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Something Old, Nothing New
In the beginning, there was the single. Modern recorded music was born of a song, well, two songs actually, the "hit", and the "B-side". With little pretense, they were recorded as such, marketed and distributed as such and sold in retail outlets as such. Albums, were for photographs. Radio stations played these singles, music fans bought them, originally ordering them through mail order outlets then later flocking to record stores when they began to spring up. Life was simple, and usually, just under 3 minutes long. You got what you paid for.

The first "albums" of recorded music, collections of four or more songs began appearing in the late 1940's however the first real albums, those containing usually 10 to 12 songs, recorded originally in mono then as recording technology advanced eventually in stereo, began to show up on shelves with regularity in the mid 1950's. It is arguable that the first concept album released was Frank Sinatra's 1954 classic, "Songs For Young Lovers" on Capitol Records, however some would say that distinction belongs to Elvis Presley and his 1956 milestone album, "Elvis Presley". Of course in the 1960's, concept albums, an album with a general overall theme or where all of the songs were intended to be somehow related to one another, became "the" thing and every band had to have one, especially after Bob Dylan's "Blonde On Blonde" paved a narrow path that the Beatle's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" would soon turn into a bustling freeway. Regardless of who holds the title and actual claim to fame of having made the first of any form of musical album, there was a span in the history of modern recordings of several decades that the general listening public was relegated to a musical existence which consisted of singles only, which, brings me to my point.

Many in the recording industry today feel that the advent of digital downloading has to a large extent caused a downward spiral in the sales of recordings in other formats, CD's, or, albums primarily. Is that actually what has caused it, or is it perhaps something else all together? Or, as I suspect, a combination of both? Digital downloads are, for the most part usually only a single, the particular song the listener heard, liked and decided they had to have. And, with the availability of mediums to store and playback these individual downloads, ipods, smartphones etc., the necessity for music buyers to have to purchase an entire album in order to get the one song they want has pretty much gone by the wayside. And what's wrong with that?

In the albeit brief but nonetheless "history" of the recording industry, record companies, producers, songwriters and successful recording artists have been ripping off music lovers with albums, a collection of songs, several of which might be worthy of any actual musical merit and/or monetary value, the remaining eight or ten, little more than fillers, fluff, stuffing, insulation. The powers that be in the music industry were quick to recognize the enormous increase in the bottom line value of albums versus singles and singles were little by little quietly cast aside like a dog that could no longer hunt. If the consumer wanted the product they longed for they were forced to purchase the album, which, of course usually cost ten times more than a single. Supply and demand be damned, you get, what we give ya'. Coincidentally, or, perhaps not, the birth of album formatted FM radio stations in the late '60's, many of which were financed via back door means by record companies, only served to appear to legitimize the album's existence.

It is a pretty clear evaluation of the music industry that by far most recording artitsts who attain that elusive status of hit maker are, or were, one-hit-wonders. They had that one song that was good enough and, in most cases, lucky enough to make it to the airways and into the hearts and minds of the masses. Afterwards, in an effort to maintain a career in the music business, they, or their management or the record companies themselves found ways to keep churning out recordings by the artists be they good, or, in the vast majority of cases, totally otherwise irrelevant. Sales, are sales to those powers that be and the pockets they line. The most profitable means of ensuring such a scenario is via the sales of albums. If, by chance, at least one song on the album made it into the charts if for no other reason than as a result of the artist previous success or from good ol' advertising ploys, sales of the album would of course rise. Bookings on tours would increase. And with labels having long become savvy to the workings of the entire cycle of money making means in the music world by then they began hoarding publishing rights and sponsoring artists tours, all with the artist's own money, that is, via advances against their projected earnings that eventually had to be paid back to the label.

In fairness to what has been at times a true artistic medium, somewhat akin to a collection of short stories by a renown author, there have been a number of great albums produced over the years, and I would highly recommend many of these to music lovers. However, the percentage of albums made resulting in one of these rarities today are minimal, to say the least. The fact that a particular superstar achieves a half dozen hits from an album these days is far removed from the days of Elvis or The Beatles when the tunes were genuinely good, relatively speaking, and warranted hit status. Today, that goal is far more often than not attained by a multi-million dollar barrage of advertising designed to make the average music consumer look like an outsider if they don't jump on the bandwagon as all of their friends have done and embrace the technologically enhanced talents of the latest hit maker du jour. Sad, for many reasons, not the least of which is that for music lovers, the ability for their musical taste to grow and mature just as some artists mature in their musical evolution and styles change as their musical horizons are broadened, is stifled by mainstream music marketing. Step outside the box, learn to like what you like.

As we are dealing here with an industry concerned pretty much with little more than the bottom line, let's get to the bottom line. Whether record companies, artists, songwriters or even consumers like it or not, the digital downloading age is upon us and it is here to stay. If music lovers want albums they are free to purchase them however they are no longer compelled to, and cry and whine and petition for legislation all they like, there will be less and less record labels or anyone else can do about it. And what's wrong with that? We're simply on track to being back to getting what we pay for.

Copyright 2012 Gary Davis
All Original Content Including Music And Editorial Is Copyright 2000 ~ 2022 Davis Deluxe Music And/Or Gary Wayne Davis.
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