In one of your recent posts you wrote
Hopefully itâ€™ll finally kick me into action to make some decisions
about the kind of record (or whatever passes for a â€˜recordâ€™ these
days 🙂 ) I want to make.
which kind of kicked off an idea I’ve been playing with recently.
You often write about music but generally it’s about a narrow genre, that of pop & jazz. Not that it’s surprising nor in itself a bad thing as your thoughts are very insightful, and you are not alone in that way of thinking. Most people ignore the classical tradition when talking about how to market music in the modern world. Considering the smaller market, the difficulty of the works, the lack of simple tagging etc, etc “classical” music seems to be ignored by many in the press even though it spans a good 1000 years and a myriad of genres & styles.
The thing that makes this interesting is that the model used for selling & creating music before the advent of the record might now become relevant again now that music is so readily and fluidly distributed. As a record buying public and record producing musos we have become to believe that music comes in 40 minute (or with CD, 70 minute) bundles. This applies to all genres, e.g buy a 30 minute symphony and you will get a couple of filler works to pad out the CD; or recently I heard a discussion decrying some musician who had only put out a 30 minute CD & he was ripping off his CD customers for selling them short of the expected 70 minutes. This is as insane as buying a picture by it’s size or colour scheme but it wasn’t always like this was it? Before the record your budding composer would write a concerto (3 movements @ 5 minutes each) or a song (3 minutes) or a whatever took his fancy or more pertinently what he was commissioned. And this is what brings me back to your statement, perhaps the distortions of the last 50 years will go by the way as you release a song here, a suite there and are no longer bound by the recording format.
FWIW my record collection is now all on a computer and every classical CD has been broken down to the individual works as they were written, I am no longer constrained to listen to all four Mozart horn concertos when I only want one. I can pick a track from one of your excellent works or create a random play list & this is surely far more in keeping with how listening used to be (only better).
While the drift of this argument is mainly about recording/writing the models of the 19th century might equally be relevant to the way people interact with live music, after all concerts were popular, there were superstar performers but there were also well programmed concerts with a variety of music. Nowadays the music industry has programmed us to only accept the artist as a whole package that we find it hard to accept diversity. Maybe the future technology & business models will release us & you from that slavery.
I think that’s a great point – the idea that artists, writers etc. can be liberated from the constraints of the time a CD “allows”. Your comment about quality vs length is a fantastic one. Is one great song that I listen to 100 times worth more than a 75 min CD that I only listen to twice? Definitely parallels with the art world, thanks.
As I’m coming up to putting out a new ‘project’, this are questions that are big in my mind – what should it be? do I even call it an ‘album’? what physical format should I use? All big big questions…
I have to admit that I’m one of those who still tends to pick an album to listen to even though most of my listening is now done via digital media systems where I could equally well select a playlist based on artist, genre or even every song in my collection that is about 3 minutes long (so, not many of Steve’s in that one 😉 ).
One quality that some albums have is bringing together a related set of music. For example, “Kind of Blue” is such a milestone that my guess is most people will know what I’m talking about, understand it’s importance and perhaps catch an echo of its beauty without me having to name the musicians involved. I can’t escape the feeling that the musical world would be poorer without such artifacts.
Of course, that doesn’t apply to compilation albums, which are essentially pre-defined playlists chosen by somebody else. Most classical albums – certainly those featuring the music of composers who lived long before vinyl and CD – are essentially compilations even if not crassly marketed as “Mozart’s greatest hits”.
Perhaps one of the ways forward might be artists suggesting particular sets of songs that fit together and offering discounts on purchasing the tracks as a package – ie. albums without the compulsion?
I think the important distinction here is that it can be both/and, not just either/or – there’s no reason why people can’t still do thematic collections of music across 30/40/50/60 mins, but they can also do 3 songs, or one 8 hour piece of music if that’s what inspires them…
the broadening of options if what excites me, but also makes me think a lot harder about what it is I’m trying to do! 🙂
Surely it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to make an “album” (as in picture album) where the tracks are related in theme, related to events around a given point in time, inspired or driven by certain influences etc.? Or is a release just a collection of tunes you’ve been working on recently? If it’s the former then an “old school” release where those tracks are brought together, sequenced and mixed as one entity is probably what you’re after. If it’s the latter, there’s no real compulsion to wait until you’ve got 70 minutes (or 30 or 40 or 10) of audio to share. Miriam Jones’ Solitary Songs is a good example of somebody releasing output one track at a time. Will they be mastered onto one release? Maybe eventually. But that’s not really the point. But if you’re thinking about taking that tack though, why not release on vinyl 7″ single or flexi-disk? 😉
The key shift here is in the affordability of low-volume, short-form releases. Doing singles was never a particularly profitable enterprise. In fact, 7″ vinyl is probably more of a money spinner now than at any time since the 60s. For a lot of ‘indie’ bands, pre-web, they’d end up doing split singles – two bands on the same disc.
What’s great now is the room for speculation, experimentation and risk. Loads of room to try out all kinds of whacky stuff, and not have to press up bits of plastic, hoping that you don’t end up with a wardrobe full at the end.
What then needs considering is where the creative checks and balances that cost previously provided will come from. If I’m spending Â£2000 releasing a record, I REALLY have to believe in it. If it’s ‘free’ to put out, how do I build structures into my life that encourage that kind of self reflection as to the cultural and creative merit of my endeavours?
Great stuff, gentlemen!
Is it just me or is accountability the new black? 😀
I think issues surrounding accountability in creativity – especially when the big labels and publishers used to provide some kind of filter for artists – are fascinating. I wonder if we’re going to see little collectives forming, artists moderating eachother’s work… co-operative ‘labels’ that co-promote, support and network together…
Mr MKS – time to write a post about it 😉
“Or is a release just a collection of tunes youâ€™ve been working on recently?”
But perhaps the fact that you were working on a particular set of songs around the same time is enough of a theme. After all, things like the events of your life, the particular musicians in your band at the time, and so on, influence the songs. I even think that songs that you work on around the same time end up influencing each other, even if they aren’t technically about a particular subject.
Looking back to the classical tradition (again) you can see composers writing whole song cycles e.g. Schubert – Schone Mullerin & Wintereisse or Handel’s Messiah but they were also releasing individual songs & pieces, sometimes as a commission or as part of a collective with other musicians but often just for the sake of it. Sometimes these individual works would later be collected together & published.
Over the last few decades the public’s main access to paying for music has been governed by the convenience of the LP & we’ve forgotten that prior to that things were far more fluid. The simple-to-sell package is driven by marketing & sales & not by the composer or artist but as Steve points out, maybe, just maybe both the record buying public & the musicians can take control again & determine how much music they want or what it means.
Of course that will mean changing the listeners’ perceptions & the way the large record companies work. It should be possible, after all if iTunes & Amazon can sell individual tracks then presumably the public are already demanding a more flexible approach.
What will be interesting is to see whether the audience want to listen to song cycles & collections or whether they’ll just pick & choose ignoring the artist’s vision.
“What will be interesting is to see whether the audience want to listen to song cycles & collections or whether theyâ€™ll just pick & choose ignoring the artistâ€™s vision.” or whether the artist can engage with the listener in the co-creation of that vision…. what about a collection of works designed to be listened together the way the listener chooses to sequence them? In classical terms, right down to specific passages and movements…
I think the field is wide open for experimentation. I also think that it’s futile for artists to get upset when people play their works out of sequence. I use the sequencing/grouping idea to make better music, but once it’s out in the wild, all control is lost. I can make my initial intention clear, but I can’t force people to listen in a certain way…
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