Is the Single, Single?

Conventional Wisdom Challenged: Are Albums Due for a Comeback?

Boy, it seems that everywhere you look there’s another story about how CD sales are down and digital single sales are the new wave. What if that turned out to be a fallacy?Think of how many curmudgeon bloggers would be disappointed; how many so-called journalists and Billboard “reporters” would be discredited.You’d have a sea of people back-pedaling their statements of the past two years.You know who would not be in that crowd.You.Not if you’re one of my readers.

If you’ve been keeping up with the fact threads I follow– y’know, dumb stuff that I use to come to my conclusions, like annual reports from Big Four record labels (or Big Three, depending on how you look at it) and Big Box retailers, you’d get a very different picture than the nay-sayers who substitute real data for their own opinions based on who knows what– their anger management sessions, I guess.

Here’s a video of what I’m talking about:[youtube][/youtube]

Fact: CDs and albums are far from becoming roof-shingles.Furthermore, I predict that labels and artists will begin truncating “single rights” to stores like iTunes and Amazon within the next year. Why? There are many reasons, but the most apparent one is people like to pay less for music.$9 for 13 songs beats 99 cents for a single.Sure the tech-whores like to retort that the public doesn’t want to pay $9 for only one good song.But this presumes the entire album sucks – all the time!What surveys are they using other than their own personal taste?

This story in Red Orbit tells it all.

Albums DO sell if they are good. But is this a new lesson?No.Labels and artists have known this for decades.Additionally, the entire music business economy is based on the Album configuration.Publishing advances are totally designed around albums.Can you imagine trying to negotiate a publishing advance when the label says “We’re not going to print any CD Albums, just post a couple of singles on digital stores?”Absurd!There would be nothing to base the advance upon.No advances means no flow of capital and most of us who passed High School Economics know what that means. (BTW -I failed that class.)

Want another reason?Albums are cool!It’s a cohesive, 50-minute vision of sound.Singles were created as an economic reality to selling Albums, not a substitute for them.Tech-Masters like Steve jobs don’t care about the integrity of music.No human who invented the best way to buy, catalog and steal individual tacks can be a real fan of modern music!I remember trying to get my mother to join the iPod generation by telling her that it could hold her entire classical collection.She responded, “But it cuts up the symphony into little bits.You’ve not supposed to listen to a symphony that way.” [iTunes used to treat movements like singles and wouldn’t play them seamlessly.]

I was ashamed.My 70 year old mother “got it” before I did: music is about creativity, not the technology you play it on.Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a music-hater, even if they don’t know it inside.They have sold their souls to the Tech gods if they truly believe that artists should start making three-minute singles and forget about their Album vision just because it’s more convenient.

Music lives!Albums live!And now the sales numbers prove it.

Mo out.

20 responses to “Is the Single, Single?”

  1. Steve Belkin says:

    Here, Here Mo! Bring back the concept greats like Dark Side Of The Moon, Another Brick In The Wall, Sgt. Peppers, Magical Mystery Tour, Aqualung, Tommy, or how about a good old fashioned long playing song that sucked you in…Creedence’s Heard it through the Grapevine, Inagodadavida (sp?), and so many others that gave you an experience not a commercial.

    Ok i’m done.

  2. athir says:

    C’mon Mo, Technology is foraging ahead! Pretty soon you will be able to lick a stamp and get a song and/or video on your Blackberry!

    Cd’s like tapes have seen their days! Hey did you know at one time they had platic like roll that one could speak into a horn and it would record your voice?

