Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Era Where Albums Meant Something, Is Over: The State of Music Today

So over the weekend I came across an article from 2012 on Yahoo News - Yahoo News, which as a site is hardly informative and contains pure trash-, and to my interest, via The Associated Press, writer Mesfin Fekadu highlights one of the reasons why the music scene today is so terrible.

RnB and rap acts who cross-over to pop music, in order to make and earn more money by getting their songs, videos across to mainstream audiences. Pop acts release song after song after song, backed up by a video to accompany it. They have top 10, top 5 singles in the UK, US and other countries. Hit records - sadly, you only need 1 to become successful, and worryingly by the music industry standards, if you have 1 or 2 good singles, then you wouldn't need to have a good or great album with 8, 10 other songs on it.

20, 30, well 40 years ago, the word 'album' used to mean something. The album aka the LP used to be an outlet for artists and musicians to produce and showcase their musical ability and the quality of the production, all-round beyond the EP/single. If you heard 1, 2 songs from your favourite group, singer or rapper, you'd go out and support them by purchasing their album and listen to it, endlessly. When you had that 1 hit song in the charts, you'd sell 1 million or more albums.

But today, the pop stars, R&B singers - for the exception of say the underground, lesser known artists- don't seem to care for or acknowledge the album and the importance of the purpose of releasing an album for their fans. And yet albums today, for the exception of say Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyonce & Adele, are not selling in their millions.

So therefore we should ask, what is the problem? 

Well for one, artists and the music industry as a whole erroneously believe they can live on and feed off their success by relying on catchy, hit-making songs and release a product of 12, 15 songs, where 4, 5 of them are good, and the rest of the songs are instantly forgettable.

Secondly, the other problem is related to the consumer: why, after listening the album in full online, via Youtube, and deciding you don't like some of the songs or the album, would you want to spend $9.99, £9.99 or more on a 10, 12 track album, when you don't like those songs? You'd rather have the individual songs right, unless you do like all of those songs and you would go out and purchase the LP. 

I don't buy albums anymore. I feel the quality of the productions - judging by the material moreso than the sound production- are not the same as it was all those years ago. And back then, we didn't have all that advanced technology- but that was a great thing, because it was used sparingly during mainstream pop and it didn't over-saturate and flood the market. Nor was it mass-produced.

The third problem is the lack of diversity - almost every song in the charts and on the radio has the same generic, auto-tune, electro- pop, dance sound. Very rarely can you distinguish the various musical genres in terms of sound. Mainstream RnB sounds so far removed from what it used to be in the 90s. The soulfulness, the silky smooth sounds have been replaced by euro-dance, David Guetta - infused like offerings, which have stripped away R&B's authenticity and realness, which has its roots in and takes influences from gospel, funk, and soul music.

Of all the genres today excluding Pop, RnB is the one genre which has it worse, because, it used to be the music that spoke for and represented the Black people, echoing their experiences, feelings in love, relationships, life. But now, they make music for the sake of making money. RnB is not the same, any more. They are not in it for the craft and to develop that craft and artistry. & with that, if one's mindset is to make a quick buck, then it means, his/hers artistry is stiffled and therefore, it cannot develop any further. 

It further underlines the problematic issue and dilemma that R&B and rap artists seem to find themselves in: R&B has an identity and as a genre, it has numerous musical conventions and characteristics but whereas it is trying to move forward, with technology playing a role, (no) thanks to the overuse of auto-tuning, it is to an extent, hindering that process.

I'd say R&B is having an identity crisis of its own, and frankly, it is the mainstream record industry, who are accountable for its demise.  

Yet R&B and hip hop artists themselves are having to decide whether to sacrifice their creativity and 'sell out' to the masses to generate more income by releasing singles, - or remain true to themselves as artists and on a creative level by releasing an album of extensive material that exemplifies the quality and range, musically.

The music industry ought to be struggling, failing; it is only because of the industry's recently embracing digital downloads and technology that it is still going strong. If not as strong as it was during say the 1980s and 1990s.

Is the music industry singles- driven more-so than album sales, worldwide tours, gigs etc? I'd say yes it is, and that is an utter shame, but also it is a saddening indictment of what the industry has become of. It's all too apparent the industry cares more about quantity, as opposed to quantity. It's all numbers, sales. Quality is a rarity, and besides, most of the quality songs and acts tend to be independent-related, not commercially driven.

U.S singer, producer and songwriter Ne-Yo insists it is not the fault of the record label people that the music business is so singles- driven, but the artists themselves. I disagree with him. If the record label is telling the artist/singer/group what songs to sing, release, and yet the artists cannot be bothered to put out an above average LP and it has mediocre sales, then whose fault is that then?

And equating million - selling singles to low selling albums from the same artist, is a rather silly comparison. I wouldn't say that is a failure by any means, but that is not to say that having consecutive top 5 singles, number 1 singles makes an artist successful in the long run. Because it isn't.... and it surely shouldn't be that case. Relying on only top 10, top 5 singles when say, they don't sell beyond 10,000 copies, is a recipe for disaster.

People knocked 1980s and 1990s pop music, and some still do- but the truth is, unlike the 00s and today's scene, there were plentiful of wonderful albums, as well as hit singles by so many artists and groups. Even some of the boy bands had a few good LPs, such as the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. They didn't just have the top 5 singles, but also the multi-million albums as well to back up their success. 

But right now? What album has sold as many copies as Michael Jackson's Thriller, Prince's Sign O' Times, Madonna's Like A Prayer, The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club? Name one. You couldn't, because it hasn't happened. Yet.

However, the days when artists, groups had consecutive multi-platinum selling albums, is long gone, and until the music industry and the scene changes its ways and the songs aren't all generic-sounding, auto-tuned, then it will take years for the success of the album format to flourish, again.

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