And by this I don’t mean I’m changing my mind, merely that it’s the next entry.
There was a story over on Idolator today which put me in mind of the comments I dug up from 1999 on my end in yesterday’s post regarding how albums as such would no longer be a dominant form. To quote the story:
The end result, then, seems to be same as pundits have been predicting for the last few years: as the audience that grew up on the album as it’s understood dies out, the format itself will become an ever-shrinking, vestigial art practiced by throwbacks and holdouts ignoring that MP3s have long-since-obliterated any sense of obligation on listeners’ parts to keep the songs they think suck, the art form doomed to a (very slow) death once playlists made it possible to self-edit an album without having to wear our your skip button or nudge the stylus ahead every few songs.
The comments section exploded into a bit of a war over that but the conclusion strikes me as sound, if of an overdetermined sort. If there’s been a constant complaint about the record industry over this decade, it started with the idea, often voiced in the days of Napster, that companies were charging too much for discs that people only ever wanted one or two songs off of in the first place. It’s a comment that tends to reinforce its own logic, but it is always has a curiously built-in assumption — namely, that albums were uniformly created in a cookie-cutter way where there was a key item of purported economic value surrounded by a bunch of unnecessary packaging.
You can flippantly agree with that if you like, but step back a bit — we’re not talking about endless bags of potato chips where half the content is always guaranteed to be air. If every person thought every album was always going to be the same way in the sense described — if in fact that could be proven to be the case, objectively — then it would make sense. Instead, it became an understandable but illogical canard, but one with just enough emotional impact to work. After all, we’d think, we’ve all been burned that way before, one way or another. True, doubtless — but constantly?
This may all seems little more than sophistry at this point; the cows have long since bolted, etc. etc. — pick a metaphor or simile you’re comfortable with. Still, even though I agree with there things are going now, I’m not thinking it was necessarily the baseline assumption made at the start of the decade — if anything, that was more an understandable excuse. Playlists, as the Idolator post notes, were the real turning point — the ability to rapidly search, organize and present material, whether through iTunes or iPods or something else again. The impact will continue to play out, of course.
More tomorrow, as I continue to work through all those CDRs…