Now, we are so pleased to announce that we are releasing the first record of another artist on the label, our son, Jamie M. Harrison.
Jamie has been a musician since the age of 3 when he began classical piano studies with his father, Skafish. He has become an accomplished pianist/keyboardist, guitarist, vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, performer and producer. He has played with such musical greats as bassist Nathan East (Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Barbara Streisand), country artist/songwriter George Ducas, who not only scored 2 top ten solo hits, but has also written numerous smashes for other artists (Sara Evans, Randy Rogers, Garth Brooks, George Jones), and Grammy Award-winning guitarist/producer Larry Mitchell.
Jamie’s first record, Maybe I’ll Write That Down, is a renewed take on the classic singer/songwriter ballad vein with a modern lyrical and vocal approach. Harrison wrote, produced and performed the track at Shepherd Studios in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The track is also available to stream on Spotify and other streaming services.
Jamie is scheduled to perform with 13 time Grammy Award winner T Bone Burnett and Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges on Saturday, June 10, 2017 as part of the Albuquerque Film and Music Experience.
Some 150 years ago, if you wanted to listen to music, you would have to perform it yourself or be in the presence of musicians.
With Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877 came the ability to record music. At that point, the ways that people could be musical changed forever. Humans could artfully organize their musical worlds around recorded music that they did not necessarily create themselves.
Since then people have engaged in an endless array of musical endeavors that have been recorded. In fact, the ability to record music has shifted our musical experience – from both a maker and a consumer perspective.
The question is: has students’ learning kept pace with these changes that started happening more than a century ago? Or, is it way past time for music education to undergo a metamorphosis of sorts, as some scholars have suggested?
I teach music and conduct research in the area of music curriculum development. What is currently offered in music classes is almost exclusively large instrumental and vocal ensembles that perform under the direction of one person. However, there has been a fundamental shift in how people experience music in the world. I believe music classes today should teach students to create, record and share their music that comes from their personal interests.
School doesn’t teach the music students love
The average American adolescent listens to music for approximately 4.5 hours per day. So, 18 percent of all of the time in their lives is spent bathing themselves in the sounds that inspire them.
Much of the music that adolescents listen to is created digitally and produced through software, keyboards, touch pads, guitars and drums kits. However, music in the schools is based on conservatory models of musical transmission with roots in Western European art music.
Furthermore, classical music accounts for merely 1.4 percent of music sales in the world. Yet, nearly all school music offerings are classical music-based.
So, we have a supply-and-demand crisis in school-supported music teaching and learning. Music classes do not offer what most students want to learn. As a music teacher in the state of Michigan for nine years (before becoming a music professor), I saw many students who loved music, but just didn’t love the school music options. Only 10 percent of students at the secondary level nationally end up enrolling in music classes.
What should a music teacher look like?
What kind of music teacher would it take to make a 21st-century music classroom come to life?
I would like to suggest here that perhaps the perfect example of the skill set required of a reenvisioned music teacher can be seen in the life of a music producer. These professionals are part musician, part technician, part guidance counselor and part magician for the artists that they work with.
The following music producers could be inspiring examples for music teachers.
Sir George Martin, music producer of The Beatles, the most popular musical group of all time, assisted the group on a number of levels.
Martin met the Beatles in 1962, a time when the music band was still in its early years. Martin was a product of both classical and vernacular training, having studied piano and oboe at the collegiate level. He was perfectly positioned to assist the aspiring young musicians, as he had learned the ropes of recording as an assistant in a studio recording primarily classical musicians. He could orchestrate, position mics, discuss compositional strategies, and employ recording techniques to capture the best sounds the artists made. He sometimes played parts for them, like the harpsichord part of “In My Life.”
A second example is Phil Ramone, both an engineer and a music producer who worked with singers and musicians to develop their ideas and use the latest technology to share with the world.
His professional demeanor and knowledge of how to get the most out of studio musicians helped Paul Simon record his song “Kodachrome” in the legendary Muscle Shoals recording studio, with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (MSRS). Knowing how to work with people is essential in the studio and studio as classroom.
