When was the last time you went out and bought an album? No? Me neither. Going into a music store to pick up a £12.99 CD seems like a distant memory now and the popularity of streaming services has seen some herald the end of the album format as we know it. We can create or follow playlists and shuffle songs to our heart’s content. The album has had its swansong.
Well, not quite yet. It has been a pretty exciting week or so for album releases. From Beyoncé’s Lemonade to James Blake’s The Colour in Anything, we’ve been spoilt for choice. There does seem to be a trend in the new album releases at the moment. You need to be bold, attention-grabbing and preferably shareable on social media to get an album traction these days.
The way people access music has had a profound effect on the music industry. Artists cannot sit by and bank on their fans rushing to the shops to buy their records anymore. So the music industry has had to come up with some interesting ideas to regain music fans’ attention.
Radiohead are a great example of the innovative album release. Their 2007 album In Rainbows was sold on a pay-what-you-like’ basis whilst their new album is about to surprise-drop any minute after the teaser of ‘Burn the Witch’ – featuring some adorably terrifying animation. As well as erasing their internet presence (unthinkable in this day and age), the band sent cryptic letters to their fans. Radiohead really understand what it takes to generate interest for an album.
Another artist who’s hopped on the surprise-drop trend is James Blake. His new album The Colour in Anything is a cathartic ramble through seventeen tracks of peerless vocals and ingenious production. The surprise-drop method certainly catches people by surprise. It’s easy to feel that music releases today have become routine and mundane.
However not all hope is lost; even the Orwellian music factory of X-Factor & co. is fortunately on the wain. Artists such as Beyoncé are creating cinematic experiences for their fans, as well as utilising the power of social media and the gossip columns – will we ever know who Becky is and what makes her hair so good?
Whether this will all be enough to save the album format in the future is not certain. It almost feels like a treat these days to sit down and listen to an album all the way through (shuffling strictly prohibited). Whatever will happen to music releases in the future, at least for now we can enjoy the industry’s effort to win us back, one track at a time.
Freya Spriggs, Music Columnist