Obitchuary: The Album
Cause of Death: Steve Jobs
More than fifty years ago, Columbia Records unveiled an item that would revolutionize the music industry: the LP record, known to us simply as an “album.” For four decades this invention evolved and flourished as a beloved music vehicle. But in 1999, the world experienced a moment that changed the music industry—Napster went viral. Teens looking to hear cool, new (and of course underground) bands no longer had to take
a $15 gamble only to find out that three- quarters of it was actually too painful for their ears. The world of online music offered a simple solution: pick and choose individual songs to download. For free.
Thus began the demise of the album.
What Napster started, Apple finished. In 2001, the company released the original iPod and music officially fell victim to the digital age. Now anyone with a computer can deejay mass-producing personalized playlists. From “I-slept-with-someone-else” to “#SPRINGBREAK2012” every situation
suddenly warrants a unique progession of songs. In the five minutes we spend mixing songs, albums, and artists into a sentiment- saturated playlist, we’ve undermined months of work from artists, producers, and engineers.
Thanks to Napster and company, we’ve also destroyed the album’s presentation, starting with its very essence—the album cover.
Cover art had an iconic place on records, and then CDs. It represented the intrinsic bond between art and music— a 5x5 expression of creativity, social commentary, and the power of the visual image. Today, these artful images have been reduced to a mere 1 inch x 1 inch icon that most of us do not even notice.
It’s with deep regret that we bow our heads to the fallen album. Its extinction will be marked with sorrow, likely accompanied by the playing of a depressing song blasted from our iPods