People love to clamor about the downfall of every little thing — we NEED drama: it keeps us emotionally invested in this thing called life. And that’s why I don’t take it personally when someone says that I am a terrible person, just as the music industry shouldn’t take it personally when people point to the downward trend of the sale of physical albums and say “Spotify and streaming music are killing the industry and its life force — the album.”
Remember when Marilyn Manson and gansta rap were going to destroy the minds of the youth of America? Remember when Jerry Springer was going to destroy television? Or Elvis Presley was the damnation of the hearts and libidos of the female population? Every so often, something comes around in some facet that is “going to completely eradicate _______________ as we know it.” The atomic bomb was supposed to put a stop to all wars, McDonald’s was going to erode global diversity, and Nirvana was going to end shitty music (cue Nickelback). And yet, we still have plenty of all of it thanks to adaptation. No, not the seminal Nicholas Cage film, but rather the inherent need to survive that perhaps even exceeds our need for drama. We’re coo coo for survival — and you can see it in our lobbying efforts to preserve whales, the rain forest and automatic weapons. Yes, Spotify and its peers are changing the rules of the game, as streaming music now accounts for 14% of the business, but do remember a little thing called Napster and how that was going to eradicate music. And then iTunes came around and everyone went, “Whew.” Except for at least nine major recording acts including AC/DC, the Beatles, Kid Rock, Def Leppard and Bob Seger — and they held out because they thought iTunes was going to be the actual death of music. Today, of those nine, only Tool and Garth Brooks remain off iTunes (and I can’t imagine Mr. Brooks tears up his songwriter royalty checks when they come as a result of the myriad of covers of his music on iTunes).
Now it is fool’s folly to claim nothing ever dies or goes extinct as a result of technology — why during the lifetime of the internet we’ve borne witness to the death of the Golden Toad — an amphibious species known only to exist in Costa Rica. Of course, in the lifetime of the internet, we’ve also discovered hundreds (if not thousands) of new species of vastly more interesting animals including the Yeti Crab, the Caqueta Tit Monkey and (less excitingly) Darwin’s Bark Spider. I also get a phone book twice a year even though people have been claiming that motherf**ker dead for well over a decade. See, there is an evolutionary process that goes on — Encyclopedia Britannica lives online even though its print version has largely been constrained to making law offices smell “musty.” And while there are complaints that the revenue format of Spotify, et al is unjust to the musicians — according to OhNoTheyDidnt.com, Ed Christman, of the industry publication Billboard, said there was no definitive data to show streaming was cannibalising traditional sales, but added that in terms of revenue it took 2,000 streams to equal one album — the reality is that we are in a transitional period where new revenue streams are being found to adjust for the shortfall of revenue in that outlet — don’t worry, rockstars will still be able to party on yachts in the Maldives.
As for the album itself, “The album is dying in front of our very eyes,” industry commentator Bob Lefsetz was quoted by OhNoTheyDidnt.com (if you couldn’t tell, the article served as inspiration for this diatribe). “Everybody’s interested in the single, and no one’s got time to sit and hear your hour-plus statement.” I call bullshit on that too. One of the handiest functional applications of Spotify is the ability to line up entire albums and listen to them endlessly while writing columns about how nobody is listening to entire albums anymore. As OhNoTheyDidnt points out, one problem was the invent of the CD which increased the amount of material artists were able to put out in one release. And yes, this is where we agree. Because artists have more room to fill up, they are stretching their creative abilities a little too thin and the result is a general lessening in total quality of the albums produced. Take Daft Punk’s latest release, which was “leaked” to the online public in its entirety — not only did they have one of the biggest selling songs of the summer, but jackals like me were able to step in, seperate the wheat from the chaff, and buy, yes, buy the songs we liked without committing to an overlong album.
The music business is not dead, the album is not dead, the phone book is not dead, and if the long-thought-extinct Coelacanth isn’t extinct, then maybe, just maybe, the Golden Toad isn’t dead either. Life … (dramatic pause) … finds a way.