A third teacher role model is Phil Spector, known for his “Wall of Sound” production technique – using large, somewhat unconventional ensembles including multiple acoustic and electric guitars being doubled and tripled for emphasis. Spector was an expert at where to place a microphone to capture the best sound of an instrument, amplifier or voice. He had a command of the mixing console, latest sound-enhancement technology and methods to capture audio.
The 21st-century music class
Music teachers could learn from the above examples on how to be a music producer, along with helping students in multiple other ways. Our world now has digital ways – via computers and the internet – to do most of the things that music producers have done in studios in the past. This has made what was once a very expensive unattainable task quite economically manageable.
Functioning as music producers, music teachers could guide students through challenges such as: How can multiple bands perform in the same room without bothering other bands via headphone hubs? How can students learn to mix tracks to their liking? How can students build an online artist profile to connect with the greater musical world?
Recorded music along with live performance are the primary ways that people experience music, so I would like to suggest that more than half of the time spent in 21st-century school music education should be about students learning how to make their own music – with an emphasis on recording and sharing it. And music teachers should be equipped to help students realize their creative vision.
“American Idol” was “born” exactly nine months after 9/11. The timing was significant, because since its premiere on June 11, 2002, the show has become an integral part of the country’s coping strategy – a kind of guidebook for our difficult entry into the 21st century.
By carefully curating a distinctly American mix tape of music, personal narratives and cultural doctrine, “American Idol” has painted a portrait of who we think we are, especially in the aftermath of tragedy, war and economic turmoil.
As the show concludes after 15 seasons, it’s worth looking at how the past and present collided to create a cultural phenomenon – and how we’re seeing shades of the show’s influence in today’s chaotic presidential race.
All our myths bundled into one
“American Idol”’s premise – the idea that an ordinary person might be recognized as extraordinary – is firmly rooted in a national myth of meritocracy.
This national narrative includes the dime-novel, rags-to-riches fairy tales of Horatio Alger, which were intended to uplift Americans struggling to get by after the Civil War. Then there was the American Dream catchphrase – first coined in 1931 by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America – that promoted an ideal of economic mobility during the hopeless years of the Depression.
Indeed, decades before host Ryan Seacrest handed out his first golden ticket to the first golden-throated farm girl waiting tables while waiting to be “discovered,” we’d been going to Hollywood in our dreams and on screen.
The show has shown us archetypes of immigrant narratives, like when Season Three contestant Leah Labelle spoke of her Bulgarian family’s defection to North America during Communist rule. It has demonstrated how to rely on faith in the face of hardship, exemplified by Fantasia Barrino’s victory song, “I Believe,” performed with a gospel choir. Meanwhile, it served as a stage for patriotic passion, broadcasting two performances of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” when the United States entered Iraq in 2003. Meanwhile, the many “Idol Gives Back” specials remind us of American philanthropic values.
The show has celebrated failure as both a necessary stumbling block and a launchpad to fame. Many singers needed to audition year after year before they earned their chance to compete. For others, such as William Hung, their televised rejection brought fame and opportunity anyway.
“American Idol” has also served as a course in American music history, featuring discrete genres like Southern soul and Southern rock, together with newer, blurrier categories like pop-country and pop-punk.
Making the old new again
In one sense, “American Idol”’s format was nothing new. In fact, British entertainment executives Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell – who shepherded in a 21st-century version of the “British Invasion” – fashioned their juggernaut show as a new take on old business models.
There is something distinctly American about contestants standing in a Ford-sponsored spotlight, judges sipping from Coca-Cola glasses, and viewers sitting in front of television screens texting their votes on AT&T phones. The show’s conspicuous commercialization recalls the earliest days of television, when programs were owned and produced by advertisers. And “Idol,” like that early programming, was intended to be “appointment television,” bringing families together at the same time every week.
“Idol”’s production model is also a throwback. It’s structured like Berry Gordy’s Motown – a one-stop fame factory that offers stars a package of coaching, polishing, a band, album production and promotion.
The format also draws from amateur regional and national radio competitions of the early 20th century. (Frank Sinatra got his start winning one on “Major Bowe’s Amateur Hour” in 1935, with the Hoboken Four.) Another influence is the half-ridiculous and totally political “Eurovision Song Contest,” the hugely popular and mercilessly mocked annual televised event that pits nation against nation in (almost) friendly singing competition.
