Is the acceleration of our lives showing in music too? I think it definitely is. There’s no doubt about it that the internet and the resulting speed in which music has become widely available has also changed the way we consume music.
With the likes of Soundcloud, Deezer or Spotify and Youtube we can now access nearly all the music we want at any given time. We are now consuming in small bits. We are scavaging blogs for the newest singles and artists or labels. When I wake up in the morning, I check on facebook what is going on and I’m sure to find plenty of links to music. The same applies to Twitter, maybe even more so, as the space for a message is even smaller. We share, we click, we consume, we share, we click, we consume. Mobile internet is what helps us sooth our need for more information, or further consumerism ‘on the go’. Since the Sony Walkman, music is not limited to the big stereo at home or the car (still a place where a lot of music is consumed and probably the last fortress of radio). We can listen to music whenever we want, no matter where we are. We can even discover new music – thanks mobile web! But how are we making use of these possibilities?
There are a lot of people who also argue, that the internet has libereated the music industry, allowing everyone to share their music. The gatekeeper function of the music labels is being watered down by tools like Soundcloud or Bandcamp. Musicians, or those who consider themselves musicians, can now just share their music with everyone around the globe. They are vying for attention. They are competing with the big guns. While the Pros and Cons will not be discussed in this post, I have another recent developement to talk about: The rise of the EP.
EP stands for “Extended Play” and the format has been around since the days people were still playing shellac discs on 78rpm. But today we just understand a mid-length release under that name. It’s too long to be a single, but too short to be an album (Long Play = LP). In the physical format world, I love the 10″ records. Most of them automatically qualify as EPs – I love that. In the digital world, I mostly don’t understand them. Take a look at any streaming service or iTunes and you’ll find most of the “EPs” out there are literally just two-track singles with two or three added remixes. What the fuck is that all about? At least in the dance genre you would have actual 12″ mixes for EPs or whatever, but what is the point about having two songs, one of which has previously been released as a “Single-track”-Single (again, what the heck??), the other is just the by-product of a 7″-single release. Because it always makes sense to have a b-side on the back of the a-side, doesn’t it?
So let’s go back a few years: At the start of the 2000s we had a brilliant boom of indies bands that all popped up with wonderful first albums. Just think of The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand or Bloc Party. While some of these bands slightly lost the edge over recent follow-ups, their debuts still stand as iconic albums of their generation. I doubt anyone would dispute that. So, how come, these bands were able to condense all the excitment and buzz surrounding them into a whole record, while today all these ‘exciting’ bands can’t seem to cope with any kind of buzz? Take a look at Bloc Party for instance. They managed to chrun out great, good and debatable records, but their early stuff was so good, that they even released amazing b-sides that would beat a lot of a-side singles these days. So is it maybe a matter of the shortened attention span of audience AND the artist that they seem to produce less and less relevant material? Maybe artists themseleves are too excited about what’s going on on the interwebs that they can’t focus themselves anymore?
Play hard or produce hard?
Take Chvrches as an example. They managed to play a BBC live session even though they had not even released an EP. All they had was two songs on their soundcloud, plus various remixes of these two songs by other dance artists. While I am waiting in excitement for their upcoming album, this just helps to emphasize my point. The internet surely helps to get the word out about a band. But is it enough to judge a band? A band itself is a fragile construct, mostly consisting of people with great ideas and visions. I still think that labels are necessary to help bands on their way to realising their vision. But does a band have a vision after a couple of songs they wrote together in a flat, basement or wherever?
When I look at the last Arctic Monkeys record, I can’t help but think that this is a band at a crossroads. Their debut was filled with great songs they wrote without spending nights hanging out with P. Diddy or dating celebreties. They just toured their bottoms off. Played in every pub and city in the UK until Domino signed them up. They were ready to release a great album because they worked bigger and bigger crowds with that material and they knew what they wanted to do. Once you’ve managed to release a sucessful debut, you need to follow it up. Then you finally have a lot of time to think about your music, because you happened to have become a serious musician. It can all go tits up from here. But fair enough, you can’t stop your life from changing. You’ll always run that risk no matter what – and labels share this risk, too. My point is though, if you have never toured your ass off, you get signed up because of one or two decent tracks on the internet, you don’t have a clue about what you want and how important it is to know that. So instant superstars release crap music eying instant chart success – mainly with their winning single. The rest of the album is just filler. So EPs are a sole consequence of that. Why release albums, when noone cares about them anymore? EPs are more instant. They help to keep the buzz going. And they soothe the shortened attention span of the audience. At least they don’t try and charge 18 Euros for an album with one decent song on it – mind you, the latest season of German Pop Idol just finished. The album is going to be released via Universal in two weeks…