What now for albums?

Do you see value in a full length, cohesive project vs a shorter collection of tracks?

I love making albums.

Actually, I mostly love making albums, the process totally has its ups and downs. What I mean is; albums are how I like presenting music. I like to try and tell a story, to let ideas flow into each other and for there to be a start, middle and end.

I’ve been debating the point of making another album (my fourth) for some time now. At the end of 2013 I’d all but given up on the idea. But whether it is spring in the air, or life changes (aplenty) I’ve begun feeling the need to once again make something, a longer statement, a soundtrack for this point and place in time. That’s what an album is to me. Something to pour all your thoughts and feelings into. A snapshot.

But does that come across? Do you listen to an album how it is intended? Do you feel or hear the difference between, say, a six-track Forgotten Songs EP and The Hollow?

Giving It Away

I’ve given away a lot of music over the years, many of you who are reading this now are here because of downloading a free EP or track. And I thank you for that, whether you contributed or not. The joy above all is to share music.

While I, personally, have a very real sense of songs I didn’t have the right place for, didn’t think were quite album quality or were simply practice spaces and experiments (Forgotten Songs) or nine to twelve pieces that I poured myself into, revised and re-revised, mixed and remixed (Along came the Devil, The Hollow, Bight); I wonder if it makes any difference to you?

This does also come back to a slight point of survival.

Like many independent musicians, I don’t make enough money off this alone to live from. But like most, I hope to. But making music does cost money. For every forgotten song, stitched together from leftovers, there are the sessions to make the albums they are salvaged from.

The Cost Of Creating

Recording live instruments, working with better skilled players where needed, working in studios from time-to-time. It all adds up. Then there is marketing, manufacturing physical product when it makes sense (maybe not any more), rehearsals for live shows. I aim to be as self sufficient as possible, but some costs cannot be avoided.

And yet, in attempting to lure you into my little world of music with these free collections and track giveaways, I wonder if I’m simultaneously eroding the value of my albums. If you can get six free tracks in an EP, on my website, why would you pay for a ten-track album? Regardless of how much time, energy or money has gone into its production. Well, you tell me?

Some Real Statistics

I’m able to look at a lot of statistics now about album releases and free downloads/pay-what-you-want.

From direct sales alone, the music that you and I communicate about here and in my newsletter (I am not including any iTunes, Juno, Amazon etc. sales in this), the albums barely have an edge over the “free” EPs and only because of minimal full price CD sales adding to their figures.

I would be highly tempted to make my next album release pay-what-you-want to see if it made a real difference. But would it devalue something I worked so hard on? It would feel a little unbalanced, or wrong to me, I know that much. But it could reach more people, and that is key.

Of course, in the process I would completely piss off iTunes, Amazon, Juno and all the other lovely stores out there who support my music and in many cases feature and promote it. And those channels are vital.

But…

On DIRECT sales ALONE:

My last full, twelve-track album Bight received around 86 purchases direct, with 25 of those being CD copies. Adding up to a little over £500.

Forgotten Songs Vol. 2 a six-track EP, offered up for pay-what-you-want, has so far received 1024 downloads, of which 113 people chose to pay something (from as little as 50p to as much as £10) and has turned over just shy of £300. Plus of course I now have 1024 more email addresses to write to each month, of which around 400 of them will open up the email and read it on a good day.

Forgotten Songs Vol. 1 which was initially offered ONLY as free has had nearly 3000 downloads.

So What Now – Would You Support An Album?

Would Bight have made more if I had offered it to people for free/pay-what-you-want? As it stands presently, even with other distribution figures added in, that album is still in the red. And the costs really were quite modest.

But maybe more importantly, after giving away so much music, though the story makes sense to me, how do people feel when prompted to pay full-price for a release? Quite likely no one other than me gets the difference between the two types of releases. Can that ever be established and does it really matter?

I write a lot of music and I like the mechanism of passing along these leftovers in return for an email address and, in theory, the opportunity to tell you about that album one day. But in doing so, have you come to feel that album is not worth the price, regardless of the real cost?

1 Comment

  • Steve says:

    Hi Adam. Really interesting and, I guess, potentially divisive point you’ve raised. The ‘value’ of everything (especially anything digital, that can be downloaded, copied, stolen, etc) has diminished as we march through the ‘I want it now’ era, and I sense that you’re really feeling the impact of this. When music had forthcoming release dates and club/radio promotion it created a real buzz and desire to secure that tune on date of release: nowadays, if you’re unscrupulous, you can find anything for free, irrespective of whether it is released or not. The credit crunch/recession is another factor as people (like myself) who used to spend a lot of money on music (primarily physical media) simply don’t have the disposable income anymore. I have two of your CD albums bought via Amazon and I also download all your free stuff. I know that there’s no risk with free material – if I don’t like it, I haven’t lost anything, whereas I need to be careful and play through anything I plan to buy to check it will have longevity. I personally set myself a rough buying criteria – single CD albums need to be in the £7-£8 price range with a double around £10-£12. I won’t break these guidelines because I know that prices fluctuate (especially with sales) and eventually I will be able to buy the CD in question or buy another artist’s songs for that price. It’s a shame that Bite hasn’t made money yet – I hope this doesn’t deter you from continuing to release albums. I personally love albums, having grown up with the concept, and hope it continues, but I can see that it’s value is eroded by downloads of individual tracks and guess it will continue to suffer in terms of sales. I believe that the value of creativity has diminished in the public psyche across all spheres – art, design, photography, music, film – as a glut of poor imitators with cheaper equipment have tried their luck. Marketing departments staffed by ill-informed, poorly-educated, lazy people have latched onto cheap, off-the-shelf ‘creativity’ that is often different, but is not a progression or improvement. These people dictate to the masses what their creativity should be and as long as this continues, standards and attitudes will slide. Keep up the good work – I enjoy your music and respect that fact that you put yourself out there and discuss issues that other artists keep to themselves. Cheers, Steve

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