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Like buses they were

Whilst listening to one of my favourite bands, Creedence Clearwater revival recently, I was reading some info about them and maaaan...what a songwriter John Fogerty is...prolific too. I then delved a bit deeper into their discography and it was only then that I happened to notice the release dates of their albums...their first 5 all came within a 2 year period. I had to think about that for a minute. I knew the Beatles had churned a fair few our in short order in their early days, but they're The Beatles. The more I looked, the more I found, most bands were putting out at least 1 album a year if not 2. Modern bands are mostly the opposite, you're lucky to get an album every 2 or 3 years. So what's changed. Why must I wait so long for new albums from my favourite artists?

Physical Consumption

One thing that has definitely changed is how we consume our music. If we go right back to the Pre-war era, there were very few really well paid artists and those that did exist tended to make the bulk of their money from live performances. Afterall, only the most affluent could afford a radiogram, let alone buying any physical media. Then in 1948, CBS gave birth to the LP and the modern-day 'album' was truly born, but in those post-war years money for most was tight, so it wasn't until the 50s that record sales really started to take off. The 'teenager' was born and with them came a rebellious new music called Rock and Roll. Jazz and Classical ceased being the predominant types of music available and an ever increasing array of records started to flood into the shops. Young people were on the rise and they were now starting to buy their own music in physical format. Then came the swinging sixties and an explosion of musical artists so enormous it was beyond anything previously seen and with it a change in how the artists earned their money.

These new artists made the bulk of their income from record sales not live performances. Singles were king throughout most of the 50s and 60s, catering so beautifully as they did, to the short, sharp tracks that were somewhat designed for radio play, whilst also appealing to the younger generation due to their lower cost. As time went by this young generation began earning more money and the sale of records gradually trended more towards albums. The 3 minute wonders so prevalent a decade before, increasingly gave way to longer tracks with the dawn of the seventies and by 1973 there were as many albums sold as singles. Music had moved on too, rock was really moving at a pace and bands such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were into making epic, long-playing concept albums often spanning 4 sides of vinyl. This was the start of the dominant period for album sales, which spanned the best part of the next 3 decades. We saw a fair few different physical formats and associated replay equipment, but whether it was a record on a turntable or 'shaving mirror' in a CD player, the public were buying albums and as a result artists earned the bulk of their income came from the sale of physical media of one type or another.

Napster, iTunes and the iPod

The late 90s and early noughties were me at my peak and I listened to all sorts of music and owned all sorts of equipment on which to play it. I dabbled with Napster soon after it's launch in 1999, but it wasn't until 2001 when iTunes and the iPod were launched that I really began to realise the full potential of a virtual music format. "What, so I can have all my albums on this thing?", for a moment there I was weak...until I listened to it. "Ah, it sounds shit!", but the potential was there for sure. Quite a lot of things needed to be sorted out for sure, but from that point on I knew it would happen. Fast forward to today and streaming music is second nature. At home, in the car, on my phone, any time of day I have access to millions of albums, all in CD quality or better. WOW! These are great times for sure, but what of the music?

Streaming royalties

During the last 2 decades the technology has progressed rapidly and to mind at least, all for the better (I'm including the vinyl revival here!). I split my listening between streaming (75%) and vinyl (25%) and it's all great from a tech point of view. However, with all this positive change there has been another change happening organically in the it's not so positive. Ever since the album began taking over from the single as the king, the amount of time artists spend composing seems to have gradually increased. It happened slowly at first, but look at the album release dates for a few bands across 70s, 80 and 90s, and you'll notice that on the time between albums increases. Popular bands of the 70s seemed to put out an album every year or so, by the 80s that's starting to slip further, and by the 90s, where knocking on the door of one every 2 or 3 years in many cases. Live music too seemed to play a bigger and bigger part in not only the output of artists, but also in how they earned their money. This trend has continued and I think accelerated recently. As the rise in downloads and streaming gained pace, so the way in which the money is distributed has changed too. It's no secret that artists earn a tiny amount in royalties from each stream of their music, or that it is the biggest streaming platforms that pay the least. The worst offender here is Spotify who have nearly a 50% market share, yet only pay 0.4p per stream (others pay 4 or 5 times this much). So despite the enormous number of streams, the income earned from people listening to recorded music has dramatically reduced. Artists therefore spend less time in the studio composing music and more time performing it. It seems there is far more to be made from touring than from releasing a new album, plus tours are bigger and longer nowadays, travel is not a barrier like it was in the 50s, so bands will regularly do continental or worldwide tours lasting many months, if not years, so again they're not in the studio recording new music.

Yeah, and?!

Its not uncommon for artists to release an album every 2 or 3 years now, so we the consumer have to wait and wait...and wait. The long touring schedules also put a lot of strain on bands, so a lot of artists seem to have run out of steam by their third album and fewer artists seem to stay 'big' because of it. There are exceptions of course, Ed Sheeran being an obvious one, but on the whole we seem to get a lot of great new bands with a strong first album, a weaker second album and a poor third if they even get that far (Greta Van Fleet anyone?). Maybe I've gone too far here, but one thing I'm not wrong about is that you used to get a fresh album every few months and now we're lucky to get one every couple of years. Is it fair, no. But that's life I guess, it seems you can't have the awesome tech and access to music at the drop of a hat AND have regular releases from your favourite band. Who's to blame, I could point the finger, but it won't change so why bother being a hater, lets just enjoy the huge choice and quality of what we do have and savour the new releases when they do come along with yet another Super Deluxe Special Limited Edition Mega Release box set.

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