At this year’s Grammy Awards, Prince was bestowed the honor of presenting the award show’s Album of the Year, a term that seems a bit antiquated in the strange beast that is the music industry today.
As he twirled his cane and walked up to the podium, the 57-year-old smirked and said, “Albums. Remember those? Albums still matter. Albums, like books and black lives, still matter.”
In Prince’s prime, albums were king. They represented a cohesive selection of musical pieces, each working with the other parts of the record and ultimately creating a story or soundscape worthy of its own universe.
Today, albums are often used as simply a means for distributing music to the masses. Many artists release an “album,” with only a few good singles and a lot of bad filler tracks, but with the daunting growth of streaming services these days, can you really blame them?
The amount of time and work it takes to create a solid album is exhausting, while creating a few singles that people will buy individually, or get picked up and played by services, like Pandora, could potentially be more profitable for a band.
Despite the fact that many people would probably agree with the statement that albums are a dead and bygone form of music, there are still many who seek to fight for the artform — which is good news for everyone.
Let’s not get confused here when I refer to an album as a “record,” however. I’m not saying you need to have some crazy tube amps and the perfect setup while you listen to albums from start to finish on purely vinyl, but rather any form of an album will do, so long as you dedicate time to the record’s entirety. If you want a superior experience, try some of the tips below.
While not everyone has access to a record player, there are many other ways to improve your listening pleasure, such as better audio files or stereo headphones, which can actually produce a better sound than some crappy record player you got from Urban Outfitters.
Instead of the typical MP3s most people are used to, try purchasing a higher quality audio file, like a Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC), which is lossless, meaning the audio is without any loss in quality. Apple has their own version of this for iTunes called ALAC.
Now that you’ve got your gear ready, whether that be a vinyl or simply your iPhone, it’s time to select an album. If you find yourself enthralled by the shuffle of tracks many streaming services produce, try listening to a few of the example albums in the side column. You won’t be sorry.
So, who is to blame for the downfall of the album as we once knew it? Maybe it was simply the result of the digital age, where music is virtually everywhere and available at the slide of your thumb. But Kurt Cobain didn’t die to become a shirt a Target, and Led Zeppelin didn’t curate a masterpiece like IV, so that you could listen to “Stairway to Heaven” in between “Flicka Da Wrist” and “Bad Blood.”
Regardless, albums are a rare form of art that are extremely difficult to accomplish, but when done successfully, they can be just as captivating as a good book or movie. If you’re willing to dedicate 10 hours of time to watch “Lost” on Netflix, I’m sure you can afford to sit down and listen to an hour-long album.
After you’ve picked out an album you’re ready to dedicate yourself to, find some headphones, a nice place to relax, stretch out, close your eyes and press play. We’ll see you on the other side.
Pink Floyd — The Wall
The Who — Tommy
David Bowie — The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Arcade Fire — Suburbs
Jay-Z — American Gangster
My Chemical Romance — The Black Parade