The death of the album

Since I’m the designated reader around here, let me pass on the link for an interesting article that ran last weekend in my favorite newspaper, The New York Times. The piece essentially serves as a eulogy for a disfavored commodity: the album. Jeff Leeds reports that last year, for the first time ever, digital singles outsold plastic CDs. And so far this year, sales of digital songs have risen 54 percent. In response, labels are reassessing everything from their marketing plans to their recording contracts. “I think the album is going to die,” a LA media consultant told the newspaper. Of course, this isn’t news to anyone who pays attention to the music industry even a little bit. But it got me thinking about how things have changed as a music critic over the past five years plus that I’ve been writing.

When I first started publishing, I would go into the office of the newspaper I worked for every week to check my mailbox. Every week, a whole stack of new CDs would have magically appeared, and I would go home and spend the next couple of days going through each and every one of them. Some were hot, some were decent, and some were straight garbage. But the point is that I listened to them all. (Including all the demo discs that hip-hop kids dropped off at the office for me.)

A lot of labels don’t really send out much music anymore, and aspiring rap stars don’t seem to do demos. The onus is now on the critic to continually dig for new music. Rappers and publicists send you MySpage page links and mp3 tracks. But it’s up to you to look around for bios and other music by the artist, which, frankly, gets seriously irritating when you’re pressed for time and have space to fill in a paper.

And, deadlines aside, the actual experience of music has become less contemplative and more harried. You rarely have the experience of just sitting down with a new disc, and absorbing the music, and looking at the cover art, and checking the shout outs, and taking it all in at once. I kinda miss that.

Anyway, the result of this shift in marketing and distribution, I think, is that what writers end up checking out is more influenced by media, blog, and word of mouth buzz. I’m sure some will argue that the digitization of music makes loads of more obscure music available to music critics. And I’m sure they’re right in some cases.

But there’s an important factor missing from that argument, a factor that most writers aren’t going to want to talk about. A lot of music critics out there—particularly freelance ones—aren’t particular tech savvy, and they’re usually more than a little broke. Meaning, they have crappy 1999-era computers that can’t handle a lot of downloading, and even if their Commodore 64s could do it, they’re not super up on where to find everything on the web. (I know one music critic who works from the free public library computer stations, for instance.) I’m not sure that record labels new marketing plans really take that into account.

Bloggers, of course, pick up where starving music critics leave off. And while bloggers are fantastic for raw, uncut opinion, they don’t always possess the skills that are second nature to publishing music critics—the ability to present the music to the general public in an accessible way. The conversation, although highly entertaining, ends up being pretty insular.

  • gunit uk

    1st we need someone big like 50 em or dre to drop an album nd see what that sells like cos if the dont go over platinum then the music industry is fucked

  • http://www.akirathedon.com AK

    As a former music journalist, I actually think it’s good tthat writers are actually having to do some “journalism”, finally. We all know music “journalists” have been, essentially, working for PRs for ages anyway.

    Vive la revolution.

  • http://www.myspace.com/choosehiphop yeyo

    “I know one music critic who works from the free public library computer stations.”

    damn.

    “I actually think it’s good tthat writers are actually having to do some “journalism””

    what a concept, huh?

    http://www.myspace.com/choosehiphop
    come through, check the video, music, blah, blah.

    peace.

  • http://www.myspace.com/southpeezy Maurice Garland

    yeah, i read that article too and kinda thought the same thing. music criticism is already on the decline tho…most mags are opting for short 50-75 word blips instead of reviews. Wack music and wack writers share the blame for that tho.
    if music critics want to continue being taken seriously, they should stick to talking about the music instead of trying to commit character assassination and they should also stop behaving like groupies with pens.

  • http://bgdboom.blogspot.com Enigmatik

    Interesting take on this issue, Tara. If the music critic becomes obsolete, what direction do you see music journalism going?

