Evolution of the Album

U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ was inserted in to 500 Million iTunes accounts unannounced last year. Image from YouTube.

For decades, the album has been a creative form that includes a collection of songs, which an artist proceeds to share with the public and their fan-base. The most conventional form of the ‘instant grat’ is for artists to release singles, perform live on television, present themselves on chat shows, etc. which all contribute in encouraging fans to pre-order their album, usually released after a significant promotional period. However, recently the demand for the physical album has been dwindling due to the various methods that music can be obtained. Spotify, YouTube and illegal downloading are prominent examples of this.

Because of its decline in demand, several artists have been conjuring up creative ways to release their albums in an attempt to make it fresh and innovative again.

Some have been successful, while others have flopped. Rihanna focused on social media promotion for her sixth album Talk That Talk. Using Facebook, she created ‘Rihanna: UNLOCKED’, which set fans missions and games to complete with the incentive that they would unlock more information about the record (later revealed to be ‘We Found Love’). Following this endeavour, Rihanna’s presence on social media skyrocketed with a phenomenal increase in Twitter followers and mentions.

Beyoncé and Beck Hansen also found success. Instead of focusing on promotion, they re-adapted the traditional format for the album entirely. In 2013, Beyoncé unexpectedly released her fifth studio album, the eponymous BEYONCE, without any form of promotion. If that was not enough, each track had its very own music video, making it known as a ‘visual album’ rather than just a treat for the ears. In his album Song Reader, Beck included a booklet full of sheet music (thus, a songbook rather than an audio) encouraging fans to interpret songs in their own way and fueling an assortment of cover versions. This certainly produced a personal interaction with his fan-base, encouraging them to get involved in his creative process. Moreover, the book format meant it couldn’t be downloaded illegally.

Other attempts to re-invigorate the album were not so successful. The Kaiserchiefs’ 2011 bespoke album, The Future is Medieval, encouraged fans to choose their own tracks, order and album cover, making the finished product something personal to each individual fan. While the personal touch definitely had its merits, the album remained in the UK album chart for only five weeks, peaking at number 10, a significant setback from their previous chart-climbing records. Despite the commercial failure it was deemed an innovative effort, something that cannot be said for U2, who imposed a controversial move in inserting their album Songs of Innocence in over 500 million iTunes accounts without warning. In the end, Bono was enforced to issue a full apology, as some claimed it was rude and disrespectful to have someone’s music pushed on them without permission. Bono stated that their decision was due to a ‘drop of megalomania, a touch of generosity, a dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard’.

With the demand for the physical album slowly declining, artists continue to conduct various experiments to re-invent the album and get their music out there.




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