The death rattle has been shaking for the album for sometime now. Personally I am not losing faith, but there are a great many marketers, bands, labels and sales charts that are ready to bang the last nail into it’s coffin.
Sadly, the more people that think like this, the faster the album rusts. I don’t believe this hype. Yes, the album was a static product at one point, but no longer should it be a static concept. Don’t kill it…change it.
If you don’t know me by now…I am a fan of the long player, the long form album concept. I like to listen to the sum of parts as much, if not much more than the parts themselves. I also enjoy reading through the material that comes with (came with) the physical medium. I’m a vinyl nut, so that vinyl, gate fold, physical experience is important to me.
When the cassette tape was the talk of the town, they (the labels) tried to cram all of that content onto an accordion’esque fold out insert that barely fit inside the plastic case it shared with the cassette. That entire collection of artwork, lyrics, liner notes, song credits, band thank you’s experience, shit the bed when it went to cassettes. Who really wanted to squint and read all of that fine print and spend thirty minutes staring into album art the size of a cigarette pack? No one did.
When the CD came out it was a bit better (larger), but not by much. If anything the experience went from shit to meh. Yeah, you could see the album art and you didn’t have to squint so hard to see the liner notes, but still…this was bed-shitting material.
That part…the added info…of the album experience rusted a long time ago. Look at the digital situation we have today. A majority of the albums that you can get via iTunes, emusic or Amazon still don’t come with ANY liner note type info at all. Talk about obsolete…bands aren’t even demanding this be part of the delivery of their music/album.
Yes, some digital album downloads come with PDF versions of the liner note and added info…but this sucks as an execution. I love all the added info, but I just don’t like this style of delivering it…the flat, lifeless PDF/print out.
iTunes is trying to help get some of that old timey feel back with the iTunes LP. This execution is ok, not great, but ok. In time, when/if it becomes a standard, it will improve. I actually thought they did a good job with the recent Bruce Springsteen jumbo re-release of The Promise: Darkness on the Edge of Tow
n. The physical copy came with CDs, DVDs and a replica of Bruce’s notebook he kept during the making of the album. The iTunes LP came with all of the above (sans physical format), including a page turning digital representation of the notebook. OK…credit for trying.
As I look at what my fave rave bands and artists are doing to promote album releases, I am starting to see what I considered to be the new liner notes. They aren’t physical, they aren’t something you can touch, print or hold. They aren’t being compromised into a “we can say we did it”, micro-format. They aren’t even tangible per se, but they are offering that same rich, insightful commentary that artists once delivered in their album liner notes.
The new liner notes are the promo videos.
Video is a such an effective medium for delivering messages. If you are an industry insider, serious music head or causal music fan, video has become part of your music listening (viewing) experience. In 2010, bands, marketers, labels and fans have been leveraging video more than ever before. I enjoy video not for the actual music video, but for the insight gained from interviews, mini-documentaries and behind the scenes goings-on.
I am not only an album fan, I am a story fan, too. The story is king; it is context; it is the folks and lore found in the songs; it pulls the whole experience together for me. I want to know the why and how behind the album and each song on it. This is why I love these promo videos. If you think about it, these videos are an extension of the liner notes. You are getting that same basic level of info (who played on/produced the songs), plus insights (into the songs), PLUS context (stories about the songs).
The great part about the story telling is that, most often, the artist is telling the story. I find this very compelling (when done well). I want to hear why they wrote a song, what it was about, that the drummer played in a stairwell…and why/who came up with the particular riff, etc.
One of my fave rave bands of these times is The Drive-By Truckers
. For their last album they went deep into the video promo groove. They put out a series of webisodes for each song on the album (I wrote about it here
). Each of their webisodes had a band member walking the talk. This was better than handwritten liner notes. We got emotion and reaction along with the information. The effect, on me, was that I was much more attentive to the songs while listening to them as well as more connected with their stories.
The DBTs have a new album coming out on February 15th: Go-Go Boots
. Once again they are breaking out the old video camera, but this time they are taking a slightly different, more personal approach. They have already posted their first video of the series. In it, Patterson Hood tells the what, why and how how they will go about creating videos for the album launch. He is not so much marketing as he is being transparent about how they want to connect with fans and tell the story of the album. I think it is brilliant and I am looking forward to it.
The DBTs aren’t the only ones to pull videos out of their bags of tricks. Gregg Allman has a new album out in January. He and his team have put together a “making of” video to start the promotion for the launch. I have to believe that if the album just went out with a truncated booklet of notes or a PDF download, you wouldn’t get a fraction of what Gregg gives in these eight minutes of video. The guy never speaks or gives interviews. Here you get more Gregg, more context, more storytelling from this grizzled bear than you have in the promo of his last half a dozen Allman and solo albums combined (I love the shot of him walking on the bridge with the poodle close behind).
I put a couple more here for reference as well. Elton John waxes on and on about his collaboration with Leon Russell. Even producers get in the act. Daniel Lanois gives a (slightly self-serving) eighteen minute, song by song rundown of the tracks on Neil’s “Le Noise”.
“Kill the body, the head will die
“. Context is king. Liner notes, album credits, thank you’s, song credits…these are all essential pieces of the sum total presentation of The Album.
They are the body. The music is the head. These pieces need to be considered oxygen to breathe life into the so-called dead album. If these videos are in fact a new version of the liner notes, I am looking forward to how far people can push this concept. Long live the album.
We are human beings. We like to feel connected…by emotion…context. That’s what stories do, they connect us by emotions to objects, ideas and other human beings. The more intrigued we are and the more effected we are, will impact how much more connected we are to the story. That video/audio experience can nail this to the wall when done right.
Here are four video-liner notes that I consider “done right”. Enjoy.
The Drive-By Truckers – “Go-Go Boots”
Gregg Allman – “Low Country Boots”
Neil Young – “Le Noise” (Daniel Lanois doing a trac k by track interview)
Leon Russell & Elton John – “The Union”