Jon Bon Jovi told the London Sunday Times magazine that iPods and other digital mediums have destroyed the business, saying, “Kids today have missed the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, closing their eyes and getting lost in an album; and the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on the jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like…God, it was a magical, magical time. A generation from now people are going to say: ‘What happened?’ “ He added, “Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business.”
Jobs actually saved what was left of the music industry by helping artists find a way to monetize what was left after illegal downloading nearly finished it off. Though digital technology finished killing off the music album of our beloved past, it certainly didn’t start here. Remember making mixed tapes for your friends and lovers? “Theme” tapes were popularized in the 80’s when recordable audiocassettes became widely available. Couples would pull their albums off the shelf and select songs that helped them express how they really felt for that special someone. Others would make party tapes of the greatest hits, recording off the radio, off other tapes, and of course off vinyl albums. My brother would argue that the gleaning of thematic or top-rated songs from albums happened even earlier in time, as his friend’s father was a D.J. in the 70’s and used his reel to reel machine to create mixes, but notice I’ve used the word “popularized” to describe the recording of mixes in the 80’s, as production of this blank recording media took off.
In Canada, recording artists demanded that the government add a special surcharge to each blank tape sold, called a Private Copying Levy that is set by the Copyright Board of Canada and currently collected by the Canadian Private Copying Collective. Still, music lovers everywhere abused, and continue to abuse the privilege to make a personal private copy of their albums. CD ripping and digital file sharing has just amplified the “pick and choose” landscape that had already begun with the proliferation of making mixed collections on blank cassette tapes.
Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the old music album of our youth. Can you genuinely name a recent album that has come close to the ones we worshipped way back when? I’m not knocking today’s music. I just think we’ve entered a new era of “singles”, “doubles”, and maybe if the music is hot enough, “triples”. So, what did those long albums have back then, that others today don’t? Two of my favourites, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love both tell stories throughout their albums. This single narrative weaving its way through the entire album had a cohesiveness that would have been sacrilege to separate. But, do today’s youth listen to albums the same way we did? Research shows more than ever, that youth are prone to flipping through music, often not even finishing a song before going on to the next. The music trough is so full and the market so saturated with choice, that when you combine the wide availability with the way hyper-mediated youth switch their attentions so much quicker than we did, the dying of the music album seems like an obvious end.
So, what’s left then? The simple answer is the consumptive experience. Bon Jovi is just going to have to get used to hitting the road for more tours, ‘cause that’s where the money’s at.
(photo courtesy of: By Maxime Felder (originally posted to Flickr as iPod Battle 2) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)