Katy Perry’s ‘Prism’ a Good Example of How Albums Don’t Work Anymore

Katy Perry

Media cannot be limited to the album release date. It must be a 24/7, 365-day-a-year effort

The album is dying in front of our very eyes.

In other words, what kind of screwed up world do we live in where Katy Perry’s new album “Prism” sells only 287,000 copies in its debut? One in which everybody’s interested in the single, and no one’s got time to sit and hear your hour-plus statement.

This is not emotion, this is statistics. The shelf life of news is shorter than ever. The shelf life of art. … You blink and it’s done.

I’m fine with you preaching to the choir, making an album for your fans. You gotta go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do. But if your plan is to increase your audience, spread the word and make money, suddenly the album just isn’t working anymore. The youngsters are streaming singles and the oldsters are staying home.

How do I know? Elton’s album isn’t even in the top 50, and McCartney’s album barely broke 20,000 this week, and there wasn’t a better oldster hype than for these two projects. People just don’t want ’em.

So what’s the industry to do? Have a rethink.

In other words, hype doesn’t work.

No one had more hype than Miley Cyrus, but “Bangerz” didn’t even sell 45,000 copies in its fourth week of release. She can go on “SNL,” tweet her life away, but it’s not moving the needle. Lorde is selling as much as Miley without the benefit of scorched earth, proving quality music is as good as hype. But Lorde isn’t burning up the chart either.

We’ve turned into a nation of grazers. And the artist’s job is to constantly be at the smorgasbord. Not to deliver one big meal that is picked at and thrown away, but to constantly provide tantalizing bites to the public.

Media cannot be limited to the album release date. It must be a 24/7, 365-day-a-year effort. Same with creativity. If your track gets traction, more power to you. If it doesn’t, go back in the studio and make more. In other words, if you’re sitting at home bitching that you’re not making any money because the Internet stole your business, you’re RIGHT! There are so many diversions that no one’s got time for mediocre anymore.

If you’ve got a concept album, go ahead and record it. If you’re only interested in selling a little, be my guest. But if you want to penetrate the consciousness of a large group of people and grow the pie, an album isn’t working. Hell, it’s not even working as a revenue model!

Labels are no longer in the record business, they’re in the star business. How to maximize the revenue of an individual or band in as many media as possible, in as many ways as possible. Yes, while you were bitching about piracy, your whole business model disappeared.

You put out these albums, and in almost every case, the public moves on in a matter of WEEKS. A few bought it, they heard it, and they’re satisfied — and left waiting for years until you grace them with a new release. The rest of the public is just waiting for a hit single to burble, and if it does, they’ll tap their toes and snap their fi ngers and ask, “WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU GOT?” And what you’ve got had better be just as good as the hit.

No one wants album tracks anymore unless they’re every bit as satisfying as the hit.

So it’s not only classic rock acts who have stopped putting out albums; eventually, no one will do it. Oh, it won’t be soon, because artists think making albums is part of their DNA, going into the studio and making a 10-track statement.

But that’s like saying typewriters have to be an office fixture. And you can’t post online unless you write in multiple paragraphs. And texting must be abandoned because it’s not in-depth enough.

The goal of a musician is to be AHEAD of the audience. Right now everybody’s behind.

Read more Bob Lefsetz columns at Lefsetz.com.

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    1. Brian says:

      It’s not that CD’s don’t work. Or that concept albums have not worked in the last 20 years. It’s that Katie Perry is not talented enough to even make a cohesive album. Roar is an example. You heard it right “Roar, roar , roar” Thats one of the lyrics. Her music is for 10 year olds. I”m not kidding. What happening is liberals journalist are going around pretending that they have the pulse of music buyers. They write so many I hate Katy Perry articles I love Katy Perry articles people don’t make good buying decision.

      Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, One Direction. And many more bad pop musicians are being marketed by Record company execustives who should be fired. ASAP.

      The current trend of bad pop music,which is poorly written, poorly executed, with no feel. That music is music for people who don’t like music.

      I think that Rock fans should demand that record companies stop signing these crappy so called artist.

      They should fire each of the horrible hundreds of bad pop musicians.

      They are destroying music. There aint one Eddie Van Halen amongst them. Not one Alex Van Halen amongst. Not one Styx or Randy Rhoads amongst them.

      Talentless losers.

    2. Frank says:

      Looking back at this stupid article…PRISM is 5x platinum.

    3. This is true but hard to swallow. Seriously, we are going backwards. The 50’s 60’s were all about the single and it wasn’t til the 70’s that “album rock” starting showing up. People were tired of being shallow and they started to invest more. Than crappy albums with filler come along a ruin it for everyone. Now we are back to the primitive days of yesteryear. Good job America.

      But I have hope because everything goes in cycles. Right now, the single is king but it won’t be too terribly long before people want more out of their relationships with music.

