In an interview on the BBC Today programme singer Kate Bush expresses her fears for the music industry:
… a lot of people in the industry are very depressed because record sales are very low, I think a lot of us fear the death of the album as an art form. And I love albums, I understand that people just want to listen to a track and put it on their iPod, and that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but why can’t that exist hand in hand with an album, they’re such different experiences? I mean a selection of songs, not just a song or a track. It’s just a completely different experience. I suppose the worst case scenario is that people would actually get to a point where they can’t afford to make what they want to make creatively. The industry is collapsing.
Is she right? When technology advances, not everything gets better. Music used to be expensive to distribute, now it can be done for almost nothing. There is not really any scarcity, and without scarcity, goods cannot command a price. Scarcity has to be imposed artificially, via DRM (Digital Rights Management), or trust basis, or inspecting data traffic.
There is still some money in digital music sales, of course, and still some money in CDs and other media too. The physical package is under obvious threat though, and good things will be lost: the cover artwork (which never fully recovered from the decline of the 12” LP record), the thrill of breaking the shrink-wrap on your new acquisition, and more crudely, the income this generated for the industry (though in most cases not so much for the artist).
That is the negative view though. The positive is that music has never been more available than it is today, and the barriers to a musician wanting to be heard have never been lower. Digital also enables new kinds of art, maybe multimedia packages, or releases where the user can create their own mixes, or interactive products which combine music with online experiences and interaction. The Who’s new Quadrophenia deluxe box is disappointing in terms of content, but its Q:Cloud site, which is unlocked by possession of the CD, has an amazing collection of material that goes beyond what would ever be printed and packed into a box.
One thought on “Kate Bush fears the death of the album as an art form”
I have to put myself in the Positive camp – Music has never been so healthy, artists have never had so many ways to connect with their potential public. The Music industry as it stands only has itself to blame for its woes; they got (in that pithy American phrase) Fat, Dumb and Happy, assuming new technologies were merely another opportunity to recycle the back catalogs of artists in yet another expensive format.
As for bands not being able to afford to spend as much time in the studio creating an album, this can only be a good thing and would surely sort out the sheep from the lambs! Much modern music is far too over-produced – too often due to the “talent” needing all the technical help that can be thrown at it – when you think that Sergeant Pepper was recorded in a matter of days. Wouldn’t it be great if every album was a (more or less) live album!?
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