A vote that counts?
“Eurovision,” which originated in 1955 as a test of transnational network capabilities and postwar international relations, introduced telephone voting a few years before “Idol” premiered.
And like Eurovision, the impact of “American Idol” extends far beyond our annual crowning of a new pop star. The show’s rise has taken place at a time when the boundaries between entertainment, politics and business have become increasingly blurred.
Season after season, “American Idol” fans have placed votes for their favorite contestants – options which, somewhat like our presidential candidates, have been carefully cultivated by a panel of industry experts looking for a sure bet.
Considering these trends, it’s not so farfetched to suggest that the wild popularity of shows like “American Idol” played some role in setting the blinding chrome stage and slightly “pitchy” tone for this year’s election.
It isn’t just that Donald Trump presided over “The Apprentice,” a reality competition that rode in on “American Idol”’s coattails.
That conceit, though, is mitigated cleverly by both moguls: they capitalize on what Cowell has identified as a universal desire to feel important.His persona also seems to meet the same sadistic public need satisfied by original “Idol” judge Simon Cowell: the executive heir, the imperious arbiter of taste who owes his fortune at least as much to his superiority complex as to any financial acumen. At the same time, personas like Cowell and Trump deign to give an ordinary, hardworking American a chance.
The crux of their personal appeal is that they understand that everyone wants to matter, and we are willing – as TV viewers or as citizens – to risk an awful lot just to feel like we do. We each want to imagine our own sky-high potential, and laugh in relief when we see others who will never get off the ground. We want to be judge and jury, but also be judged and juried.
“Idol” gives Americans permission to judge each other, to feel like our opinion makes a difference. Trump’s unfiltered rhetoric has done something similar, giving his supporters implicit and sometimes explicit permission to mock, dismiss, exclude and even attack others based on racial and ethnic identity, religion or ability.
And so now, as “Idol” makes its final journey from Studio 36 to the Dolby Theatre, we deliberate over whose victory will herald the last “Seacrest – out.”
Whatever happens, and whichever way our presidential election goes, the U.S. is on the brink of something new, a major cultural shift. Wherever we’re going, “Idol” has served its purpose, and we don’t need it in the same desperate way anymore.
I think, though, that we’ll always be searching for the next big thing. And we’ll always be glad we had a moment like this.
Back in August 2015, Skafish had posted news on his blog about regaining the rights to the debut Skafish album. We are starting to work on the project timeline and defining and prepping for all the things that need to be done to re-release the album.
Skafish has written a new post about the next step, “Why Am I Re-Mastering The First Album.” In this post, he talks a bit about the process, why its’s necessary and what you can do to help support the project.
We are going to be talking a lot about this project as things progress. To make sure you stay in the loop on the latest news, make sure you are signed up for the Skafish mailing list.
So instead of the steady entry into the public domain of works whose copyrights had expired, CTEA mandated that no additional copyrighted works would enter the public domain from January 1, 1999 through January 1, 2019.
Consequently, CTEA provided a substantial windfall to holders of valuable intellectual properties for which the copyright would have otherwise expired.
This 20-year moratorium imposed by CTEA is now approaching its end. And the Congress that will be elected in November 2016 will face a decision: to either allow CTEA to quietly expire or vote to further extend the term of copyright.
What will be the consequence if the term of copyright is further extended?
As an academic librarian and a student of the history of copyright, I believe a further extension to the term of copyright will be detrimental to the public good.
U.S. law and copyright
Consider the example provided by a single, somewhat unremarkable book.
Under the U.S. laws in effect at the time, the term of copyright for this book was 28 years with the possibility of extending for an additional 28 years. On July 7, 1952, Major General Sweeney, by then retired, renewed his copyright. Thereby his exclusive rights to his work were extended to January 1, 1981.
Though it cannot be known with certainty, it is possible that Sweeney was still receiving royalty payments for Military Intelligence as late as 1952. However, by that date it is also possible that he may not have seen a royalty payment in years. Save for an obscure translation into Chinese undertaken in 1946,Military Intelligence was never reprinted following its initial publication in 1924.
