Junos 2015: Albums spinning toward irrelevance, say insiders
Digital downloads, streaming are creating a singles-based music market
Leonard Cohen, Nickelback, Hedley and Quebec singers Bobby Bazini and Serge Fiori are all vying for a Juno Award for album of the year this weekend.
With nominations determined by sales, it's one of the night's most coveted trophies. But the prize, like the format it champions, is becoming increasingly irrelevant, according to music insiders.
Album sales in 2014 were dismal. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, only three artists with albums released last year attained platinum status in the U.S., selling more than one million physical and digital units: Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Jason Aldean.
By comparison, 13 albums went platinum in 2013. Turn back the clock to 1994, the heyday of the CD, and that number jumps to 38 albums.
'Demise of the album'
"Technology is completely the reason for the demise of the album," music journalist Joshua Ostroff of Huffington Post Canada told CBC News.
Ostroff says that with CDs, people had to buy the whole album even if they only liked one or two songs. But that changed as soon as digital downloads entered the picture.
"Once Napster came around and allowed them to pick and choose what song they want, and then iTunes, and now streaming, people just listened to the songs that they want, Ostroff says."
The increased popularity of streaming in the last year could account for the particularly steep drop in album sales in that same period.
But artists and music labels might have also played a part in souring fans' relationship with albums.
"For a certain number of years, a lot of great artists really used that to make cohesive album statements. Nowadays, it's kind of back to being compilations of singles and filler," says Ostroff.
Surviving in a singles-driven world
Ostroff points out that outstanding albums that tell a cohesive story from the first song to the last, like Adele's break-up opus 21, are still managing find an audience today. But such albums are now anomalies, not the norm.
Being a pop superstar also helps.
Drake and Beyoncé have the kind of fan following that secured sales and streams for their surprise albums, even though they came with no pre-selected singles (Beyoncé's could only be bought as a whole album).
- Drake sets Spotify record with his new surprise album, If You're Reading This It's Too Late
- Ed Sheeran is Spotify's most streamed artist in the world
But most artists are bracing themselves for a world where their singles, not albums, will be the measure of their success.
David Usher, who has had successful albums as a solo artist and as the lead singer of Canadian rock band Moist, says he could adapt to only putting out singles.
"I feel like there's still a story to be told with an album. But not everyone wants to hear it," Usher said in an interview with CBC News. "So there's definitely an opening to re-visualize what the length of the story should be."
And all signs point to a shorter story.
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