Prime Edition

ARJUN S. RAVI
OUT OF TUNE

Arjun S Ravi is the editor of Indiecision (http://nh7.in/indiecision). He believes in brutal honesty, and thinks your band sucks.

Break free of format: Musicians & listeners must play with length

ust like many in the publishing world have been claiming the "death of print" for several years, some in the music industry believe that the long player is nearing its end. The stats speak for themselves. Singles sell a lot more than albums do; any record sales charts you've read over the last few years have confirmed that. Everyone and your milkman consumes music in byte-sized, caller-back-tone-type pieces, and digital retailers have made it even easier to dissociate a song from an entire LP. But does that mean that we're seeing the end of the album as a format?

I don't think so, and it has nothing to do with the logic of numbers, or even the vague, overly romanticized idea of an album being artistically superior to, well, one song.

Nobody released 'albums' before 12-inch, 33 1/3rpm vinyls allowed for the more than 4-5 minutes a side (at best) on the previous 78rpm format. Orchestral and classical music recordings that were longer than 8-10 minutes had to be split up into multiple discs. When Columbia and other labels started pushing the LP format, artists began writing music with the format in mind. And soon, what we now know as the album was born. The advent of the smaller, 45rpm vinyls introduced the EP format to consumers as well. Over the years, the formats gained generally accepted templates — an album needed to have anything above six to eight tracks, an EP was about three to six tracks and a single had an A-side and a B-side.

ith iTunes and other digital retailers, it is possible for fans to separate a track from an album (though some artists, like AC/DC and Kid Rock still promote album-only sales). The way the majority people consume music these days, especially where micro-transactions in mobile economies are gaining traction like in India (courtesy value added services provided by cellular network providers like ringtones, caller-back tones and the rest), skews the balance heavily in favour of singles. Platforms like YouTube, Soundcloud and others further reinforce the consumption of individual tracks.

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There are literally no restrictions anymore on the length of an artist’s song which means that he or she is free to decide the duration of time the listener should spend with his or her work.

What few talk about though is what this means for the songwriter. Sure, the medium by which people consume music has changed, and is influencing fans to move toward shorter format listening. However, the change in the medium has also allowed the artist to break free of the limitations of its predecessors. A 12" 33 1/3 vinyl can hold about 45 minutes of music, while audio cassettes could hold 90, and CDs could hold about 80. In the digital landscape, an artist's recording can be exactly how long he or she wants it to be. Want to record three prog-rock masterpieces, each of over 19 minutes in length, and present it as a concept album? That's entirely possible. Your EP has six songs that are just 90 seconds long? Cool. There are literally no restrictions anymore on the length of an artist's song (unless you want to get it played on TV or radio, in which case you usually have to keep it about four minutes in length, but who watches TV or listens to the radio for relevant music any more, right?), which means that he or she is free to decide the duration of time the listener should spend with his or her work. The elements of theme and aesthetic that are generally ascribed to albums are now pretty much ubiquitous to any length of recordings, and are more and more being challenged by artists around the world.

The way people consume music is, to a large extent, determined by the medium through which they consume it. Given the way the musical landscape is evolving, artists who feel that they are committed to a certain format — be it an album, or a single, or an EP — are missing the opportunity that this era affords them. We're living in a time when artists can be as true to themselves and their art as they like, and whether you're on the side of albums or singles, that prospect is timeless.

 

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