on National Album Day and the future of the format, see the current print edition of Music Week. To read our full report on how albums can survive in the streaming age, click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

 

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