How a fresh approach could save the album from extinction


Is the album dead?

That’s the question some people will be asking as National Album Day and the Hyundai Mercury Prize loom and they contemplate 2020’s coronavirus-disrupted release schedule.

After all, when someone like Damon Albarn – this week’s Music Week cover star and a man responsible for several of the greatest LPs of all time – favours streaming-friendly, single-track ‘episodes’ over a complete body of work, it suggests that something is up.

That something, however, may not be the album itself. Given that the way people listen to music has been completely reshaped since Gorillaz’s first record, it’s probably long overdue that artists and labels are looking at different ways of delivering their music.

Streaming’s burnrate remains an issue; you can drop an album one week, only for fans – and Spotify’s Daniel Ek – to be demanding more the next. Ek’s recent comments about artists no longer being able to “record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough” enraged many, but ultimately he was delivering an economic truth, albeit an unpalatable one.

The way people listen to music has been completely reshaped – it’s long overdue to look at different ways of delivering music

Music Week

But there is another way: presenting that music in different ways to different audiences to promote longevity. That’s why Albarn’s Song Machine Season One will find a home as a deluxe physical album as well as single episodes. And while Taylor Swift’s brilliant Folklore hangs together perfectly as a full record, it’s also being pushed in shorter, thematic chapters for you to choose as the mood suits.

Meanwhile, newer artists concentrate on ever-evolving playlists of their hits until they’re ready to take on the different demands of their debut record proper, while the mixtape concept has successfully made the jump from hip-hop to other genres. And, in the streaming age, the old deluxe edition concept has become a more organic way of updating a record.

Ultimately, it’s about choice, for both artist and consumer, as the former tries to stay relevant to the latter without compromising their integrity.

And right now it feels like a little reinvention – and a lot of good music, of course – goes a long way. The album isn’t dead; in fact, it might just have become a living, breathing thing again.

* To read our excusive Gorillaz cover story, see the current issue of Music Week, available now, or click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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