Regardless, it is entirely likely that by the time New Year’s Day 1981 rolled around, the expiration of Sweeney’s copyright would have caused no financial harm to his estate. (Sweeney died a widower in 1963, and only one of his three children was still alive in 1981.)
Like the vast majority of works, the economic value of Military Intelligence expired decades ahead of its copyright. For every The Great Gatsby that continues generating revenue decades after its début, there are tens of thousands of works like Military Intelligence whose economic shelf life lasts a few years at best.
So, what’s the point?
Here is the twist.
This book did not enter the public domain in 1981. Instead, it remains to this day a copyrighted work. And, under current law, will stay that way until it enters the public domain on January 1, 2020, more than 95 years after its initial publication.
Why has Military Intelligence remained in copyright for nearly four decades longer than its author had any expectation it would?
The reason is that the U.S. Congress keeps extending the term of copyright. In 1976, new copyright legislation increased Sweeney’s 1952 copyright extension from 28 to 47 years.
In 1998, CTEA unilaterally extended the copyright of all still-in-copyright works created after January 1, 1923. The chief justification for CTEA was that it brought U.S. copyright in line with European copyright as specified in the Berne Convention, which prescribes that copyright should last at least 50 years after the author’s death.
The chief criticism to the law, as expressed by the likes of academic and attorney Lawrence Lessig, is that Congress’ retroactive extension of copyright terms benefits a handful of corporations like Disney and the heirs of commercially successful artists like Irving Berlinin defiance of the constitutional mandate that copyright law protect the rights of creators for a limited time rather than in perpetuity.
In that process, millions of works that no longer bring, or never brought, any economic benefits to their creators or their creators’ heirs are today bound by the same laws that protect commercially successful works such as the first Mickey Mouse film, Steamboat Willie, and Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” (Both of which would today be in the public domain if not for CTEA.)
Why it matters
So who cares if one obscure and hopelessly outdated book about military intelligence is tangled up in the grabby tentacles of the copyright octopus?
Aside from a few military historians, probably nobody. But if it were to turn out that, unlikely as it may be, Military Intelligence contains some facts, wisdom or insight that could make the world a safer, happier, or more just place, the whole world should care.
As it stands, however, the world cannot know what Military Intelligence has to offer save for those who already own a copy, have access to one of the roughly 100 copies scattered among various libraries, or are willing and able to supply the US$25 to $70 asking price for a used copy (not a penny of which goes to the author’s estate).
Public-good entities such as HathiTrust and Internet Archive cannot make the digitized full text of Military Intelligence (a work with zero economic value) freely available.
And what if, against any reasonable expectation, someone were inspired to create a play, song, film, graphic novel, or other work derived from Military Intelligence?
At worst, tracking down the current rights-holder for permission to create a derivative work would prove impossible; at best, the process would be time-consuming and costly. Even if tracked down, the current rights-holder could quash any attempt to repurpose Military Intelligence by demanding an exorbitant permission fee or simply refusing to cooperate. If you are holding your breath for the premier of Military Intelligence: An American Musical, don’t bother.
Of course the problem with current copyright law is not the locking up of any one book. The problem is the locking up, for ever-increasing lengths of time, of the mass of works that should be freely available to fuel the creation of new works.
A perpetual copyright?
Will the corporations and individuals who hold old, but still valuable, copyrights allow works they consider to be their private property to march, year by year, into the public domain? Or will they lobby Congress for another 20 or 40 or 100 years of copyright extension?
It seems logical to assume that holders of valuable copyrights will lobby the 115th Congress to extend the term of copyright. Lobbyists were certainly on hand to push for the passage of CTEA back in the late 1990s – a victory they achieved in the face of generally weak and disorganized opposition.
This time around, I believe, any lobbyists pushing for longer copyright terms should have a harder time. The emergence of the digital into everyday life has created a significant body of academics, legal thinkers, librarians, and consumers who care a great deal about the impact copyright legislation has on their lives.
Should the 115th Congress be pressured into extending copyright yet again, these organizations and their allies will need active public support. It is not enough to sit back and hope that Internet petitions and angry Facebook rants will prevail.
