Popular Band Doing Away With Album Concept, Continuing Evolution of Music Business Paradigm


The band that brought you such ear-pleasing anthems as "Creep" and "Karma Police" announced this week that it plans to stop making albums, and focus on singles. Interesting concept, and it might prove fruitful. Although, I fear my life would have been far less enjoyable had Born to Run been released as a series of unconnected singles. On the upside, we probably never would have been introduced to Chris Gaines if the album concept hadn’t existed — so I guess it’s a push. At any rate, The New York Times has the story:

So, when Mr. Yorke announced a change of course for the band, saying it planned to stop making full-length records and turn its attention to singles, it sounded like an epitaph for the album, the broken backbone of the record industry’s longtime business model.

“None of us wants to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again,” Mr. Yorke told the Believer, a literary magazine based in San Francisco. “Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with ‘In Rainbows’ because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us.”

Radiohead’s shift to singles reflects a change in music fans’ preferences. Instead of buying whole albums, they now stream or download just the songs they want. That, along with unauthorized copying, has decimated industry revenues.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, U.S. sales of albums, in physical and digital form, fell 14 percent last year, continuing a multiyear decline. While consumers bought more than a billion individual digital tracks in the United States, which accounts for a majority of online sales worldwide, they bought only 65 million digital albums in 2008.

Efforts are under way to try to make albums less of a drag. Apple and the major record companies are reportedly working on projects to include liner notes, lyrics, artwork, music videos and other extras with digital downloads.

They could start by examining Radiohead’s experiment with “In Rainbows.” The band’s publisher, Warner Chappell, reported that more than three million copies of the album were distributed in the first year, in digital and physical formats. Some people paid nothing, but the album still made more money than either of the band’s previous two records, Warner Chappell said. And the marketing buzz from the “pay what you want” model helped drive the CD to the top of the charts.

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