  • EReal

    You say the album is dead? I just think the listeners are dead, because I just copped Buck, Devin the Dude, and Redman and they are all FIYAH.
    I just think people arent gonna pay for what they can steal, and people were sick of getting ripped off by a hot single, then a shitty album. The industry has put themselves in this position by being in denial and refusing to switch to a different format or marketing scheme. I have no love lost for those rich fucks anyway. I stay supporting the artists that do it right and deliver the music I wanna hear. This trash rap phase cant last forever, people can only be dumbed down so much before they thurst for knowledge. This new generation is just ridiculous. I sound so old, and Im not. Im just sayin, My old lady’s 18 year old sis is a supposive “rap fan” and all she listens to is st8 TRASH RAP. I had her listenin to Little Brother, Jim Crowe, and some older Mobb Deep amnd she was lovin it, and then I hear ‘walk it out’ and shit like that comin from her speakers. I just gave up.
    There is a certin demographic that this music is aimed at, and that demographic has to grow older over the next year or two and hopefully the generation behind this one will be salvaged.
    Regardless, the industry will adapt and maybe the actual CD format will fade away, but as long as you have the Devins, the Redmans, The Meth-ods, The El-Ps the Lupes even, the album wont die.
    IMO.

    Side note:
    Fuck Trannah Smith, Bol’s tranny lover, that fat thing is a disgusting pig hater. I’ll slice some bacon off that bitches back.

    1 hunned.

  • soopamanluva

    well said…its unfortunate most people on this website will stop reading once they see all the big words though

  • http://www.allhiphop.com Rey

    Frick.

    Now I have to look up “insular”.

    Good article, T.

  • Malik C.

    Albums are just garbage all around these days. There are like 3-5 songs on a CD that you might like so why spen 11-15 dollars to get 10+ other garbage tracks you don’t want to here. So why would you buy it when you can “buy” or buy those few songs that you do like for 3 dollars or whatever special deal the site is having. I hardly ever like albums fully. The only albums I download anyway are older albums anyone that I don’t feel like ordering or aren’t in production anymore.

  • My Effin’ Opinion

    > “…A lot of music critics out there—particularly freelance ones—aren’t particular tech savvy, and they’re usually more than a little broke.”

    > “I know one music critic who works from the free public library computer stations, for instance”

    ^^^^^^^
    ARE YOU SERIOUS????

    I find it very disturbing that people are actually taking critical musical advice (as far as what’s good enough to buy and what’s not) from someone who’s displayed poor decision making skills in life (as evidence by the fact that they’re broke).

    This would be like me asking a bum which car I should buy. Just cuz he stands out on the corner for 20 hours a day and watches vehicles drive by all whilst begging for change isn’t gonna make him an expert.

    Thus, just cuz a broke freelance music critic listens to music all day doesn’t really qualify him in my book unless he has a track record of making good decisions. The least of which being, getting his/her finances in order.

    I wouldn’t take advice that was dependant on me spending my hard earned money on something from ANYONE who was broke.

  • http://www.akirathedon.com AK

    Then you, sir, are quite mad.

  • Incilin

    sooner or later the critics will have to scrap up enough pennies to buy a newer computer. and the younger critics are gonna be more tech savy in the future. at the same time the bloggers might get more sophisticated, and once that happens everything will even out again. or so i think…

    besides i only read all music guide reviews.

  • http://www.plasticsquirtguns.blogspot.com thoreauly77

    i was thinking about this same thing the other day…. i was also thinking about how this technology we are using now will be obsolete in a matter of years (if not less), so all of these downloaded mp3′s will soon be antiquated.

  • hitman

    there is definitely a market out for track reviews as well as one for record reviews. I think young talented cats like RODNEY DUGUE who are writing blogs and internet reviews will find themselves being courted by more esteemed publications to write reviews.

  • your effin’ opinion is wrong

    My Effin’ Opinion wrote, “I find it very disturbing that people are actually taking critical musical advice (as far as what’s good enough to buy and what’s not) from someone who’s displayed poor decision making skills in life (as evidence by the fact that they’re broke).”

    have you ever actually met any freelance music writers? any of ‘em not been broke? i doubt it. all music writers, even the great ones, are broke. music writing doesn’t pay well, and that’s a fact of life. their brokeness should be worn as a badge of honor, because it tells me that they care more about music than making a decent living, unlike 99% of the current crop of rappers.

