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Time To Reboot

by Open-Publishing - Saturday 31 March 2007

Music USA Wayne Besen

by Wayne Besen

The beginning of each college semester at the University of Florida was always exciting. It brought fresh faces from new places and renewed hope for the possibility of young love. Inevitably, there would be one guy in class that instantaneously caused my eyes to pop out and my head to swivel like a bobble head doll.

What I always found interesting, however, was that the person who initially turned my head, often turned me off by the end of the year. Meanwhile, there would be guys who were merely cute on the first day, but grew more attractive as the semester wore on. By summer, the early stud often became a dud and the pinch-hitter became a hit.

The same principle can be applied to music albums, where you spend your cash for the song with flash, but your band loyalty comes from the B-side song with longevity. Like guys, certain songs just wear well and reveal their layered mystery and majesty over time.

Unfortunately, in these times of warp speed and immediate need, the album may soon disappear altogether. In its place are bands that produce only one or two "hits" that we can digitally download into our ipods.

"I think the album is going to die," Aram Sinnreich, managing partner at Radar Research, told The New York Times. "Consumers are listening to play lists," or mixes of single songs from an assortment of different artists. "Consumers who have had iPods since they were in the single digits are going to increasingly gravitate toward artists who embrace that."

Jeff Kempler, chief operating officer of EMI’s Capitol Music Group, also told the Times that, "For some genres and some artists, having an album-centric plan will be a thing of the past." While the traditional album provides value to fans, he said, "perpetuating a business model that fixates on a particular packaged product configuration is inimical to what the Internet enables, and it’s inimical to what many consumers have clearly voted for."

Granted, there are too many CD’s that rip-off the consumer by providing one hit, while larding the rest of the album with useless, un-listenable garbage. However, the industry’s answer should be to demand better songs from their bands, not limit or inhibit their growth and stunting their artistic development. Sadly, this latest move towards the single seems the final triumph of marketing over music.

The disappearance of the album will surely lower music to the lowest common denominator. It will do to the music industry what strip malls did to the landscape, namely creating a confusing atmosphere with neither inspiration nor continuity. It will trap artists in a narrow, confining genre or prefabricated, test-marketed sound and offer them little room to grow.

We can expect to be awash in insipid songs that are predictably snappy and marketed to the cheerleading set that is chronically happy. Bubble gum tunes by airhead cartoons and a cacophony of forgettable one-hit wonders and harmony blunders. The singular goal of future artists might be peppy songs that crossover as popular ring tones for Cingular Wireless.

As the world turns ever faster, we may want to take a breather from our quintuple latte and "Crackberry" to ask if the way we live is truly progress? Or, maybe we have just been commercialized and hypnotized into thinking we are moving forward, when we actually have a deteriorating standard of living wrapped up in a Styrofoam box. The entire world, it seems, is built around speed and our national motto is "More and Faster." It has now reached a crisis point where we must pick our songs out of an electronic cardboard container as if they were McNuggets.

In the 1970’s, the proliferation of fast food joints and the mindless building of soulless office parks caused an explosion of poor health and turned our highways into parking lots. But what good are fast cars in traffic and eating fatty food that can be fatal? "More and Faster" does not necessarily translate into better.

Isn’t the goal of technology to enrich our lives, rather than limit our choices and turn slick marketers rich? If we don’t even have the time or patience to read a book or listen to an entire album, maybe we should reevaluate the direction of the cyber age and consider a reboot.

Sure, this is depressing and makes me want to play an old, melancholy Smiths CD before albums vanish altogether and former lead singer Morrissey is reduced to crooning jingles for Prozac ads.