      • I hope you’re right. I really do. Growing up pre-internet, I miss subtlety, attention span, album tie-in’s, charisma. What we have now is a continuous karaoke of vocal acrobatics, crotch sniffing, and petulance.

      • David T. says:

        I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily anything inherently inferior about singles. And one could even make the argument that there’s some historical revisionism going on, that albums (as we’ve come to immortalize them today) were never as widely popular as we believe them to be…and even then, only for a relatively short period of time.

    4. maybe listeners are sick of pop garbage getting pushed on them, and, now the sales and our attitudes reflect it.

      • David T. says:

        Incredibly naive. There’s no more “pushing” than there is simply providing what the majority of people want. There are enough people out there interested in music outside of Top 40. If more people were interested, they’d stop voluntarily sharing the “pop garbage” on Facebook and find something new.

        • andrea twerkin says:

          No offense, but that’s complete bulls***, most people don’t know what they want, which is why they listen to the radio/pandora/whatever other service they can find to provide them with material they think they might like. That’s tha entire basis of radio play, it has nothing at all to do with whats objectively/statistically popular, its just the result of the willingness of record labels to spend money on their artists demanding a certain number of plays/day in a given area/demographic; this is the reason why there are virtually no specific hip-hop/r&b stations outside of urban areas, or likewise no old country or christian music-centered stations outside of rural & heavily suburban areas.

          Anyway, to an extent I agree with this article, but unfortunately there are too many flaws in its argument to entirely approve of. For example, the author naively & incorrectly equates “singles” with “best songs” or “most well-constructed compositions” instead of the more accurate descriptor of “most marketable at a given place in a given time”; thereby the author comes to the same deeply flawed conclusion that producer/murderer phil spector arrived at during his career, which is that albums consist only of one or two good songs and nine to ten songs of middling filler, an opinion as shallow & unaware as it is narrow-minded/preoccupied predominantly with pop music.
          Likewise, the author fails completely to acknowledge the much more likely possibility that the recent failure of albums to be profitable has entirely more to do with changing conceptions of intellectual property & copyright law & growing disgust & resentment toward centralized creative industries like the music industry, the film industry, etc. & less to do with the format of the album as a marketable economic entity.

    5. Dónal says:

      Pop music can go whatever way it so wishes, but artists should not have to sacrifice or compromise their art because the public now has the attention span of a goldfish. The album always has been, and always will be, the ultimate statement of musical expression. Even if no one wants to listen that doesn’t make the statement any less valid.

      • David Toyos says:

        Uh, I love the album as a medium as much as anyone, but can you really make that bold a statement about a medium that hasn’t been around that long in the scheme of things?

    6. dman says:

      The sole reason why albums are not selling well anymore is because there is nothing that appeals the eye more than really quality music, and that music is not in the hands of the big music enterprises anymore, look at how Taylor’s Swift albums go on selling more than a million copies first week – that’s more than gaga, eminem, celine dion, mcartney first latests weeks combined!- but you have to remember she comes from the little company that could Big Machine Records AND SHE STILL MANAGES EVERYTHING FROM THERE, she still has a foot set on nashville and keeps things really cozy and intimate in her albums, providing that excellent SONGWRITING is above anything else. Is perry doing that? Is gaga? Is Miley doing that? No. If the music industry wants the pubblic attention again it has to return to the old school young artists’ quality that has played really well for today’s big album sellers.

    7. Silvestre says:

      In 2007 I bought the First 1990 Album MCMXCAD by ENIGMA, I love music, BUt this years, Katy, Gaga, Miley, Avril, sounds so repetitive, I decide to buy: Mouby Inocents, and Schiller Opus and Within Temptation, Lara Fabian, and other, if you ask me why, I dont Know how to explain like this text does.

    8. Linda Kenis says:

      As an elderly folk musician, I should lament, but, I don’t! Glenn
      Gould, of all people predicted decades ago that records, and indeed concerts would become obsolete, or rare at least. No point banging on about the past. It’s over. Let’s make singles!

    9. Derek Brown says:

      The album model will keep standing because it works out for well known bands & artists, the reason? It’s the time they can spare to take out from their real money makers, touring. Besides merchandise touring the only other form of income they have. With rampant internet sharing, the art is no longer the money maker in the model, it just used to hype tours and sell t-shirts. The days of mega artists is on the way of the dinosaur as less and less bands will be able to support massive tours and the fan bases they grow from them. It’s hard to start the ball rolling with merch and there is no money in creating recordings, it’s a vicious cycle. As far as poor record sales out of the 100’s of thousands of people that bought them millions will get it for free. Always keep this in mind. Unless we support out favorite artists/bands by buying their stuff we doom them to disappear.