  • Bang

    Albums suck these days because we have the same formula and producers for them all!

    Give us some thing personal and real, damn

  • INTERSCOPE JACKSON

    HIP HOP WILL BE BACK ON TOP WHEN THESE SUPER STAR HEAVIES 50 CENT , EMINEM & DR DRE
    DROP THEIR NEW SHIT

    BY THE WAY
    BUCK THE WORLD IS FIYAAAA COP THAT
    BEST ALBUM OUT SO FAR
    GET EM BUCK
    GGGGG-Unit yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Cochran

    Albums have been dead since prolly 2002-2003. Artists dont even care about knowing how to make a full album. And the consumers are just as bad because many of them pick and choose which songs they like off albums and make thier own playlists. I dont know bout yall, but I still go to the store. I like copping something, breaking the shrink wrap in the car and popping it in. Cds just are better for collection purposes too. My grandparents got old records stacked sky high and they can tell a story about each one, and explain the crazy artwork on the covers. Whaat is our generation gonna do, pull out our ipods and show our kids what we were listening to in 2004. C’mon.

  • king blair

    if ur album is worth it and makes statement people will buy it,just so happens rappers rather make dances than music that imspires and moves you

  • http://www.myspace.com/pr0blematik P-Matik

    “My grandparents got old records stacked sky high and they can tell a story about each one, and explain the crazy artwork on the covers. Whaat is our generation gonna do, pull out our ipods and show our kids what we were listening to in 2004. C’mon.”

    I feel that. Being a DJ brought up on vinyl, I can tell you that looking at album covers and reading liner notes is a big deal to me (especially if you are into hunting down samples). Things change though, that’s just how it is. When Serato and CD turntables came along, I was upset at first but I embrace it now.

    I’ll never give up the wax though.

    100

  • FRANK

    no more LPs, artist should just releaase EPs with their best 6 – 10 tracks on them.

  • Cuban FUCKING Link

    FUCK ITUNES FIGHT THE POWER, BUY ALBUMS OR USE LIMEWIRE!!!

  • tseliot

    MY EFFIN’ OPINION:

    Your opinions are quite misguided. Think about it: Do you truly think that your BMW Dealer salesman drives a BMW? Probably not. More realistically, the used car salesman might just be driving a piece of junk himself–it’s not as if used car sales pays a fortune . . .

    How financial stability = artistic integrity is beyond my comprehension. Most artists throughout history began making great art while living a bohemian-style life, not as trust fund babies.

    You’re the trouble with education today, quite frankly. Good decision making does not necessarily lead to riches; in fact, some people simply seek betterment for themselves, regardless of the financial benefits/consequences.

    Seriously. Think.

  • My Effin’ Opinion

    Tseliot ..

    You points are very well taken, but get one thing straight … I’m not the trouble with education today.

    The undertone in my statement is that I want people in general to make good decisions and make decent money .. I never said “rich” but definitely not be broke.

    And your example was flawed in that my “BMW salesman” is a working man with training on selling BMW’s … not a broke guy on his couch going to the library to use a computer telling me which BMW’s are the best to buy.

    my overall point was that I would be more apt to take advice from someone who was working sucessfully (preferrably) in the field that they are trying to give me advice on. That’s all.

  • Hannah Smith

    Um, maybe you should holler at XXL about this, what with their messed up review policies (southern rap albums mandatorily marked down for being southern; Little Brother being told they had a better record than Common and Kanye yet getting lower marks (read: less advertising budget).

  • TEN

    To this day i dont know why people are more concerned with talking about music than they are with listening to or dancing to it.

  • NickeNitro

    “…the actual experience of music has become less contemplative and more harried. You rarely have the experience of just sitting down with a new disc, and absorbing the music, and looking at the cover art, and checking the shout outs, and taking it all in at once. I kinda miss that.”

