Death of the Album

If the future is streaming, what place is there in the future for the self-contained unit known as “the album”?

Jason Notte provides the sobering statistics:

Juniper Research finds that digital music industry will see worldwide revenue grow from $12.3 billion this year to $13.9 billion in 2019. Juniper’s research indicates that even that growth hinges on the streaming music sector bringing in more cash as sales of digital downloads, ringtones and ringback tones continue to plummet. …

That growth comes as any album that isn’t released on vinyl dies a horrible death. Nielsen Soundscan equates 2,000 streams to one album, but even with that in the equation, album sales are down 3.3% through June. Take streaming out of the mix and you’re looking at a 14.3% drop from the same time last year. The nearly 20% drop in compact disc sales over the last year is almost expected as CDs continue their post-’90s free fall, but the 11.6% drop in digital album sales and 13% drop in digital track sales is far more troubling.

Digital download sales fell for the first time last year and aren’t coming back. People aren’t loading up their smartphones with songs anymore and aren’t carrying iPods anymore.

That’s not great news for the music industry, which uses digital track sales as a crutch to limp toward respectable numbers. When you factor in “Track Equivalent Albums” — a stat that equates 10 of an artist’s tracks with one album — Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Lorde and Beyonce all had albums sell 1 million copies and go platinum this year. Take those individual tracks away and reduce album sales to strictly physical and digital albums in their entirety, and suddenly Beyonce, Lorde, Coldplay and Eric Church are the only artists to go gold and break 500,000 sales this year. The only album to go platinum by that measure? The soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen, with 2.7 million copies sold in the first six months of 2014.

According to Nielsen, album sales of any kind plummeted from 755 million copies in 1999 to just 290 million last year. Compact disc sales have fallen steadily from 730 million in 2000 to just 165 million last year. This year, the Frozen soundtrack was the only digital album to sell 1 million copies — or even more than 350,000.

Meanwhile, even as digital track sales fall, singles sales remain strong. Pharrell’s Happy sold 5.6 million copies in just six months. Katy Perry and Juicy J’s Dark Horse broke 4 million, but even artists a bit further down the chart are more representative of what anyone’s actually listening to. DJ Snake, Iggy Azalea, Bastille and Aloe Blacc are absent from the first-half album charts, but all sold more than 2 million copies of their singles Turn Down For WhatFancyPompeii and Man.

Move it over to on-demand streaming, and those 2 million to 5 million sales turn into 40 million to 65 million audio streams and 70 million to 120 million video streams. Psy’s Gangnam Style still managed 69 million video streams this year after making more than $1 million off of streaming royalties alone last year. Google CEO Larry Page watched Psy’s viral hit rake in $2 per 1,000 pageviews and called it “a glimpse of the future.” By that measure, the 122 million views Perry’sDark Horse received through June adds up to $244,000 alone. It isn’t seven figures, but it’s a whole lot of cash for one song doing six months of work.

He concludes:

As the music industry continues to gravitate away from an ownership model and toward its streaming future, it’ll take any gains it can get. A robust streaming ecosystem is great for everyone involved, but if cannibalization limits both artist and label options, the same losses plaguing physical album sales and digital album and track sales now could kneecap streaming in the not-so-distant future.

Note that, oddly enough, the Frozen album is available on vinyl, as some people still insist that it is the only way to buy music.

Yet Another Top Albums List

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Brad’s post below on his Top 101 albums of the rock era got me thinking about my favorite albums of the same era.  And given his hopes that we all do a similar post, I’m only too happy to oblige now given a few free hours and an overwhelming urge to write something (that’s not job related, which I get enough of Monday-Friday and often times on weekends). 

 

I’ve discussed elsewhere that coming up with a list of five or ten desert island discs would be nearly impossible for me.  If I was a secret agent under interrogation, a knowledgeable interrogator could easily get actionable intelligence from me by simply trying to force me to come up with such a list.  Thus, I’m not going to restrict this list to any particular number of albums.

 

On the other hand, I am going to put one restriction on this list – I’m not going to list anything I’ve first heard in 2013.  For me, it takes time to fully digest great works of art, and thus all of these albums here will be ones that have stood the test of time for me.  This will eliminate some great albums from the list, such as English Electric 2 by Big Big Train, Riverside’s spectacular Shrine of New Generation Slaves, and other great releases from a year that is shaping up to be one of incredible abundance for excellent prog rock.  It will also eliminate albums such as Spirt of Eden by Talk Talk and Tick Tock by Gazpacho, neither of which I had actually heard until a few months ago.  Nevertheless, all of the releases mentioned in this paragraph are extremely likely to end up on a future edition of this list. 

 

Finally, here and there, I will add a few notes about some of the albums on the list.  Maybe to give some insight as to why I like them, maybe an interesting fact about them … who knows.  The reasons will hopefully be self-evident. 

 

Genre-wise, the list will cover a lot more than just prog, but generally will stay within the realm of rock.  This will eliminate some other favorite albums, such as two excellent releases of instrumental flamenco guitar by the late Italian guitarist Gino D’ Auri.  It will also eliminate some classical guitar oriented albums by Steve Hackett that I otherwise like very much.

 

Anwyay, without further adieu, my list:

 

AC/DC – Back in Black

Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic

Aerosmith – Rocks

Aerosmith – Rock in a Hard Place (this is a *very* underrated album among Aerosmith fans, in my opinion, probably since it was the only one without Joe Perry.  But Jimmy Crespo did a bang-up job in his role, and this album flat out rocks.  As an Amazon reviewer noted, it’s “criminally underrated.”)

