The fourth edition of National Album Day celebrated women in music - and it’s had an impact on the official charts.
Here, songwriter Fiona Bevan - a co-writer on Kylie Minogue’s Disco album - opens up about why the LP is such an enduring format...
I am proud to be able to celebrate the fourth year of National Album Day – a day that was originally launched to honour the album as an artform, and to remember the 70-plus years of albums that have delivered meaningful experiences for music fans and had a huge impact on British pop-culture.
There’s no doubt that my favourite albums changed my life, and there are far too many to list, but some include: The Velvet Underground & Nico, Tracy Chapman’s Tracy Chapman, Jeff Buckley’s Grace, Cocteau Twins’ Treasure, Radiohead’s OK Computer, Alice Coltrane’s Journey In Satchidananda and Mariah Carey's Music Box. All have had a profound effect on me both as an artist and as a listener. Without having heard these albums, I doubt I would be who or where I am today.
But the attitude towards albums has changed over the last few years. We’re now living in a world where rapid advancements in technology are massively transforming the music industry. In most cases this is very positive as it creates new opportunities and revenue models for the whole ecosystem. Occasionally, though, these new technologies make people forget about where it all started and how far we’ve come as creators, as innovators, as fans.
Let’s take streaming as an example. A piece of tech that has been built to cater for and encourage the listener who’s looking for a quick fix, who wants to cherry pick a song, or who chooses to let the algorithmic playlists take over in the background. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, streaming has helped people to listen to more music than ever before, it is has made it more accessible for smaller and DIY artists to get their music heard, and it has pretty much eliminated music piracy. But streaming is not focused on delivering an album, and, in many ways, it has contributed to people overlooking why they’re so great.
What is wonderful about the album is that it has been purposely designed to deliver a longer listen; to provide a deep dive into a piece of work that takes you on a journey and to share a curated playlist that doesn’t allow you to skip a track. It creates the opportunity for an artist to play their works as they originally intended them to be heard. It’s like an artist getting the chance to hang their pictures in the right place on the gallery wall, instead of having them as postcards to flick through in the gallery shop. An album also tells a unique story – it brings to life an artist’s journey or experiences in a way that one or two singles are simply not able to do.
Streaming is not focused on delivering an album
Since I first started my own exploratory journey of listening to music, I’ve been reading the liner notes of vinyl, CDs and cassettes as I listen to them, poring over the names of writers, instrumentalists, and mixers, fantasising about the glamorous, iconic far-flung studios, and obsessing over lyrics and artwork. Imagine a world where we as creators don’t get to do this, where we don’t get to go on this journey, where instead everything is geared towards delivering that one song, that overnight success. It’s amazing for those who achieve it; disheartening for those who don’t. And this is what streaming has done. It has allowed us to get used to listening to music in a totally context-free way, with little storytelling and very few, if any, liner notes or information about the creation of that music.
But not experiencing the beauty of an album is just one side of it. The other side of it is the information captured in an album in the digital age. By not having the physical liner notes, loads of data and information about the album recording is lost. This means that on the back end of this incredible new music, the songwriters, the contributors and the performers are not getting the money or the credit that’s due to them. And this is a big problem. Not only is there at least £500 million globally every year which doesn’t find its way to the correct musicians, but we as musicians are being put in a position where we are having to make choices between making music or making money when, really, we should be able to do both.
This is an issue which has been prevalent for many years in the industry. It’s an issue that could to a large extent be eliminated if a song had the correct data attached to it at the point of creation. It’s as simple as making sure the writers, the song title, that saxophonist on bar three of verse two – those small but all-important details – are included. And it’s not difficult to make sure that this happens. Many of us creators have been championing this message for a long time. Initiatives such as Credits Due have launched to specifically educate creators about the importance of capturing data and about managing our own information. And, in parallel, technology is delivering solutions that make recording information about a song or an album a straightforward and seamless experience.
So, let’s celebrate the album and all the beautiful stories they deliver. But let’s not forget to recognise all of the creators who put their life and soul into producing them for us, otherwise they might just disappear altogether.