    10. Terry Ely says:

      It’s a known fact that you reap what you sow. The music business did this to themselves by allowing junk and nonsinging non talented people to saturate the charts. I am a lover of music. Good music, music that’s real, be it Babyface or ColdPlay, Carrie Underwood or Celine Dion. Ariana G is the best thing that happened to music in a very long time! COUNTRY MUSIC NEVER LOST ITS WAY IN MY OPINION. GREAT SONGS,GREAT SINGERS,CLASS ACTS. If the powers that be put out something good, something tangible,something worth listening to, i would buy it. I am a lover of real music! Sex sells to a certain degree and all these women showing there tails have caught up with them! Sade never lost any of her followers. What’s truly next? Will somebody commit suicide on stage for shock value? Lets get back to real good music in every genre! My inspiration is Kenny Babyface Edmonds and my favorite female of all time was Whitney Houston.The key is good music,i could put on there music and listen to ten great or at least good songs.Nobody wants one great song and nine songs that sucks. Give me at least five or six songs i can stand to actually listen to. Music is a beautiful gift,it’s just a shame the wrong people are in charge of it.Thanks, TME

    11. Robert Gray Songs says:

      So true. I love Donny Hathaway Anita Baker Darkin And Darkins the Wall Group Mary Mary albums that like Stevie Wonder that contained many hit tracks. Earth wind and fire and Micheal Jackson also have produced hole albums of great hits. Today that is less available this is the one hit wonder and fade away period mostly. I suggest we must get on board with writing lasting songs and music as well.

    12. Hank says:

      Useless write-up!
      You condemn everything and effort an artist puts into music yet offer no real alternatives. Utterly one-sided opinion. You forget live performances, merchandise and sponsorship deals help shift sales. Remember Jay-Z? The guy who shifted sales via Samsung?
      Real fans buy albums. Fake ones don’t.
      I know the artists I support and will buy their albums if quality is continual.

      • Andy M says:

        Straight onto the defensive and missing the point entirely. The article isn’t condemning anything, it’s merely shedding light on a harsh reality that a lot of people can’t see – or refuse to see. Live performances and merchandise do very little to shift albums. I am in a band, and I have friends who are in successful bands, and the points brought up in this article are something we’ve discussed the past year or two. Largely due to the Internet, I believe we’ve created a culture of instant gratification. I still buy albums when one of my favourite artists releases one, but I know VERY few other people who do. The majority of people I know make playlists from individual songs. Interest in albums is at an all time low. Sure, there are obviously still people like me and you around that enjoy the ritual of buying and listening to a new album, but we’re in the minority. More regular EPs, or a regular stream of singles seems to be the way forward for up and coming bands. It’s sad, but it’s true: recording albums is no long an effective way for new bands to build up a fan base and keep momentum going.

    13. Kevin says:

      The real reason albums don’t work anymore is we don’t have good songwriting anymore!! Not a lot of really good singer-songwriters in the biz today. Ones that can transcend the BS radio we have today!!

      • Andy M says:

        Kevin, I have heard this horsesh*t argument more times than I care to remember. Just because the songs in the charts are poor, does NOT mean that there are not still hundreds, nay thousands of fantastic artists out there writing brilliant songs. Just about any genre you can care to think of is still burning brightly – just not in plain view. Look and you’ll find.

    14. Rhasheene says:

      Wasn’t the original concept of making records to promote live shows? Like..Advertisements to go see the acts? How many times have you seen an act that doesn’t even stand up to the quality of the recording? What’s happened was that the so called Music Biz…got out of hand and made selling recording more important than the actual acts to the point that there were more Milli Vanilli’s out there than ever. Well..its over now. Real acts can now surface because the public has taken back what a bunch of greedy business men..aka..record execs made standard for a long time and no longer have control over. That’s what this whole issue of is REALLY ALL ABOUT! What I find in response to this article are actually a bunch of so called music business folk who no longer have their claws in artists at the expense of the Artist!

      Look at the old model of the music business where the last person to see a freakin dime was the person doing the MOST WORK! The Artist! He would have to recoup the entire cost of the record, only get 6 measly points or 1 measly cent on a record while the fat cats at the record company would live high on the hog, collecting 94 points of the profit while charging everything…I mean EVERYTHING to the artist like they were some kind of prostitute out on the streets for the label!

      Look at the business model you people are defending and then sit back and try to realize why its all been taken out of your greedy hands. Even the lawyers that would take up to 6 months to an entire year negotiating so called record deals practically eating up an artists entire advance at over $200 bucks an hour, and so called promotional departments all over the country eating up the majority of the album budget to the tune of almost a half a million dollars in some cases, only to pretty much throw the record up to the wall to see if it sticks! And when it didn’t the artist became nothing but a tax write off for the record company and a liability!

      Blame yourselves for that business model you became so comfortable with at the artists expense that has now been crushed by home studio advocates who can now create and distribute they’re product to the world minus Record Company Bullshit!

      As for artists? There is no time limit to create a good product. There’s Pro Tools, Cakewalk, Roland, Logic, and tons of Digital Work Stations that sound every bit as good as a money draining recording studios.

