Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saving the Album Format: More Than the Sum of its Parts

Note: This is part of a series of blog posts. Read the first one here.

At the age of 40, I own well over 2000 albums on vinyl and CD.

I downloaded 4.

What you get most of the time when you download an album is, frankly, pathetic. You get the songs of the album and – if you're lucky – a small image file that displays on your MP3-Player or iPod. You might be able to figure out the composers of the song by going into the „information“ menu on iTunes. It's possible that the „song lyrics“ feature is used to some extend, it is not on any of the 4 albums I downloaded from iTunes.

The production value of the average downloaded album is the equivalent of those discount “Music for Pleasure” vinyl albums that repackaged previously issued music with cheap cover artwork and plain white inner sleeves.

And a lot of current CDs aren't much better. I still have excellent eyesight according to a recent exam, but when I try to read the information in many CD booklets lately, I have to walk up to a window and squint really hard to read the tiny font, that is sometimes printed with ink on paper choices that cause very unfortunate color contrasts.

I know not ever music fan cares about who played the congas, sang backing vocals and arranged the string section as much as I do. But a lot of music fans always have, and it's been getting harder and harder to get that information.

So why doesn't every downloaded album and CD come with a code that allows you access to a section on the artist's or record company's web site with exclusive content for buyers of the album? Song lyrics, production notes, video clips of interviews, behind-the-scenes looks at recording sessions, live performances, etc? Or even games, contests (win a date with Meatloaf! - OK, maybe not).

We'll never get back to the age of beautiful large album covers that allow for gimmicks like Velvet Underground's banana peel or the zipper on the cover of the Rolling Stones: “Sticky Fingers” - but with the Internet, we have so many new options that cardboard never gave us.

To survive, the album needs to be more than the sum of its songs. The Internet could provide for countless possibilities to make it so.

Meanwhile, to show that not everything was great during the vinyl album age, either, here is the very funny Ellen Degeneres looking at some not-so-great album covers.

I own that Millie Jackson album, too!

1 comment:

Guido said...

Da haste Recht! "Früher" gan es Alben, die ohne das Cover nicht funktioniert hätten, bzw. mit Cover noich besser waren al es schon. Die wurden durch das Booklet komplettiert. Vorne weg für mich z.B. die Alben von Tool, die mit dem Wackelcover, den 3d-Bildern, dem mehrschichtigen Folien-Booklet usw.
Manche Alben sollte man auch nur am Stück hören, weil sie eine Geschichte erzählen.