I keep hearing that the album is dead. Most recently, people having been pointing to the Nielsen Soundscan report, which states how album sales are down 15 percent from 2013. Nilay Patel writes in his most recent article on Vox:
Cranking out singles while on the road makes perfect economic sense right now: touring is one of the few music industry activities that still makes money, and recording songs quickly reduces the upfront investment needed in a product that no longer generates a ton of revenue at retail.
If the album is dead: what are these artists going to play on tour? Artists and bands need a decent sized cache of music in order to tour, and if they are new, then releasing an album is a must. Crafting albums is one of the most important creative processes a band or musician undertakes. Listening to an album in full can give a song a whole new meaning. I’ve been to 30+ concerts, and Green Day playing the album American Idiot in full live at the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas still holds a special place in my heart.
While I am no expert, I believe the Nielsen Soundscan report is reflecting the transitory nature of the music industry right now. In his piece on the aforementioned report, Artstechnica’s Sam Machkovech sees the silver lining in the relatively low number of people paying for subscription streaming services like Spotify as the calm before mass migration to streaming services. However he asks “if the services and solid 4G connectivity are widespread enough already, what’s keeping fans from buying in?” The answer is simple: smartphone data. Most people have a finite amount of monthly mobile data and streaming music quickly eats through your allotted amount. Streaming a 10 song album could easily eat through 500 MB or more. Why then would people pay for a monthly service which could easily make them pay more money in overage fees?
However, I did say this is a transitory period, and guess who is leading the charge? Yup, T-Mobile USA, again (hyperlink). At its most recent UnCarrier event, the 4th largest telecom provider announced that it streaming music would not count against your monthly data quota. I know my own streaming habits. I stream just as many if not more albums than singles. Plus, at $120 a year, I’m paying a lot but I’m getting access to a lot of music. Instead of looking songs up on YouTube, I look them up on Spotify or Google Play Music. After I listen to an album on a streaming service, I might actually buy it if its just that good. I think about it this way: when I have kids, I them to have a pool of music from which they can pull from, just like I was able to explore my mom’s massive CD collection. Great, so CDs might be dead but the album is not.