While Congress may not be able to make copyright perpetual, it could make the terms so long that copyright might as well last forever. If this is allowed to happen, millions of works that should be freely available for use by current and future generations of scholars, artists, and the just plain intellectually curious will remain hidden in the shadow of copyright – inaccessible and all but invisible.
To celebrate Elvis Presley’s birthday, the Google Play Music Store is giving away a special digital version of 30 #1 hits today. This is a special Google Play Bonus Track Version which has a bonus stereo mix of if “I Can Dream” included.
This release has been criticized for only including a portion of Elvis’ best material. These are his pop hits. He also charted in gospel, R&B, country, and adult contemporary. Many of the Sun recordings are also missing. While this is certainly not a definitive collection, this is a great addition to any fan’s digital collection.
I just discovered that this had been re-released. The fact that a legal version was finally available blew me away – these films have been bootlegged as much as Urgh! A Music War because they were unavailable for so long.
The Decline Of Western Civilization Collection is a three film set by director Penelope Spheeris. It is an mazing documentation of the changing sounds of punk and metal in the LA music scene of the 1980s? Filled with band interviews, concert footage, even interviews with the fans. Featured are performances by groups like Germs, Black Flag, X, Fear, Circle Jerks, Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne.
All three films have been restored in high definition.
Besides the three films, the following special features are listed:
New 2K Scan Of Each Film Supervised By Director Penelope Spheeris
Commentary by Dave Grohl
Tawn Mastrey of KNAC Interviews Penelope Spheeris
Never-Before-Seen Original Footage, Performances and Interviews
Mark Toscano of the Academy Film Archive Interviews Penelope Spheeris
40-Page Booklet Featuring Rare Stills and Text by Domenic Priore
There is a bonus disc with lots of goodies, too! The reviews on this set are fantastic!
Imagine yourself as a graphic designer for New Age musician Enya, tasked with creating her next album cover. Which two or three colors from the grid below do you think would “go best” with her music?
Would they be the same ones you’d pick for an album cover or music video for the heavy metal band Metallica? Probably not.
For years, my collaborators and I have been studying music-to-color associations. From our results, it’s clear that emotion plays a crucial role in how we interpret and respond to any number of external stimuli, including colors and songs.
The colors of songs
In one study, we asked 30 people to listen to four music clips, and simply choose the colors that “went best” with the music they were hearing from a 37-color array.
In fact, you can listen to the clips yourself. Think about which two to three colors from the grid you would choose that “go best” with each selection.
The image below shows the participants’ first-choice colors to the four musical selections provided above.
Selection A, from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 2, caused most people to pick colors that were bright, vivid and dominated by yellows. Selection B, a different section of the very same Bach concerto, caused participants to pick colors that are noticeably darker, grayer and bluer. Selection C was an excerpt from a 1990s rock song, and it caused participants to choose reds, blacks and other dark colors. Meanwhile, selection D, a slow, quiet, “easy listening” piano piece, elicited selections dominated by muted, grayish colors in various shades of blue.
The mediating role of emotion
But why do music and colors match up in this particular way?
We believe that it’s because music and color have common emotional qualities. Certainly, most music conveys emotion. In the four clips you just heard, selection A “sounds” happy and strong, while B sounds sad and weak. C sounds angry and strong, and D sounds sad and calm. (Why this might be the case is something we’ll explore later.)
We’ve tested our theory by having people rate each musical selection and each color on five emotional dimensions: happy to sad, angry to calm, lively to dreary, active to passive, and strong to weak.
We compared the results and found that they were almost perfectly aligned: the happiest-sounding music elicited the happiest-looking colors (bright, vivid, yellowish ones), while the saddest-sounding music elicited the saddest-looking colors (dark, grayish, bluish ones). Meanwhile, the angriest-sounding music elicited the angriest-looking colors (dark, vivid, reddish ones).
To study possible cultural differences, we repeated the very same experiment in Mexico. To our surprise, the Mexican and US results were virtually identical, which suggests that music-to-color associations might be universal. (We’re currently testing this possibility in cultures, such as Turkey and India, where the traditional music differs more radically from Western music.)
These results support the idea that music-to-color associations in most people are indeed mediated by emotion.
