Keith Harris: Technology Can Enhance, Not Kill The Album Format

19 Aug 2014

A strange thing happened to me recently.  My wife (I usually blame her) broke the iPod docking station in my car.

It meant that I had to revert to those old fashioned CD’s – remember them?  It also meant that I reverted to listening to albums for the first time for a while, instead of listening constantly on shuffle mode.

This almost coincided with the pronouncement from Radio 1’s George Ergatoudis that the album is dead, and how from now on it was all going to be about playlists.  I would have been very much inclined to agree with this assessment of the future were it not for a few small things…

In a very good piece about things that the music business could learn from television, Ted Gioia pointed out that brilliant television has meant that people have increased their attention span when watching high quality complex programming, and that they have voted with their pockets by buying into subscription channels which offer this kind of high quality demanding viewing, over the lower budget, lower quality, crowd pleasing short attention span stuff which has been churned out for many years now.

In Nile Rogers’ biography, he points out that it is the complexity and sophistication of the chord patterns that he uses that makes people want to listen over and over again to many of the tunes that he records.

Perhaps for the current mass-market consumer the album is not popular, but I think that there are still many artists who are able to put together a body of work, which demands to be heard in the form in which it was conceived.

Currently, the early days of streaming would seem to make it less likely that anything other than individual tracks are going to be played, but as the various services mature and start to compete for people’s attention and money, it is possible that those which are able to command a longer attention span will be those that prosper.  That competition may come in the form of really well curated playlists, or perhaps it will come in the form of well-made albums, alongside very good additional information.

I am daring to suggest here that the sleeve note have not yet had its day, and that in this new era, the technology available will make it possible for information about the recordings and the inspiration for them as well as the contributing players and producers will be able to be put forward in a way that enhances the listening experience.  If you have followed any of the links associated with this blog you’ll understand what I mean[1].

There is tendency to always assume that new technology will kill things – radio, movies, television, albums – the truth is that it isn’t necessarily so.  Why do we still look at portraits or landscape paintings when we have 40 mega-pixel cameras?  There is something about the skill of the artist that brings us a very different experience.

Technology will not always replace – sometimes it will enhance.

Keith Harris – Chairman, MusicTank / Director Performer Affairs, PPL / Keith Harris Music Ltd

JOIN KEITH and a host of other speakers and innovative companies, at our forthcoming think tank, Sept 16th:
Is Technology The New Beatles?
 (reduced price tickets available until 08.09.14)

[1] Is The Music Industry Really Ready To Innovate? | Who’s Driving New Music Industry Insights?

Stepping Up Music Innovation | Is It Worth Innovating With Physical Music?

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