“Preserve the artistic integrity of the albums.”

Pink Floyd brings EMI to court over unbundled songs, and wins (you can read about it in this New York Times article).  I think this might be big news.  Some may be tempted to ask, “So what?”  Others may point out that it is just more of the same old same old of bands in conflict with their record companies.  And yet others may ask, “But why shouldn’t we be able to just buy the single Floyd songs we like?”  All these points may have there degree of validity, but I feel obliged to take side with the title quote of this post, that this court decision is beneficial in preserving the artistic value of the holistic concept of an album.

One of the main things that I think I have felt uncomfortable about with the digitization of music, is the potential damage it could do to the concept of albums as a complete work of art.  An album is to songs as a collection is to poems.  certainly you can pick and choose what you listen to, but essentially an album is a constructed piece of work.  Musicians and bands choose the songs that they want on an album, and what order they want them in.  When the song choices, song orders, artistic design, and all else is done, you have an album.

I love albums, and I love listening to them straight through.

The question now is; are they necessary in the digital age?

Basically, because each song can exist electronically as a single file, what purpose does an album serve?  Perhaps there is not a modern purpose for albums.  Perhaps there will be artists soon who decide to do away with albums all together and just record songs which they put up for sale online once they are pleased with the musical creation.  If artists just want to create and sell songs individually then what need do they really have for album creation?

But for those musicians that choose to create albums (collections of songs in a specific order essentially) or have already existing albums, the main idea should be that you buy the entire work of art; the album.  This is what the Pink Floyd case does to benefit album creating artists.

I am not trying to suggest that the album is the best form of providing music, it may very well prove not to be, especially in the digital age.  I am merely suggesting that if the album is created then that is the unit that should be sold.  Now I understand that a number of online music services provide purchase and download of single songs, and people like this approach because they can pick and choose their favorite songs from an album.  But still, this system fails to consider the entire album construction.

Mind you, this failure of considering an album as a whole piece of art, was happening before the digital age of music downloads.  What do you think radio does?  Rarely do most radio stations play whole albums straight through.  More often than not they focus on the hit singles from an album (and it should be noted that “hit singles” are often creations of the record company as a means to market and album or artist).  People are more exposed to the singles and so tend to like them better and thus often disregard the album as a whole (even if there are complete good and enjoyable songs that are not singles).

I think the challenge really comes down to the format struggle of thinking of albums as art.  it is easy to see an individual song as a piece of art, but often the album is considered merely a device for carrying songs.  Again, ultimately the conclusion is that having digital versions of songs makes albums unnecessary (which to a degree is already happening as CD sales continue to decline).  But the other end of this is to separate the concept of an album from the physicality of a format.  Thing of the whole works of musical art.

Historically, before the advent of sound recording, composers created long pieces of music, which in turn consisted of many parts.  You had operas and suites and the like.  With the arrival of sound recording large piece of music could be contained in a  physical form which could then be moved about from place to place to share the whole piece of art.  Thus the album was born.  However, overtime, the album has come more to be associated with that physical form rather than the whole collection of pieces that make it up.  It may even be that there are a number of albums that are simply thrown together with whatever pieces of music a band has lying around, with little or no thought to an overall order of artistic construction (though I must admit that I think that this is a very lazy approach to album creation).

But really I admit that this may really all be frivolous.  While I am sure there are a good number of musicians and bands who wish that it would be there whole artistic efforts that are bought and appreciated, this will not necessarily change the ways of a consuming public who would prefer to pick and choose what they want. 

Music is complex on many levels.  On one hand it is an art form in which artist often put a lot of effort.  On another hand it is simply a pleasing listening experience for users.  There is a question of ownership at the core of it.  Who is the music for; artist or audience?  How should it be sold?  How should we listen to it?  There are no easy answers.  Just a bunch of opinions, ideas, and theories.

But anyways, congratulations Pink Floyd.  I’ll just say I regularly listen to almost your entire discography, in chronological order, some days at work.

~ by Nathaniel on March 12, 2010.

3 Responses to ““Preserve the artistic integrity of the albums.””

  1. Some of the happiest memories of my life came from the trip to see Floyd at Death valley years ago. Took us 3 hours to get there and 3 days to get back.

    • That sounds like an absolutely wonderful time. Floyd is the one band I’d love to see see live above all others and yet sadly will probably never have such an opportunity.

  2. I was happy with the decision and glad you agreed so I wouldn’t have to turn my speakers around and blare entire albums at the back of your head while you’re trying to sleep.

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