Arena – The Visitor

The Beatles – Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Big Big Train – English Electric, Part 1

Big Big Train – The Underfall Yard

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Black Sabbath – Sabotage

Black Sabbath – The Mob Rules

The Cult – Electric

The Cult – Sonic Temple

Days of the New I (sometimes referred to as ‘Yellow’)

Days of the New II (sometimes referred to as ‘Green’.  This album came out in autumn, 1999, around the time I was going through a divorce from my first wife. As you can imagine, I was a whirlwind of emotions.  This album both resonated with me and grounded me during that time.  It’s also spectacularly good).

Drive By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera

Drive By Trucker – The Dirty South (If you’ve ever lived south of the Mason-Dixon line for any extended length of time and like raw, gritty music, then these two albums are for you).

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – Trilogy

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (one of the best pop albums ever.  It showed that ‘pop’ and ‘quality’ need not be mutually exclusive.  I swear my opinion here is in no way swayed by the fact that Stevie Nicks was a strong celebrity crush of mine in the late ’70’s … no, really … ok, maybe a little)

The Flower Kings – Space Revolver

Gazpacho – Night

Genesis – Selling England by the Pound

Genesis – A Trick of the Tail

Genesis – Wind and Wuthering

Glass Hammer – Perilous

Grateful Dead, Charlotte, 3-23-1995 (This isn’t officially an album, but rather a bootleg recording of the only Grateful Dead show I ever attended.  While I was nothing close to being a Deadhead, it was a great show, and I can certainly understand why The Dead had so many dedicated fans.  One additional note – Bruce Hornsby sat in on piano that night).

Heart – Little Queen

Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind

Iron Maiden – Powerslave

Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual

Jefferson Airplane – The Worst of Jefferson Airplane (yes, a greatest hits album, but what a great collection of songs here).

Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick

Jethro Tull – Warchild

Jethro Tull – Minstrel in the Gallery

Jethro Tull – Songs from the Wood

John Cougar Mellencamp – Scarecrow

Jon and Vangelis – Short Stories

Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow

Jon Anderson – Song of Seven

Jon Anderson – Change We Must

Judas Priest – British Steel

Kansas – Leftoverture

Kansas – Point of Know Return

Kerry Livegren – Seeds of Change

King Crimson – In The Court of the Crimson King

Led Zeppelin – III

Led Zeppelin – IV

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

Led Zeppelin – Presence (It would seem strange to call a band as lauded as Led Zeppelin ‘underrated’, but I think the label applies.  They did music that falls into so many different genres, from bluesy music such as ‘When The Levee Breaks’, to prog-tinted stuff such as ‘Stairway to Heaven’, ‘Kashmir’ and ‘In The Light’, to folky stuff such as ‘The Battle of Evermore’ and ‘Gallows Pole’ to flat out rockers such as ‘Rock and Roll’ and ‘Out on the Tiles’ … and they did them all extremely well).

Lone Justice – their self-titled debut.  (Their cowpunk sound was a little bit ahead of it’s time, and if they had debuted in the mid-90’s or later when the alt-country wave hit, they might still be around.  Also, it’s entirely possible my opinion here is swayed a bit again by the celebrity crush thing, the object of which being lead singer Maria McKee)

Marillion – Script for a Jester’s Tear

Marillion – Clutching at Straws

Marillion – Brave (this was an album that didn’t click with me on the first few listens, and I set it aside.  Years later I picked it up again, gave it a good listen, and was blown away, wondering how I missed it the first time around.  A true masterpiece).

Montrose – their self-titled debut.

The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed

Mother Love Bone – a self-titled album.  (One really wonders how music history would have been different if the lead singer of this Seattle-based band, the flamboyant Andrew Wood, hadn’t succumbed to his demons and died of a heroin overdose on the verge of releasing their debut album in 1990.  There almost certainly would have been no Pearl Jam, and I wonder if the grunge thing would have ever taken off, given that Mother Love Bone’s sound was nothing like that of the other bands of the same time and place).

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Live Rust

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Weld (both live albums, and thus compilations, but both are very good.  In fact, I think most of the songs on these albums sound better live than in the studio).

Paul Simon – Graceland

Pearl Jam – Vitalogy

Pete Townshend – Empty Glass

Pete Townshend – White City (a ridiculously underrated album)

Pink Floyd – Meddle

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

The Police – Syncrhonicity 

Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet

Queen – News of the World

R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant

Renaissance – Novella

Renaissance – Turn of the Cards

Riverside – Rapid Eye Movement (I thought of this album as pretty good when I first listened.  I’ve re-assessed lately, and now realize it’s great, the best of the ‘Reality Dream’ trilogy in my opinion).

Riverside – Anno Domini High Definition

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

Rush – 2112

Rush – A Farewell to Kings

Rush – Hemispheres

Rush – Permanent Waves

Rush – Moving Pictures

Rush – Grace Under Pressure

Rush – Power Windows

Rush – Clockwork Angels

Rush – Exit Stage Left (a great live album)

Saga – World’s Apart

Simple Minds – Once Upon A Time (Another album that proved ‘pop’ and ‘quality’ need not be mutually exclusive.  This album had some exceptionally strong melodies).

Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

Steve Hackett – Voyage of the Acolyte

Steve Hackett – Spectral Mornings

Tool – Lateralus

Tool – 10,000 Days

Trevor Rabin – Can’t Look Away

U2 – War

Van Halen – Fair Warning (another very underrated album)

Wang Chung – To Live and Die in LA Soundtrack

The Who – Tommy

The Who – Who’s Next

The Who – Quadrophenia

The Who – Who Are You

Yes – The Yes Album

Yes – Fragile

Yes – Close to the Edge

Yes – Going for the One

Yes – Drama