Streaming is taking over the world. You just have to take a quick look at the numbers to see the development exploding.
CD sales have fallen 80% in the last ten years and digital downloads are on the same trajectory.
In their place, streaming has surged. The only real player left in the physical landscape is vinyl.
With a futuristic digital medium living alongside a legacy analog format, it is starting to seem like the past and future exist at the same time.
However, the fact is that physical formats could still educate us a lot about how we have learned to hear since recorded music went mainstream.
Listed below are six key lessons musicians should learn, and the way musicians could apply them to the brave new world of streaming.
1. The importance of album art
One of the most important lessons musicians should learn is album art. Here is a head trip for you: vinyl records didn’t actually sell that well until cover art was launched in the late 1930s.
Since then, cover art has been deeply linked with the experience of physical music.
That deep connection isn’t going away just because physical formats have faded. You should have evocative, eye-catching artwork for your albums to stand out in the digital marketplace.
The visual presentation of your track is your first impression. Great album art can go a long way to draw in potential listeners and provides them with visual cues for interpreting your work.
2. The length of your release
There have been loads of experiments with uncommonly short or long albums. However, the 30-50 minute album appears to be stuck in our musical consciousness.
That range has its roots in the 12” vinyl running time of around 20 minutes per side.
The duration of an LP came to be associated with a band’s complete artistic statement because the format matured in the 1970s.
We still consider the length of an LP as a benchmark in the age of the album-equivalent-unit.
We have all enjoyed albums of the similar length for so long that it is the type of built into our music DNA at this point. Albums that go on method too long could be exhausting, even in the age of streaming.
3. Traditions in album sequencing
The act of getting up to flip the record over is steeped in nostalgia for anybody who grew up on vinyl.
And the concept of an A and B side were not just technical limitations… The design consequences of the medium itself are a part of the artistic traditions around physical music.
Artists knew there would always be a period of silence because the listener turned the record over.
They used it to their advantage by strategically selecting the opening track of side B. And so the B-side was born.
Longer silences between tracks could prime listeners for an aesthetic jump or erase the impact of similar tracks side by side.
There were other technological constraints which affected sequencing as well. Inner-groove distortion causes sound quality points toward the end of each side of the record.
This lead labels to place ballads and softer songs last in order that the distortion could be less distracting.
Consciously or unconsciously, these sequencing tips carried over to modern albums and the streaming albums we listen to right now.
4. The importance of singles
The 7” 45 rpm single was one of the most consumable music formats ever grown.
Singles were low-cost enough that young people may properly own their favorite songs for the first time. They were enormously popular.
Their small size made them portable and simply playable. In a method, a well-curated collection of seven inches was the earliest version of playlisting.
Single sales led to the growth of the hit parades and singles charts we are familiar with today.
Now once we talk about singles, we are no longer referring to the medium itself. The idea of a “single” is related to the main track an artist is promoting from their launch.
However, the original legacy of the single is a helpful idea to remember. You want the songs you select for your singles to be strong enough to stand on their own.
If your listeners paid to purchase just one song, will it be worth it? Does it say everything it needs to introduce new listeners to your music?
5. Additional information about the release
Physical media gave artists and labels the area to say something about their music.
The liner notes were the first place to search for clues When you were interested in what occurred behind the music.
Originally they were just text printed on the protective sleeves that housed LPs.
However, the term grew to include production details, additional info, and supplementary artistic material.
Liner notes were part of the physical era that extended all the way to CD jewel cases booklets.
Discovering juicy tidbits about the creation of your favorite music made liner notes a strong a part of the magic of physical music.
Credit absolutely everybody who worked on your album. List the band members and their roles. Say the place it was made and when. Make a “special thanks” list.
Direct links to the real world could humanize a digital album.
6. The power of the musical objects
An important factor we could bring forward from physical music is the enduring love and celebration that people have for their records.
Previously, your record collection mentioned a lot about you and the musical landscape you came up in.
Why is it that everybody of a certain age group seems to have owned a copy of Frampton Comes Alive? Some records just became a part of the musical moment as pure objects.
The physical area that a record collection might occupy is staggering by today’s standards. But people still lugged them from place to place, refusing to part with their dearest treasures.
Modern albums could still inspire that type of admiration. Great releases can still be generation-defining and important to our identity, digital or otherwise.
Striving for the same cultural impact that made people treat their LPs like precious gems should be a purpose, it doesn’t matter what format you’re working with.
There’s lots of history wrapped up in yesterday’s physical music formats. It is trying to declare a state of decay now that owning your music is a thing of the past.
However instead of throwing up your hands, your time is much better spent attempting to make the best music you can.
Moreover, concentrating on the strengths of the media we have keeps us targeted on the opportunities we could make for ourselves in our own musical moment.
Now that you’ve got some insight into the lessons musicians should learn from the analog era, get out there and apply them to your own music.