The way people consume music has changed.
People threw out their tapes, records and CDs long ago and traded them for digital notes produced by an iPod. iPods and MP3 players have their benefits. They can hold thousands of songs without making their owner look like a hoarder. You don’t have to get up off your bum and change the album every time you want to listen to a different artist. You don’t even have to buy an entire album. You can just buy your favorite song for a buck and listen to it over and over and over, or until you never want to hear it again. Consuming music this way is easy, cheap and very profitable for those who make it.
The digital music market is a godsend for one-hit wonders and overnight successes. These marketplaces are set up to profit the most from singles. Why risk spending $19.99 on an album that might be vomit-inducing when you can spend .99 cents on one song that you know is good? It’s a low-risk investment, so spend away. One-hit wonder, Soulja Boy, made five million dollars off his hit single “Crank That.” I’m going to say that again. Five million dollars off of one song. Digital music is great for consumers and producers, but there are virtues in the old ways of consumption.
I used to have an iPod loaded exclusively with singles on my hip. Vinyl changed that. My co-worker’s boyfriend was about to move. He couldn’t take his record player with him, so he decided to bequeath it to me. I accepted his offer and started to build a meager record collection. I would walk down Main Street to Keene’s local record store, Turn It Up, after work and buy what I knew, a few The Who albums and some Dad Rock I knew I’d enjoy. One day I walked in and saw a used copy of “Abbey Road” by The Beatles for $20.
I used to hate The Beatles. I actually felt more like meh towards them; their happy tin can guitar licks had no place in my dark, angst-ridden, music elitist teenage brain. I decided to give the album a chance; how could I pass up one of the most iconic records of all time? I took it home, and after listening to it in its entirety, I had a whole new outlook on the pioneers of pop. “Abbey Road” is more than “Here Comes the Sun” and “Come Together;” it’s one long, intertwined, beautiful song.
Listening to albums all the way through allowed me to fall in love with Eminem, Jay Reatard, Green Day, Queen, Gorillaz, Pixies, The Violent Femmes and countless other artists.
Masterpieces known as concept albums can be lost in digital consumption. “The Wall” by Pink Floyd and “Quadrophenia” by The Who cannot be understood or appreciated in one or two songs off the albums.
An artist’s hits or singles are like the first sketches of their Mona Lisa; it’ll look nice, you may walk away pleased and impressed, but if you don’t listen to their albums in their entirety, you’re never going to see what the whole picture has to offer.
Alex Fleming can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org