      There are no so called annual Quarters to have to rush crappy music out to the world because the record company exec’s need to eat. In todays industry model the Artist now has ultimate control and they have the option of who distributes they’re product after they make a nice buck on Youtube and Independent distribution as well as TV commercials and such. Get with it Mr. Record Industry… because it’s no longer about the Music Business….It’s about the Business of Making Music all over again. It’s gone full circle and unless you’re willing to make a personal investment in some gear to help cultivate an up and coming artist as a PARTNER in the new contemporary creative standards, your pretty much ass out I’d say!

      Oh Well..Mama used to say there’s always work at the Post Office!

    15. Giovanni Perini says:

      It’s an interesting article, but it ‘s not that 100 percent of music fans in the whole world like trash pop nowadays music, I hope there are people who enjoy some jazz, prog rock, ambient, cinematic lounge or soundtracks, let alone the new wave of rock…Why it always has to be “Katy Perry” or “Rihanna” ? I had it till here of those so -called singers

    16. Gary D. Jackson says:

      I’m split over Lefsetz’s article. The period we are in is nearly exactly the state the music industry was in during the Frankie Avalon/Fabian/Annette period of the early ’60s, when the concentration was on the single, not albums. It’s as plain as day what is needed: Another Beatles-type artist/group with super-strong lyrical content and arresting personalities. The Perrys, Lordes, Wanted, One Direction, Cyruses and country music/hip-hop overload does not rely on creativity – just vapid studio produced hits that one barely remembers when the song is over. And the disappearance of ANY black BAND – today’s Commodores, James Brown (yes, his band was perhaps the greatest ever), Rick James, Tony Toni Tone, Slave, Cameo Earth, Wind & Fire- where are you?!?! – on the charts dwindles any creative flame/spark that may possibly fan newer ideas and direction. I blame every A&R representative on every major label, as well as their bosses, for shutting out a whole generation of musicians of color while focusing on the Minaj/Drake single artist persona. Who is this generation’s John Hammond, Sr.? Clive Davis? Tom Dowd? Berry Gordy? Sadly, nowhere in sight – at least right now. Someone will wake up and take a stance that music may be a business, but it’s also one of the most creative forces on Earth. People will buy albums and CDs, They simply need a reason to buy QUALITY, not just showiness.

    17. This is one of the better articles explaining the paradigm shift in the music industry with regard to recording artists. Thanks much. – 10 Big Music Biz Mistakes – Then & Now Pt. 9 – http://wp.me/p3VDMI-3f

    18. Sam says:

      Have to say I agree with this article. Katy Perry’s last album had over a half a dozen top 10 tunes that people loved. Having heard her new album, she is going to have a very tough time repeating that feat. She has a number of good songs, but hits? I think four would be pushing it. As a result, the singles will sell – not the album as much.

    19. Daniel PJ says:

      So much music snobbery and so little common sense and true vision of what this criminal refusal to accept the truth and fix it is far more damaging to the music industry than some cheap pop acts.

      The album is on its knees because we as an audience don’t consume anything in long format anymore. And anybody denies this is a liar because in an honest world there is not one human being who can say that they bought more albums this year than they did ten years ago. You might listen to more albums for free on Pandora or Spotify – but you don’t buy them anymore – and that is part of the huge problem with music – all the money that kept the industry going in the past has been stolen by the tech industry and they are only feeding a tiny smidgen back in through the insult that they call royalties.

      The future of music is this – musicians record three songs and put them on social media or spotify and then whichever one gets most listens becomes the single – at that is it – there is so little money about that musicians will be struggling to even put out three songs, let alone an album – and those bedroom musicians who record crap songs in crap quality but have mastered social media so get an audience – they are not making the internet a wonderful hive of creative expression – they are drowning out the real talent who spend their time trying to play live to dwindling audiences and we are just left with two types of music – that made by people who want to be famous and see this as an easy route – and those who are too crap to play live but can create their own virtual pop stardom on the internet – neither of which produces good music, or live music or any kind of future for the album.

      It is very easy to pour scorn over an article like this which is clearly just using the highest profile flop to make a far more important point – but if you understand music you understand this – all the great records you love and have ever loved were funded by great big crappy pop records. There has to be mainstream pop music of little artistic merit to generate enough income to allow the many smaller indie bands and important musicians to do what they do – which more often than not does not even balance the books.

      Until the people who run music and the snobs on here are prepared to accept that there is a real problem and we are losing the album and need to find ways to save it – like boycotting Spotify and Pandora for a start, then iTunes and Amazon – there is no hope. Open your eyes and see the problem and then open your ears and think just how many great albums you have heard in the last year – and listened to in full…not as many as you first thought when you came on here to preach the word of the true music lover you are and we can’t possibly understand, is it.

    20. M. Smith says:

      Fuck off. The album is a great format for a satisfying listening experience. So what if it isn’t the best format for milquetoast pop stars. There’s still a place for it among and there always will be among musicians who matter. Bob Lefsetz, you insult music lovers with your sheer condescension towards artists and fans of the album format. Were I to meet you in public, I’d spit in your face.

