There was a time when music cost money. Kids would have to save up their pennies to hear what’s new. Looking back, it is really quite incredible what has happened. It is as if the flood gates of abundance have opened and we will never again be expected to pay for sound.
The old world paid economy of music is what lead to the creation of the music formats we have inherited today. Music creation is very much hit and miss, you write one good song for every ten shitty ones. Traditionally, the good one would go on to be a hit that would sell records. The good songs were sold seperately as singles, while the others were reserved to fill out the live show. This format remained dominate for decades. The clever business minds of the music world needed to optimize the hit/miss rate and thus the album was born. You would package a few good songs along with a few of your throwaways into a single unit, an album. This was possible because music was a paid commodity, people would tolerate filler tracks because buying 12 singles was expensive.
The internet killed this, the album is already dead. The consequences of this are bigger than music, first world economies are in crisis because their chief export is information. America produces some of the best music, movies, and entertainment in the world; but it is pirated instantly. This issue brings into question old notions and definitions of private property and how to manage an economy built on information. We live in a time of transition, so what’s a band to do?
All Songs are Singles
With the rise of peer to peer filesharing, torrents, and illegal offshore filesharing sites the artist no longer decides how songs will be packaged together. Whenever I ask youngsters about their favourite albums I am met with blank stares, they don’t listen to “albums”, they make them. As an artist you’ll be lucky if your name is correctly attached to your track; forget song order or context. A song is now the single indivisible unit, the atom of music (that’s assuming the DJs don’t turn on us, cutting up the tracks further into fragments).
The new single (“R U Mine?”) by the Arctic Monkeys serves as a case study. This song was released separately, without album and initially without a b-side. It’s the best song the band has made in some time, and they followed through by promoting it as such. They released a music video for it, played it on Conan O’Brian, and closed with it at Coachella. The band even changed their whole aesthetic to a 50s greaser look with the release. It charted higher than any single off their last album.
The lesson is that not all songs are equal. Putting your best new song on a album these days might result in it missing an audience. The kids usually don’t even make it to track 7. Different songs need to be released in different ways, to find different audiences, with varying levels of commitment to the band. Your super fans may be happy to dig through your garbage tracks to find a diamond in the rough, the more casual listener will not.
From the Rehearsal Floor to your Headphones
So we return to our ratio of good to bad songs. What is the band suppose to do with it’s standard stock? The hardcore fan-base is always hungry, perhaps they can be teased with these between singles? In an age of musical abundance, flooding the audience with tracks could become a substitute for rare obscure records. Band’s could record demo versions of these tracks in a Peel Session like format, or they could tease the audience with only live renditions recorded on shitty phone cameras.
Personally, we (the Bare Minimum) are thinking about ways to confront this. We look forward to experimenting with busking, ringtones, live only songs, youtube renditions, inventing new proprietary dance moves, etc. Stay tuned.