The album cover designers for Enya’s Shepherd Moons and Metallica’s Master of Puppets may have subconsciously chosen colors that matched the emotional qualities of the respective artists’ music.
People who actually see colors when listening to music
There’s a small minority of people – maybe one in 3,000 – who have even stronger connections between music and colors. They are called chromesthetes, and they spontaneously “see” colors as they listen to music.
For example, a clip from the 2009 film The Soloist shows the complex, internally generated “light show” that the lead character – a chromesthetic street musician – might have experienced while listening to Beethoven’s Third Symphony.
Chromesthesia is just one form of a more general condition called synesthesia, in which certain individuals experience incoming sensory information both in the appropriate sensory dimension and in some other, seemingly inappropriate, sensory dimension.
The most common form of synesthesia is letter-to-color synesthesia, in which the synesthete experiences color when viewing black letters and digits. There are many other forms of synesthesia, including chromesthesia, that affect a surprising number of different sensory domains.
Some theories propose that synesthesia is caused by direct connections between different sensory areas of the brain. Other theories propose that synesthesia is related to brain areas that produce emotional responses.
The former theory implies little or no role for emotion in determining the colors that chromesthetes experience, whereas the latter theory implies a strong role for emotion.
Which theory is correct?
To find out, we repeated the music-color association experiment with 11 chromesthetes and 11 otherwise similar non-chromesthetes. The non-chromesthetes chose the colors that “went best” with the music (as described above), but the chromesthetes chose the colors that were “most similar to the colors they experienced while listening to the music.”
The left side of the image below shows the first choices of the syensethetes and non-synesthetes for fast-paced classical music in a major key (like selection A), which tends to sound happy and strong. The right side shows the color responses for slow-paced classical music in a minor key (like selection B), which tends to sound sad and weak.
The color choices of synesthetes and non-synesthetes after listening to fast, major key music and slow, minor key music. Author provided
The color experiences of chromesthetes (Figure B) turned out to be remarkably like the colors that non-chromesthetes chose as going best with the same music (Figure A).
But we mainly wanted to know how the non-chromesthetes and chromesthetes would compare in terms of emotional effects. The results are depicted in Figure C.
Interestingly, the emotional effects for chromesthetes were as strong as those for non-chromesthetes on some dimensions (happy/sad, active/passive and strong/weak), but weaker on others (calm/agitated and angry/not-angry).
The fact that chromesthetes exhibit emotional effects at all suggests that music-to-color synesthesia depends, at least in part, on neural connections that include emotion-related circuits in the brain. That they’re decidedly weaker in chromesthetes than non-chromesthetes for some emotions further suggests that chromesthetic experiences also depend on direct, non-emotional connections between the auditory and visual cortex.
The fact that music-to-color associations are so strongly influenced by emotion raises further questions. For example, why is it that fast, loud, high-pitched music “sounds” angry, whereas slow, quiet, low-pitched music “sounds” calm?
We don’t know the answers yet, but one intriguing possibility is what we like to call “musical anthropomorphism” – the idea that sounds are emotionally interpreted as being analogous to the behavior of people.
For example, faster, louder, high-pitched music might be perceived as angry because people tend to move and speak more quickly and raise their voices in pitch and volume when they’re angry, while doing the opposite when they’re calm. Why music in a major key sounds happier than music in a minor key, however, remains a mystery.
Artists and graphic designers can certainly use these results when they’re creating light shows for concerts or album covers for bands – so that “listening” to music can become richer and more vivid by “seeing” and “feeling” it as well.
But on a deeper level, it’s fascinating to see how effective and efficient the brain is at coming up with abstract associations.
To find connections between different perceptual events – such as music and color – our brains try to find commonalities. Emotions emerge dramatically because so much of our inner lives are associated with them. They are central not only to how we interpret incoming information, but also to how we respond to them.
Given the myriad connections from perceptions to emotions and from emotions to actions, it seems quite natural that emotions emerge so strongly – and perhaps unconsciously – in finding the best colors for a song.