      • Daniel PJ says:

        You are a moron and part of the problem. The point here is not if there is a place for it but if there is a market for it – and clearly there is not because people like you probably spend all day on Pandora or Spotify stealing music from musicians who get virtually no income from it. No income leads to no further records and no income leads to no money to tour and no live music and no record shops and you have the nerve to sit there in your world of illusion and act like a music lover. A music lover would be horrified at how their passion is being destroyed and bloody well do something about it rather than give the dumbass response you have in an important discussion that you don’t understand that needs to get out in to the mainstream to make sure your precious album has a future – which at present it does not.

        • Mike Smith says:

          Cute. I come back to this article years later and see you calling me out for stealing music. Guess what: I pay for my music Not sure where you got that from. I pay for it and have the CD collection to prove it. The guys at my local record store know me by name. Nice to see you go on a tare ripping into me when you don’t know the first thing about me as a listener. My world is no illusion. Chances are, given what you said, we’d probably get along and agree on a lot of things about the state of music (I too hold the opinion that people not paying ruined the industry). But given the way you jumped down my throat without any reason beyond your projecting onto me that which you hate, you can kindly get bent.

    21. Guest says:

      Complete rubbish in my opinion. Granted I stopped reading after the first few sentences, I will read on after this post and possibly detract my comment but you lost me at this…

      ‘One in which everybody’s interested in the single’

      Don’t you mean everybody who’s into Katy Perry? Not everybody. I don’t buy singles, the rich tapestry that an album can weave, the journey it can take you on for me, is part of an experience no single can provide.

      Yes, I agree the mainstream market is probably more suited to singles but what about artists such as Ben Frost, Mars Volta, Mumford & sons. A lot of time is spent during the mastering process and often before in the organisation of these songs in order to release the potential of coherency and dramatic contour of the album. So while you make a good point, I am hoping I look like a a dick at the by the end of reading this article and the comments I have made have been accounted for. Otherwise meh, I disagree, stop generalising based on the super rich super famous musicians.

      I think the single works for some, doesn’t work for others. Yeah Katy Perry (her management team) should perhaps consider other release avenues but that doesn’t mean EVERYONE should.

    22. Namon says:

      Sad, but perfectly stated :)

    23. Michael Wilbanks says:

      Music business should go on strike!! Then go back to work until some adjustments are made

    24. Keegan says:

      I’m not buying this. Especially given Bob Dylan’s recent success on the charts, for the past 16 years nearly every release–not just studio albums, either–have been top 10 charters. He’s had two number ones. Mumford has been doing great with the charts too. And I suppose you would suggest the same for film? To chop it up and release every day in 5 minute chunks because no one really has time for a two-hour statement? I think you’re just expressing a dislike of current pop, which I agree no one really likes. But the album is not dead. It never will die.

    25. Rhasheene says:

      Hey..How bout the fact that People don’t want Garbage Generic Music Shoved down their throats anymore by Old Clinging Record Execs that wouldn’t know a hit song if it jumped up and pooped in their faces? Or songs written by Record Execs relatives that really suck but get on an album anyway because some a&r dude is shoving it down they’re artists throats or no deal! Get with the program Geniuses…those days are OVER! A kid with a great idea can release it on Youtube and the industry has NO POWER OVER IT! That good ol’ ” I made you and I can break you” attitude is done! Tables have turned thanks to modern technology and THANK YOU GOD FOR THAT!~

    26. natemulder says:

      I have three counterpoints:

      Eminem
      Jay-Z
      Justin Timberlake

      each sold close to 1M albums their first week out. Katy Perry is just a shitty pop artist, and her music doesn’t have the passion and soul of the other artists. So, her album songs are very weak and only her singles are good. Shocker….

    27. I’d suggest that this is true of popular music but not classical, where audiences have more patience for a longer form. Consider Christopher Tin’s “Calling All Dawns,” an album best experienced from start to finish in one 45-minute session, allowing listeners to appreciate key changes and returning motives over the course of the whole album, which begins and ends with the same melodic idea.

      Similarly, Austin Wintory’s soundtrack to “Journey” topped the charts of multiple countries when it released, and it is also an album with cohesive thought and flow at the level of the entire album.

    28. Nick Robalik says:

      I’m confused. Are you really arguing for quantity over quality? Not that Katy Perry would qualify for the “quality” category, but that’s more or less what it reads like.

    29. Erik Cooper says:

      A bunch of commenters are looking at the fact that Katy Perry is mentioned as the prime example, and that’s actually pretty fair. The trouble here isn’t that it’s just Katy Perry, though. When Cake released Showroom of Compassion, it topped the charts that week, selling around 44,000 copies. That’s a chart topping album. I was one of those 44,000, and I was really happy with the disc. What does it mean when we’re having 44,000 sales determine the top album for the week? That’s pretty low by any measure. It’s not just Katy Perry, and it’s not just bubblegum pop that’s hitting this problem.

