The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 11
I was just talking with my buddy Jeremy the other night and we got on the subject of music. I realized while talking to him that I haven't really enjoyed music in the same way that I used to. I used to listen to music strictly for the entire album, not for singles or for those few standout songs. There was something about the experience of going into the local record store (Newbury Comics for me) and buying that CD (I am too young for vinyl and it's too expensive). I would open it up and tear into that annoying plastic casing and peel off those side sticker things with precision. Then I would pop that fresh disc into the stereo and pour through the booklet looking at the art and pictures while the music blasted.
Whether I loved the album or not, I would always listen to it several times before making my final judgment. Discovering new sounds and melodies within an album even after a dozen listens is a magical experience for me. Even after years of listening to Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I would still pop it into the stereo and rediscover songs I had forgotten or realize that I actually liked songs I previously didn't. I don't really do that anymore, and it saddens me a little.
For Christmas last year, my amazing girlfriend gave me my first iPod. Yes, I was late to the party, but I had been putting it off for as long as I could because I had a feeling that this would happen. What I'm talking about is the simple phenomenon of the shuffle button. Most of the time, I will buy still buy full albums on iTunes, but I won't listen to them in their proper order. I just recently bought Whokill by tUnE-yArDs. That album is amazing and years ago, I would have listened to it non-stop straight through. Not anymore. If a song comes up on random on my purchased playlist I'll listen to it, but I have no context for it.
Whokill by tUnE-yArDs
I have always believed in the album itself as an art form. There is a skill involved in placing songs in a particular order so that they compliment the one before and after. Imagine if Dark Side of the Moon were in a different order. It wouldn't be the same. And it wouldn't sync with Wizard of Oz! Oh My! That's partly why I don't love to listen to music on the radio. I want to hear the artist's entire vision.
An interesting montage of the Dark Side of the Moon synced with Wizard of Oz by Youtube user glidman3
What makes this even harder is the fact that great artists are still making albums as though they will be listened to as such. Last year Kanye West released a brilliant album in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy which didn't get nearly as much attention as it should have outside of critics, who collectively praised it. Sure, Power was a hit because of The Social Network trailer, but it didn't reach Gold Digger heights. I listened to that album straight through until I put it on my iPod. Now I listen to a handful of tracks and move on.
The Social Network Trailer
I am even finding it hard to discover new music this way too. I listen to NPR and they recommended a band called Wye Oak on their All Songs Considered podcast. So I downloaded one song, Civilian. I loved it and couldn't stop listening to it, so I downloaded the entire album, also titled Civilian. After a few listens it just didn't grab me. I like the music but the songs didn't stand out to me. I have a feeling this wouldn't have happened to me years ago. I would have put the headphones on and fallen asleep to this album, or listened to it constantly in my car. Now I just listen to Civilian. Could this be just because I don't really like the album? Sure. But I used to listen to albums I was lukewarm about until I could at least appreciate it or explain why I don't like it. With Civilian, I have no idea why I don't like it. The guitar is incredible and the songs are powerful, but I could care less.
I could go on and on about the great albums that have come out recently that I don't listen to in their proper entirety. Radiohead: King of Limbs, Bon Iver: Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues, The Weeknd: House of Balloons and the list goes on. So it isn't even worth it for me to buy whole albums anymore. What grinds my gears about this is that the artists who make these albums don't receive much money from the sale of one song on iTunes. I don't know the current numbers since the prices increased but back when a track cost $.99 the artist made $.09 out of that. And according to the chart on infomationisbeautiful.com they only made $.94 per albums downloaded at that time. So still, those numbers aren't great, but I would rather give the band a dollar than a dime, at least if I like the album.
Some bands are combating this, like Radiohead who puts their albums online on their website for download before they go to iTunes. This increases their profit exponentially. Others easily make up for it by selling the rights to their songs. The NFL uses Arcade Fire's Wake Up and MGMT has been featured in more commercials than Santa Claus. And of course concerts are where bands make their real money. My Morning Jacket might not sell a bunch of MP3's but they certainly make their money from a rabid live fan base.
Radiohead: Lotus Flower
Despite the last two paragraphs, I'm not all that concerned with money. I mainly care that I am not missing out on an experience that the artist intended for me to have. To put this into video game terms, imagine if we could buy all the Half Life 2 chapters separately. What if someone had heard that Ravenholm was the best part so they just bought that and played it. One hour later they might wonder what all the hubbub was about, because taken out of context and without all the buildup beforehand it might not have the same effect.
So tonight at my part time cleaning job, I am going to try something different. I usually listen to podcasts while I work, but tonight I am going to go through my albums on my iPod and try to force myself to listen to them entirely. I may just be surprised by what I discover.
Let me know your opinion on this. Do you listen to whole albums? Or do you not even really care?