    Don’t think you’re alone there — I hearing this often lately. You really get more of a feel for an album through the liner notes, design, etc. But I agree with EReal — it’s been a pretty good month for full hip-hop albums, and there seems to be a movement back toward crafting end-to-end burners.

    As far as music critics, there are very few, if any, that I actually feel like I can trust for guidance. A lot of that probably has to do with payola, a lot of that has to do with the sheer number of criticism-wielding amatuer flocky-bloggers (not you, I agree with most of your opinions on music — I wish you’d write more about music), and a lot of that has to do with just being my own person and knowing what I like regardless of any critic’s opinion.

  • Mr. Eff

    I think the problem is,nobody makes music for adults anymore..Everything is geared towards teenagers,who r the ones who r doing all the downloading..The video shows all have a bunch of screaming kids in the audience,and they all play the same 10 videos..There are so many songs i find on youtube that have videos that i NEVE even knew had a video to them..The people @ Mtvwatch bet to see whats hot..Shit,Mtv should just be called “tv” cuz they barely play any music anymore..If lables would take more time trying to find artists with more substance instead of trying to make quick money,maybe album sales wouldnt be in the toilet like they are

  • tseliot

    MEO:

    All I’m saying is that often times it’s the intelligentsia of a given society that tends to be broke — it’s the cost of pursuing an (often thankless) education while watching one’s peers kickstart their careers at 21 with business degrees . . .

    Further, it’s often these “broke guy[s],” who are usually more apt to be found in a library than on a couch, who have not only the time but the drive to write a thoughtful essay on the sincere merits, foundations, and flaws of a particular artist, album, or track. Find me one Ph.D course graduate who is well-to-do–you’d be hard pressed; however, you’d also be foolish to consider them “bums” merely because they’re broke.

    On the other hand, do you really want a review written by someone “in the field,” as you put it–someone more than likely with a specific bias or inclination to write in a certain tone? I don’t. I prefer the honest opinion from the “bum.”

    Oh, and btw, (and I’m certainly not calling Noz a “bum,” quotation marks or not–nor am I speculating as to the state of his finances), but I’d rather take Noz, a “non-insider,” at his word on a particular artist/album than an “inside-man,” anyday.

    And you’re still wrong that good decisions = decent money. Our educators are some of the worst paid individuals in society. In some cities the pay can hardly be called “decent”; in fact, I know many public school teachers who consider themselves “broke,” what, with a family and such. Are you implying they’ve made bad decisions?

    Money ≠ Success.

  • Tha Flow Of Time

    I definitely appreciate what ur saying, and i feel exactly the same way. Well not exactly, i’m not a music critic, i do speak my mind about it but that’s definitely not the same thing, but what i think is a lot of us don’t know what to do. U’ll always see sum1 up here sayin ‘FUCK MYSPACE RAPPERS’, n ye that shit definitely is wack, but what else can u do? i mean i don’t know any1 who works at a radio staton, i dont’ have any phone numbers or mailing addresses for record companies, so when i do get my demo together, n i’m happy with it, wut should i do? I live in canada so i can’t take a trip to Defjam n throw my tape into any open windows i see or anything like that, so tell me what should i do with it? I don’t really have any ideas…..the only things i can think of are trying to get the mailing addresses n sending the shit out. I’m lucky enough to know a guy who’s got some connections so i migth be able to get my shit sold at CD Plus, n even in the UK if it’s good enough, but even then it’d be even less than a mixtape n that would nto get me closer to actually getting a deal, so wut should i do with what i hope will turn out to be my first compliation of lyrical masterpieces

  • Dipset

    INTERSCOPE JACKSON Says:

    March 29th, 2007 at 2:34 pm
    HIP HOP WILL BE BACK ON TOP WHEN THESE SUPER STAR HEAVIES 50 CENT , EMINEM & DR DRE
    DROP THEIR NEW SHIT

    BY THE WAY
    BUCK THE WORLD IS FIYAAAA COP THAT
    BEST ALBUM OUT SO FAR
    GET EM BUCK
    GGGGG-Unit yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ^^^ you don’t get it do you??? nobody gives a shit about shady/aftermath or G-Unit anymore!!!