      Examples keep being made of Radiohead, The Decemberists, and various other indie-esque bands. Yes, I do own all of the albums from The Decemberists. Does that mean that their model is good or bad? Eh, it honestly doesn’t mean much either way. It means that I’m a fan. Do Katy Perry’s fans own all of her albums? I’d say that’s likely, if we take a fan to mean the same thing here as it does for a fan of, say, Judas Priest. It’s not the fans that declare what is successful, it’s the people on the periphery, those who buy the single off iTunes and put it on shuffle while they’re at the gym. Connoisseurship makes anything interesting for any length of time, but what makes a music career into a massive success is the ability to appeal to the non-core of your audience. An album with no singles doesn’t reach out, it only aims at fans. That’s fine for Autistic Youth, or for Dillinger Four. They have a market, they like their market, they rock that market. It’s not so great for bands which want to reach out.

      Let’s take Jonathan Coulton as a perfect example of success through non-albums. He released a song every week for a year on his website. They were available free to download, or for a donation of any amount. After the year completed, he compiled them into albums, leaving the singles there for anyone to peruse. What happened is that people saw 52 singles, and that was awesome; suddenly, the fans were in charge of the canon, not the artist. This, interestingly, led to his “hits” being a large portion of his catalog. I have never spoken to any of his fans who have purchased any of his albums, but many have all the songs from a particular album without being aware of it. I think, more than another statement of the world’s shortening attention span, this lends itself to society wanting to carve only the best bits from our media, customizing our lives.

      • Daniel PJ says:

        Best points on here – however, I don’t think that it is a good thing that the audience can chop and change what an artist produces. For decades we have been given a record which has been put together by an artists in a way that they want it to be experienced – by removing this element of the process, we are just relying on marketing men to find the biggest potential income – which is effectively what putting a song a week out does – you are not taking on any artistic responsibility and making the audience decide which of your creations are worthy of their time and then compiling them based on what will generate the most income and not which songs work together as a record or were recorded together. I think a musician should present a piece of work, be it a single, EP or album in a way that they want it experienced and not based on market research.

    30. Dennis Vogen says:

      I think this article is far more hurtful than helpful, and maybe someone who’s thinking strictly like a businessman shouldn’t work in a business where the commodity is art.

      This article is almost a parody.

      First off, you generalize. You imply that making a capital-A Album is the problem, instead of just making the real call: some of the albums suck. Just like some of the albums thirty years ago sucked. Like any other music listener, I’ve had my share of “What the hell is going on?” listening to a new album by an artist I loved (really, just pick one of the last couple Kings Of Leon or Strokes albums, and you’ll know what I’m talking about). But that’s not because “they were making a statement.” It’s because they were making a bad statement.

      Look at fun. or Imagine Dragons, who both made capitol-A Albums that both a) didn’t suck, and b) generated singles, and awards, and, yes, businessman, money.

      This article could literally just be one sentence: “Some artists are just not making strong music anymore, and for some crazy reason, people aren’t buying it.”

      There. That’s the article.

      People wised up and aren’t buying crap. It has nothing to do with “Oh! Our attention spans are so small now!” It doesn’t, and it’s ignorant and cynical to assume and proclaim so.

      In fact, I’m listening to the 1975’s new album on repeat. It’s fantastic.

      In-between cat videos, of course.

    31. SongbirdTEG says:

      I get what the writer is trying to say, but singles are just one way to make money. If you look at how Adele’s 21 stayed in the top 5 on the Billboard 200 for over a year, you can clearly see that she generated plenty of revenue from the album and the single. Its more about branding, making good commercial deals, playing well into the politics of being an artist, and actually having music that can universally be accepted as “good music”. Katy, Miley, and Lorde are creatively different than Adele, Beyonce, Macklemore, Eminem and all of the artists that are currently succeeding in moving units of multi-plat albums. When you become known for singles, all you’ll sell are singles. Become known for quality innovative albums, you’ll sell albums. The only thing dying are universally impressive artists. Heh heh…

      • lukerain says:

        I agree, Songbird, but one important point to add: Adele had 4 smash singles on 21. Macklemore has 4 off The Heist. Without a wide range of highly marketable singles not enough listeners will trust that the entire album is worth the time, not to mention the money.

    32. Thedude3445 says:

      The album might be dying among mediocre pop artists, but that’s because on any given album there are only 2 or 3 noteworthy songs at best, and the rest fade into obscurity. But the album is still strong among independent artists. On Bandcamp, rarely ever does anyone buy single tracks, but the entire album. I’m not going to go all “indie music is superior” on anyone, but clearly there is something working on Bandcamp with album sales that the main record labels should take into consideration.