From November 30 through December 4, 2015, CD Baby is having a 1 cent shipping sale. For just one penny, you can send your order via standard shipping anywhere in the world! Buy one Skafish CD or buy them all, shipping is still just a penny. While you are there, share the love and support other indie artists! 🙂
If you like your music digital, we have a great deal for you at our Bandcamp store. You can buy the entire discography of available Skafish music and get the entire bundle for 25% off! And, yes, you can gift a digital bundle to that special Skafish fan in your life! Just click on any album to purchase the bundle.
Adele has joined Taylor Swift’s ranks in the war against the streaming culture of Spotify and Apple Music. Her latest album, 25, will not be available on these services. A record shop in Tennessee is to open at midnight in anticipation – but I shouldn’t expect any queues.
The timing is auspicious: the Mercury Prize is about to be awarded, an annual prize which crowns the best album of the year released by a British or Irish artist or band. The continuance of such a prize and Adele’s stand against the emphasis on single tracks privileged by streaming calls into question the contemporary relevance of the album format as an artform.
Think about it. When was the last time you listened to an album? Really listened to an album? Perhaps with headphones, not when jogging, or commuting?
But a series of studies from Amanda Krause and colleagues directly challenge the notion that streaming means that music fans are becoming more passive. For instance, active use of shuffle and playlist functions was evident. The authors argued that the more control technology affords, the more complex the patterns of music listening. As reported by the Guardian, a quarter of all songs listened to on Spotify are skipped in the first five seconds. So people clearly know what they don’t want to listen to. But does this active interest in music extend to entire albums?
Despite the appearance that digital music dominates the marketplace, the most recent report from The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reveals that digital and physical revenues are matched. That is, people are still very much engaged in buying physical albums. But which albums are being bought is clearly changing: the top-selling album of the last year was the official soundtrack to Disney’s animated film Frozen.
And the album isn’t as embedded in musical culture as we might think. If we rewind a few generations, it was all about singles. The album format only came along later, exemplified with the concept records of the 1970s. This was not an artistic step forward but merely a result of technological advancements, affording musicians more room to create longer recordings.
So it’s intriguing that with digital music no longer imposing any time-related barriers, new releases still tend to last roughly around as long as they did when music was primarily consumed on CD. Despite an increasing lack of public interest in albums, the industry hasn’t changed its colours. Things do look as though they might be shifting, but this is happening slowly: recent releases from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Smashing Pumpkins (both known for long albums) suggest that musicians themselves are finally buying into the notion that their fans no longer wish to commit to an hour (or more) of auditory indulgence.
But other artists including Radiohead have gone on to release albums after experimenting with the extended player format despite publicly expressing concern over the contemporary relevance of the album. And the Pixies confused fans by bundling songs from three EP’s into their comeback album Indie Cindy. The strategy was seen to be a “craven cash-in”.
Out of date?
So perhaps the album is a lost and meaningless relic of the past. Stephen Witt goes so far as to argue that it is the album format that is killing the music industry – not music piracy. Reflecting on hip-hop in particular, he argues that albums with filler actually encourage piracy. Why pay for a whole album when you only like a few songs?
Legal services such as Spotify now cater for curious music fans, and Witt explains that though consumers are now less likely to pirate music, they are also less likely to buy albums. Recent research highlights that Spotify in fact decreases both legal and illegal downloads. And, the hoo-hah surrounding Adele’s new album suggests that some people have forgotten that music lives in other corners of the internet than just Spotify.
Nevertheless the question marks hanging over the album format are wide-reaching. It has even been proposed that it might be more profitable to release songs than albums.
But although the album format appears to be in crisis, it has appeared this way for over a decade. With the increasing popularity of playlists, it may be that people are strapping in for a different type of long haul, or that the criteria of a “good album” now varies.
If there has been any major shift it has been the emphasis on live concerts rather than recorded music, with established musicians happy to give their albums away for free – this is an effective way of promoting live concert attendance, where most musicians now make most of their earnings.
In any case, it is likely that musicians will continue to create albums and consumers will continue to listen to them simply because that is what was established many years ago. They will also continue to be celebrated with industry awards. And though the artists shortlisted in the Mercury Music Prize are likely to receive a boost in popularity, it will be Adele’s new album which will dominate, particularly considering her dismissal of streaming culture.