I don’t wanna rock, iTunes DJ, but you’re making me feel so nice…
Sometimes I feel like I’m a little behind the rest of the world, when it comes to music consumption. I still spend the majority of my hard-earned money on CDs, and hurry home in anticipation, to sit and listen to them, in full, while devouring the album art and liner notes. Admittedly, I do then import them into my iTunes library, and transfer the files onto my iPod, but then the CD is placed, alphabetically, amongst all of my other CDs, and from time to time I’ll pull a couple out and listen to them on the stereo. That is, after all, their purpose.
The CD, like the vinyl LP that came before it, is created to be listened to from start to finish. With pop acts, particularly, it’s common to find CDs “frontloaded”, with all the singles placed at the beginning of the tracklisting, and many of the songs towards the end more like low-quality filler. The idea behind this is that the popular music consumer had bought the album in order to listen to the singles – the tracks with which they are already familiar – and after that they’ll either tune out, or turn the CD off, satisfied.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, but even “indie” or “legitimate” artists will hide the lesser-quality tracks towards the end of their album – think Kaiser Chiefs’ “What Did I Ever Give You?”, easily the weakest track on Employment, hidden at track nine. But in today’s iTunes culture, it’s not quite hidden anymore.
I’m not going to get into the whole “albums are dead” discussion. Instead, with the change in music consumption, let’s think about how the way that we listen to albums has changed. These days, when people acquire an album, be it a legal purchase from a shop, or the iTunes store, or by slightly less legal means, generally the first thing they do is put it on iTunes.
Perhaps they still do listen to it in the correct order, from beginning to end. But then, iTunes also has that wonderful shuffle function. When playing music from the computer, many people will just put on the “iTunes DJ”, which is just as likely to pick the weaker tracks from an album, as it is the top selling single. These tracks are no longer buried amongst higher quality pieces of music, but are expected to stand on their own.
Many figures within the music industry are willing to agree that the album format is changing. Ash are copping some criticism, after claiming that albums are dead, deciding to release a series of singles instead, and then releasing the first collection of singles on CD … something that closely resembles an album.
But, perhaps they’ve got the right idea. While a compilation of songs available on CD may seem like an album, these songs weren’t written to be an album. They were all written as singles. There are no duds hidden at track eleven, in the hope that the listener will grow bored before then. Each track is its own, and has been written to be consumed as such. Perfect for the iTunes shuffle.