    33. Jack Collins says:

      Fuck Katy Perry. Fuck pop music. I’m glad the album doesn’t work for THEM anymore. But I’m a college student in Boston, and not a single one of my friends, let alone anyone I know, gives a fuck about any of the artists mentioned. Full albums of great bands circulate the area around here, and just because they don’t have mainstream press to support them doesn’t mean they don’t “work”. Oh yea and guess what, these bands are making money. How? By selling merchandise and touring. The only way artists have EVER made money. So your “revenue model” never really existed in the first place.

    34. “The youngsters are streaming singles and the oldsters are staying home.”

      Many of us oldsters are steaming our music now, too.

    35. Dick Reed says:

      Absolutely true. The Koreans figured this out a couple of years ago. Every hit group or top star has a management team that puts out a continuous stream of “teaser” videos and stills. They sign endorsement deals left and right. The average album has two or three tracks and only come after each one was previously released as a single. The albums simply recycle the best and maybe add one new song. All the K-Pop groups post their newest hit songs on YouTube the day of release. Why? Because the revenue is no longer in the music. It’s in the endorsements, concerts and merchandising.

    36. Gareth Mason says:

      This is one of the most retarded articles I have ever read. Perhaps if you’re in the business of being a “star” the album format is no longer worth the effort, but plenty of people still have the time, inclination and desire to hear full length albums. People still enjoy art. Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, et al, are not art, they are a commodity, and commodity’s are disposable. If you are in the business of making ART, which you should be if you are a musician, not a single word spoken in this article is even remotely relevant.

    37. Michele M. says:

      I personally love having the entire cd of those artists that I love. I also love having a physical copy as well as the mp3’s. I’m tired of the record labels or whoever it is that decides what gets released to radio and what does not – in fact, that royally pisses me off to no end. I’ve heard MANY great songs by great artists that didn’t get the time of day because some exec decided they weren’t the chosen ones – they decide to put out crap by mediocre (at best) auto-tuned crappy “artists” … I don’t care to hear any of them, which is why I rarely listen to radio at all anymore. I can’t stand the handful of artists that are chosen to be played for us. I can’t stand Katy Perry. I can’t stand Pitbull even more. Can’t stand Biebs. Way tired of Taylor Swift. Fortunately, I’m happy that there are a few that are quality artists that at least get airplay: Pink, Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5, Muse, and a few others …. although there are many that don’t get a chance. What I don’t understand is why aren’t the labels interested in promoting an exceptional artist that is on their own label? Why do they let them fail, when all they need is proper promotion and support?

    38. cris miller says:

      sorry what did you say? I stopped reading after the first sentence

    39. Damon says:

      While I am thrilled to see that huge corporate music is failing, it’s disheartening because it’s all music that is failing. Arts in general have been reduced to twitter like statements. It takes a lot more effort to speak with art because people have no time to sit and appreciate a well thought out piece. As a music producer, I love adding embellishments and space to my pieces. Hopefully people are out there exploring music on a deeper level. Sifting through the internet like a digital record store.

      I usually find my music through Pandora, Last FM, Youtube and internet music articles. When I do find a track that speaks to me, I try to make an effort to buy either The track or merchandise. I also like to explore my local music scene. Fortunately, there are places that provide excellent live music around me. Local basement shows are the most intimate way to get in touch with the arts. I am more likely to spend 30 dollars on one basement band that rocked my face than some corporate designed pop music. The reason some people steal is not because they don’t want to pay for art, it’s because the sub par bullshit that’s called art these days is lazy and not worth our hard earned dollars. Tell me when you hear a Pink Floyd album, or a Zepplin album that you get the same product as Rhianna or Miley Cyrus.

    40. Mike says:

      It doesn’t help that artists like Elton and McCartney have zero radio audience. Hell, even artists like Madonna and Janet Jackson etc don’t have a radio audience except on 80s/90s channels. Artists like Rihanna can release the worst song and radio will play it regardless. But established icons age and pop radio wont play them. Yet country music embraces all ages.

    41. Smarty Pants says:

      People who want to win Album of the year will continue to create them. Six tracks equals an album in the Grammy’s eyes.

    42. wannaseethat says:

      I agree with this article. I feel due to digital download and iTunes chart focus on TOP SINGLES. An artist is really as good as their last single or top download. For example, the top-selling female artist of all time – Mariah Carey – who has made it to the top of charts consecutively, and prior Katy Perry, was the only other female artist to have made so many number ones off of one album. Now Mariah is focused primarily on releasing singles with an unofficial album release date (for some time now TBA). You technically don’t need a great album to be relevant any longer – all you need is a hit single – on iTunes or on the Radio … and both would be ideal.

      • Mike says:

        it wasn’t ONE album. Katy had to re-release her album with new tracks to get all those #1s. lets not get confused. Janet Jackson still holds the record for 7 Top 5 singles (4 #1s) from ONE cd

        • Bryan says:

          Wrong, wrong. The top selling female artist of all time is Madonna.

