Saturday, January 03, 2004

Long live the single

The splendidly titled "Chicago Boyz" have a good article on the return of the single. It comes from a Dallas News piece that notes, among other things,
Unlike brick-and-mortar record stores that deal mostly in full-length CDs, the Internet stores focus on songs. At iTunes, single downloads are outselling albums roughly 15-to-1.

"It's a song economy now," says iTunes spokesman Chris Bell. "Consumers have come to expect it through illegal file sharing and CD burning, and we're making sure every song is available for individual downloading."

The company's slogan – "iTunes is designed for instant gratification" – points to the biggest reason why albums may be withering. With attention spans shrinking and music outlets multiplying (on TV, satellite radio and in cyberspace), people aren't as willing to sit through an entire album as they were in the past.
A more plausible reason than a general degredation in people's mental ability (especially those darn young people!) is that singles offer better value than albums, so why not get those instead (note -- albums provide better value than singles for CD shops because of physical distribution costs, but online it's different).

The piece also has this quote for dear old Lars Ulrich
Some high-profile musicians insist that the album – not the song – is the be-all of pop music, and they argue that fans shouldn't be able to carve random pieces off an album any more than readers should be able to buy one chapter of a book.

"We have to be the ones who decide what happens to our music," says Lars Ulrich of Metallica. "We conceive entire albums, and I'm not gonna give it to you in any other form than the one I conceive. ... You can dissect it after that if you want, but at least you have to respect our choice."
The idea that the artist has some sort of inalienable right to his work, a right which cannot be sold, actually has some legal teeth in Europe where it is referred to as an artist's "moral right". IIRC, under "moral rights" you could not buy a painting off an artist and then modify the painting by, say, touching it up with a markerbelieveeive that some artists feel that their moral right extends to the frame the painting comes in. Needless to say, artists can add whatever clauses they wish when selling their work, but the law establishing an inalienable right, which cannot be bartered away, impoverishes artists who don't give a damn what frame their painting is in, especially if that means they can get the buyer to pay a little more for it. Or musicians who don't care if their work is sold as singles, or in album sized blocks.

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