When I decided to release a new album I thought over the possibilities to publish music in 2016. The actual music-market is marching in the direction of streaming. Platforms like Spotify, Pandora and Apple music offer attractive subscriptions. The listener gets more and more music for less money and there seems no way back. I foresee, that in twenty years a music fan can get the whole history of music – from the gregorian chants to the last HipHop – for … let me think over … 9,99 Euros in a year. But how could anybody listen to all these songs? And wouldn’t it be hard to choose between all these musical treasures?
If I observe myself and my habits I listen to just a few artists regularly, though I have also a vast collection of music at home. To some artists and composers I have build up a closer relationship than to others. The first step into this close relationship was always the music of this artist. I heard a song or an album and was blown away by the musicianship, the arrangements, the skills or at best by all together. After the first initial experiences of listening I went sometimes a step further and was also interested in the artist himself, the person, the life, the musical career. I remember on my honeymoon with The Who, when I was around sixteen years old. I played not only their albums in heavy rotation, I also studied the lyrics. I bought books about them. I copied the fashion-style. My interest had no borders and I aimed to get a most detailed picture of the band.
At this point, when a listener starts to look at other aspects of the artist/band, he or her crosses the border from an average listener to a fan. The fan likes stories and other materials about his admired object and on the other side the marketing department of the artist knows, what the fan wants. A brilliant example of how to fulfill expectations is the album “Live at Leeds” of The Who. I don’t know how calculated the design was, but it feeds for sure the longing of fans for background-material, stories and other stuff. First the album-cover is designed like a bootleg. As if one of these close fans had been there at Leeds, switched on his tape-recorder and recorded this legendary concert. The artwork points to the fans, which did exactly this, recording bootlegs on concerts.
According to wikipedia:
“The cover was designed by Beadrall Sutcliffe and resembled that of a bootleg LP of the era, parodying the Rolling Stones‘ Live’r Than You’ll Ever Be. It contains plain brown cardboard with “The Who Live At Leeds” printed on it in plain blue or red block letters as if stamped on with ink (on the original first English pressing of 300, this stamp is black). The original cover opened out, gatefold-style, and had a pocket on either side of the interior, with the record in a paper sleeve on one side and 12 facsimiles of various memorabilia on the other, including a photo of the band from the My Generation photoshoot in March 1965, handwritten lyrics to the “Listening to You” chorus from Tommy, the typewritten lyrics to “My Generation“, with hand written notes, a receipt for smoke bombs, a rejection letter from EMI, and the early black “Maximum R&B” poster showing Pete Townshend wind-milling his Rickenbacker. The first 500 copies included a copy of the contract for the Who to play at the Woodstock Festival.
The label was handwritten (reportedly[according to whom?] by Townshend), and included instructions to the engineers not to attempt to remove any crackling noise. This is probably a reference to the clicking and popping on the pre-remastered version (notably in “Shakin’ All Over“) which was from John Entwistle’s bass cable. Modern digital remastering techniques allowed this to be removed, and also allowed some of the worst-affected tracks from the gig to be used.” (Wikipedia)
This additional material generated a lot of attention, phantasy and imagination. The whole package is telling a thrilling story. Of course the music is the main element, but these side-elements lead the interested listener to other topics: The attitude, the behaviours and the history of the artist.
Back to the original topic: While the music is still there even in today’s streaming-market, the artist behind the music gets lost. The consumer consumes a track and afterwards he rarely knows, which artist he has heard. And because today’s listeners focus on tracks, they are hopping so fast from artist to artist, that there is no time to build a relationship. Maybe the listener collects the favourites in a playlist of many unknown artists, just names on an endless stream of new music, but no story behind.
With a CD or Vinyl-record the artist has the possibility to tell a story and to give a little insight to his world. And in my opinion there is also a big difference between clicking through digital tracks online and holding and touching a physical product.
You are feeling closer …