          Katy Perry got 5 #1s from ONE album, the re-release included new tracks and one of them was another #1 but they didn’t count it as 6 because it wasn’t in the original edition.

    43. jtdxn says:

      I think the inherent flaw with this article is that, much like record executives and labels, Lefsetz is measuring success by the number of units an artist moved. Online piracy is just as much a part of our public consciousness as anything else is. So yeah, McCartney’s newest offering only sold 20,000 copies this week, but how many people downloaded the album in the weeks between the album leaking and now? How many people have the album in their iTunes library in regular rotation?

      Here, Lefsetz is suggesting that the artists change to accommodate this changing musical environment, but at no point suggests that the record industry even consider re-evaluating their way of doing business. They are holding onto an archaic business model that has been broken for all of a dozen or so years now. Singles are fine, but to build an entire album around a single is to create something destined to fail. Now, I agree that artists are being challenged to grow and improve themselves; when I can stream an album on iTunes and only buy however many or few tracks I deem as worthy of my money, a band is going to have to step it up during the writing process. However, these all-knowing record executives are going to have to evolve alongside them. A prime example is Wilco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’, an album that was written off by their label, who then decided to forgo releasing it, and even went so far as to give the band the master tracks for free. ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ went on to be the band’s seminal work, and one that helped launch them into a career where they sell out any arena or venue they play wherever they go.

      The one point that I totally agree with, is our shortening attention spans. For years, YouTube ruled the internet. But now, we can’t be bothered to watch a 4 minute video when we can consume a string of 6 second vines. We are taught to pay attention to less and to give up easily. I would be surprised if 90% of the people that started reading this comment have even made it this far. I do not, however, see this as the final nail in the coffin of proper albums, and to suggest such is pretty presumptuous. The landscape is changing, but not nearly as drastically or quickly as Lefsetz would have us believe.

    44. C. Broekema says:

      I agree on a lot of the points listed here! But I also believe that consumers were taught to act like this. Record labels and executives work off of their business model – which is solely to make a profit. In the past, the best way to do that was by pushing a single hit or song out into the public sphere. We still do this today – it’s the “hype” the article talks about. Even before the record is released the label decides which singles will be big & spend tons of resources marketing those few picks. We have essentially taught buyers to expect small nuggets of “music” while ignoring everything else. I think there’s hope for the album still, but the industry is definitely going to change in order to adapt.

    45. dzgroundedeffects says:

      I think en masse, the thought that albums have no audience as evidenced by sales data, is accurate but more a symptom of the distribution method chosen by the mass labels, not the actual art itself. As most everyone over 40 years old knows, the origins of popular recorded music for sale were singles originally, then packaged into Long-Player albums (LPs) and now the cycle has returned to it’s origin.

      There also is quite a good quantity of artistic album-length music being made by independent artists every day if one can be bothered to seek them out. That’s where I’m quite lucky. We have a great local record shop/small live music venue in my town of 30,000 people that provides us with the conduit to terrific artists that don’t appear on mass-scale.

      I equate it with the difference between a nice, comfortable local restaurant where they appreciate your business and know your name, versus the mass-market ‘pink slime’ shoved out by McDonald’s. It’s always democracy in action and your (the buyer’s) choice to cast your vote with $$$.

      I truly believe there will be another cycle that appreciates good craftwork and artistry in a larger-mass product versus smaller chunks of art, but these are not those times apparently.

      • Lauren says:

        I really appreciate your comments made in response to this article and it gives me hope as an independent artist myself, that people still appreciate craftsmanship and artistic value in music. It’s nice to know there are people out there who seek out new music in order to find the music they like and are willing to put in that extra time. Music should ‘move’ the listener and in order to allow it to move you, you need to listen to it. Anyway, thanks for your comments. I would also be interested in finding out about the record shop/small live music venue you mentioned if you get a chance to reply. Thanks

    46. Lauri says:

      agree, except that i don’t think everyone is behind….just look at “other people” – subscription based weekly realeases…Nicolas Jaar has been ahead from the very beginning. Basically people that aren’t in the mainstream are the ones leading the way, with industry giants copying what works later. Expecting that the American Idols and other “produced” superstars could lead the way or contribute anything truly awesome, is the same as thinking McDonald’s offers a healthy diet….

      • David T. says:

        This is how it’s always been. The fringe innovates and the mainstream co-opts. A model that describes more than just the music industry.

    47. Except that some of the finest songs will never be singles because they’re not “catchy.” I don’t think the album is dead yet. It’s just not the blockbuster money maker anymore.

    48. You just figured out that, in a world of I-Pods and the internet, the sale of the music single is more important to the music industry than the sale of an album, Bob? Itunes and the I-Pod debuted in 2001. Why are you not ahead of the curve?

      Interesting that you neglect to mention that the current music industry business model is a return to the hit single – like it was in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The more things change, Bob,…..

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