    They fell off…

  • Dipset

    oh and as far as this topic… I personally only cop cd’s to support the artist’s I feel deserve support!! You know how easy I can bootleg a Dipset CD/Mixtape??? but I don’t I cop it!! yall should at least support the artists that your fillin!!! Ya Dig???

  • EReal

    Trannah Smith Says:

    March 29th, 2007 at 6:13 pm
    Um, maybe you should holler at XXL about this, what with their messed up review policies (southern rap albums mandatorily marked down for being southern; Little Brother being told they had a better record than Common and Kanye yet getting lower marks (read: less advertising budget).
    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
    You stupid fat whore. This is the dumbest shit your tranny ass has ever wrote.
    Southern Albums are automaticly marked down, yet Little Brother (southern rap group) was given a better review than Common.. uhm.. yeah..Kinda Contradictory there Fatty.
    Little Brother had a better album than common, thats why.
    This dosent even have anything to do with the topic anyway. Why do you even come here? Go back to BK and have it your way you fucking pig.

    1 hunned.

  • My Effin’ Opinion

    @ TSELIOT

    You make a very good arguements (ie – Teachers being the worst paid and the intelligence of society being broke) … thought provoking conversation. I’ll keep some of the things you said in mind.

  • http://www.hiphop-blogs.com Hashim

    “And while bloggers are fantastic for raw, uncut opinion, they don’t always possess the skills that are second nature to publishing music critics—the ability to present the music to the general public in an accessible way.”

    Which blogs do you read?

  • thoreauly77

    i guess not yours anymore hashim. good luck with everything though. btw, 30 aint bad.

  • http://www.myspace.com/theebonystones Walter Patrick

    Many of my best personal memories (just about all of them) involve the interplay of certain albums and the reliable presence of the record shop.

    I miss the record shops the most. Browsing the racks, rapping with clerks in the know, checking out the album cover art and reading the lyrics, production credits and shout-outs all came together to create an experience that could mark time.

    Yeah, I’m still a fan and I appreciate how an artist who may have remained exotic is capable of replicating the tools once exclusive to a major signed artist. I mean an artist with some hot material, a knowledge of recording software, a video camera and a decent handle on tech know-how, creativity and editing can make a little noise with MySpace and Youtube alone… (I know that there are others motherf**kers).

    I just miss the ritual of going to the shop, of seeing the same clerks and picking up where one left off, the drop by the music store before a night on the town to scoop up the latest to ride out with.

    The record shop was my community center.

  • throwing in two cents

    I totally understand folks’ saying, ‘why buy an album with 1 good single and 10+ garbage songs?’ I, too, think that’s just another characteristic of our saturated music industry, always thinking ‘more is more.’

    To add to that, I think the problem is that artists feel they’re albums have to be 16+ songs. We forget that some of the greatest musical projects, whatever the genre or artist, barely made it past 10 tracks. BUT EACH TRACK WAS ON POINT (music, lyrics, theme, etc), ALL THE TRACKS FIT TOGETHER, AND THEY DIDN’T THROW IN RANDOM SONGS TO ADD TO THE TRACK LISTING.

    There are a lot of albums that came out in the past few years that if you cut out 2 or 3 (maybe more) songs then that album would immediately reach a higher quality (or you would have the foundation for a much better album). Right now, think of your favorite artists, or just artists you think are aiight. If you combined the best work from their recent with the best work from the previous one, you’d have a better project that folks would likely buy ’cause the whole thing flows together. And people just might buy a (reasonably priced) album if they keep hearing, “yo, I can play this CD from beginning to end and its tight” (don’t you miss that feeling?).

    In sum, maybe ‘quality over quantity’ might be the way to go.