opinion

Kanye hear me now? Do artists need a new deal with labels & publishers?

Transparency has been an industry watchword for a while now, but this may not be what everybody had in mind. The sight of Kanye West tweeting out page after page of his Universal Music contracts before posting a video of ...

How a fresh approach could save the album from extinction

Is the album dead? That’s the question some people will be asking as National Album Day and the Hyundai Mercury Prize loom and they contemplate 2020’s coronavirus-disrupted release schedule. After all, when someone like Damon Albarn – this week’s Music Week cover star and a man responsible for several of the greatest LPs of all time – favours streaming-friendly, single-track ‘episodes’ over a complete body of work, it suggests that something is up. That something, however, may not be the album itself. Given that the way people listen to music has been completely reshaped since Gorillaz’s first record, it’s probably long overdue that artists and labels are looking at different ways of delivering their music. Streaming’s burnrate remains an issue; you can drop an album one week, only for fans – and Spotify’s Daniel Ek – to be demanding more the next. Ek’s recent comments about artists no longer being able to “record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough” enraged many, but ultimately he was delivering an economic truth, albeit an unpalatable one. The way people listen to music has been completely reshaped – it’s long overdue to look at different ways of delivering music Music Week But there is another way: presenting that music in different ways to different audiences to promote longevity. That’s why Albarn’s Song Machine Season One will find a home as a deluxe physical album as well as single episodes. And while Taylor Swift’s brilliant Folklore hangs together perfectly as a full record, it’s also being pushed in shorter, thematic chapters for you to choose as the mood suits. Meanwhile, newer artists concentrate on ever-evolving playlists of their hits until they’re ready to take on the different demands of their debut record proper, while the mixtape concept has successfully made the jump from hip-hop to other genres. And, in the streaming age, the old deluxe edition concept has become a more organic way of updating a record. Ultimately, it’s about choice, for both artist and consumer, as the former tries to stay relevant to the latter without compromising their integrity. And right now it feels like a little reinvention – and a lot of good music, of course – goes a long way. The album isn’t dead; in fact, it might just have become a living, breathing thing again. * To read our excusive Gorillaz cover story, see the current issue of Music Week, available now, or click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

The long & short of it: Why the singles & albums charts have less crossover than ever

Which music biz are you in? This point has been made before, but the sense that there are now two separate recorded music industries is becoming overwhelming. Of last week’s 15 artists with a Top 10 single, only two (Pop Smoke and Harry Styles) have a current Top 10 album. This week, it's down to one as Styles (pictured) exits the album top tier. A huge swathe of the Top 40 seemingly has little interest in the longer format, except as a compilation of hits to keep up the streaming numbers. Meanwhile on the albums chart, some of the biggest records are by artists (The Killers! Erasure! Biffy Clyro!) who have next-to-no chance of scoring a hit single, no matter how good their songs are. There are exceptions, of course. Dua Lipa has shown you can both excel at monster pop bangers and make one of the albums of the year, while Taylor Swift's Folklore has proven that sounds officially classified as ‘alternative’ can still chart high (although it helps when those sounds are made by Taylor Swift). TikTok is already changing the pop formula, as everyone searches for the perfect 15-second snippet to go viral Music Week The likes of Swift, Lipa and Styles are happy to combine albums artistry with single smashes. But the mechanics of hitmaking and album-crafting are changing. Songs were already getting shorter, while I spent the week writing about the modern day hit factory that is TikTok (see the cover story of this week's edition of Music Week, available now), and the platform is already changing the pop formula, as everyone searches for the perfect 15-second snippet to go viral as a sound on the app. Meanwhile, albums are getting longer and more immersive, demanding more attention in an age when no one seems to have any. You might have thought lockdown would have had an impact on the attention economy as well as the real one but, with the odd exception, few long players seem to have made a long-term connection. Does it matter? After all, the charts in the 1970s were similarly divided between throwaway pop singles and deeply serious rock album fodder, and no one complained. But, with the industry largely at a loss as to how to break new artists (as opposed to new songs) in the current climate, it seems like the current diversion might end up being more permanent. In which case, get ready to pick a side. * To read our exclusive TikTok cover story, see the new edition of Music Week magazine, available now, or click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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