Why are we waiting so long on album releases these days?

Published by Qmunicate

Qmunicate's irreverent columnist finds it hard to keep up with all this new music.

I have to admit something. I can’t keep up with the pace of today’s music world. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff – but adrift in what seems like an ocean of marketing for this ‘music by numbers’, I’m drowning. No, I don’t know the name of the song that goes “La La Oh Ohhh”, although it does sound familiar. No, I haven’t looked at where The [insert noun]s are gigging this summer. Yes, I was force-fed a myriad of flyers about album launches – but no, I couldn’t possibly visit them all. And yet, how could anyone in my position actually accuse today’s bands of being too slow at making music?

The fact is that bands simply aren’t making music as much as they were. Let’s take two popular British groups from the sixties, and two from the present day. (If you don’t trust Wikipedia, look away now). In the sixties, The Kinks recorded ten studio albums in their first six years; The Beatles managed thirteen in their seven-year existence. Both bands managed to put out two albums a year on a frequent basis. Today, The Futureheads, in their eight-year existence, have recorded three studio albums; Muse have churned out four albums since 1999. So about one album every three years, then.

The differences are stark, but surely it should be more possible to record, produce and supply albums even faster now than they did forty years ago – with the internet, digital technology, and arguably a more greedy, disposable music culture.

However, the long, lengthy, formulaic process of recording-promoting-touring has become so ingrained in music culture that it is almost unthinkable to dismantle.

In 2004, Justin Hawkins ironically predicted the fate of The Darkness. “We’ll win awards, tour this album to death, then never make any more music” he told Q. Two years after they headlined Leeds and Reading Festivals, The Darkness’ last single collapsed into the chart at No. 39. Martyrs don’t usually wear spandex, but this cry-for-help showed that he was conscious that the band’s over-saturation in the media was leading to antipathy, and he was just about right.

It’s nothing new to conclude that the music industry is more reliant upon record-breaking, platinum-selling debut albums than it is with creating legends here in the noughties. Nor is it to suggest that the distance between album launches and tours are fixed to spread the source of profit out over as long a period as possible.

What I wonder is, are the events of the past year signalling a change in this silly equation? Aspects of the way the industry works are being questioned, when Radiohead, Prince and The Charlatans all circumvented the traditional ways of supplying music to their own fans last year.

So is the pendulum finally swinging the right way?