    forgot what they called it gram-aphone or something! 😛


  3. Jimi says:

    You are right, people want value, more for their money.
    Which also relates to time. Get more done in less time.
    Multitasking has always been with us. I even wrote an article about that myself on my director’s page @
    This means as a culture & society, many of us have less “fixed” blocks of time to listen through an entire album of fine classical music like your (probably retired) mom.
    We know how A&R listens to demos. 30 seconds or less & it either goes to the listen later or recycle pile. If I don’t hear what I want in ten seconds or less during my commute, I change the station There are virtually limitless options available. If a particular song moves me enough, I will go online while working on other things & read more, but I will not search out the “album”.
    I have not purchased a CD in over a decade.
    I like value too. I like free.
    Does this mean I support the ripping off of artists & illegal downloading? No.
    I do believe in broadcast. Sometimes archived broadcast, or podcast too. I like to hear new stuff free to see if I like it. & if I do I will archive it, just like in the days where we would tape cassettes off the radio. It’s the SONG not the sound quality. It’s the MOMENT, not the complete package. I do not care that I’m missing out on the artist’s heart & soul at that moment. Maybe later, when I love that song, or it becomes relevant to my life experience, but not at that moment.
    The easily found numbers & “facts” do not give the whole story. We know that too.
    ALL of my kids & their friends fileshare…ripping physical discs with mixes of music on ‘em
    None of this action can be traced, so there are no “real” hard numbers, but figuring the thousands of friends my kids have on line & dozens they’re in touch with physically every day, the impact is substantial.
    Single songs, unlimited, free.
    Artists have to understand that with the leveling of the playing field thanks to the internet, there is also more work & responsibility required to make a career of it. Nothing really has changed there.
    Selling singles & albums is not the future. Selling music to the end users is not going to generate income.
    Alternative revenue streams, live performance & licensing income are the things that drive the new market. Gold & platinum records have never really meant much more than a bloated industry stroking itself, The system can be gamed too easily.
    A good portion of the music on my kid’s ipods is not even available on CD, yet the number of people who listen to the music is substantially larger than ANYTHING on the Billboard charts. It’s not even charted, but MILLIONS of copies of these songs are sold.
    Huh? These are ANIME & GAME tracks. The best selling metal album in history came about because of a CARTOON The band doesn’t even exist. I had friends with Dethklok tunes on their ipods long before the CD ever came out, because they downloaded the music FREE. They are fans of the show. They see the ads. Sometimes they buy stuff. Music is not purchased, but commerce is done.
    These artists were making money before downbeat one.
    Giving it away to their FANS means more revenue on the flip side, DVD’s, tchokes, broadcast revenues, etc. Sure they’ll sell a few CDs, maybe even a few downloads.
    But LICENSING pays the bills.
    If an artist can’t get that, or are too lazy to do the work or produce quality product worthy of licensing, they should be content with whatever they can do on a different live level, ‘cuz they’re not going any further.
    I have no time for full albums. I do have time to listen to what I want to hear. Lately I’ve been loving some stuff my kids downloaded. Nobody knows where it came from, it was “on some disc a friend of a friend gave me” I recognized one from an older version of a videogame. A beautiful, haunting instrumental. I am an unknown fan of an unknown artist, but they got paid (probably quite well) & I have the music to listen to. I hope to hear more from this/these artists, if I can ever find out who they are, but if not, I have this moment, & that’s fine with me.

  4. mike says:


    Moses will lead us to the promised land

    “money” Mike Esterson
    CFO Money maker Entertainment

  5. Right on the head as usual, Mo! The basic message to all the Tech-dweebs [who are so besotted w/ their own handiwork they think the entire world bows before them]here is “I told you so!”



  6. Bernadette says:

    You bring up interesting points, Moe. But with these points, too, comes the understanding that the responsibility falls back to the ARTIST, now, to produce quality product.

    I think the single evolved on iTunes, specifically, because of the declining quality of the artists. We cannot exclude the artists’ responsibility in their own demise. It’s too easy to put all the blame on the big, bad corporations (believe me, though, I think Steve Jobs needs to rot in hell right next to Bill Gates), but they can only do what the artists (and the consumers) allow them to do.

    “With great power comes great responsibility,” said Spider-Man. And now that the power is back in the hands of the artists thanks to the Internet, they have to be more responsible with their music. They are more indebted than ever to put out a QUALITY product.

    Great post. Thanks man!

  7. Great music lives on forever in any format. Like a Phoenix rising.

  8. Drew Lanius says:

    Moses, I really enjoyed this one, but it begs some clarification. Let me preface my response by saying that I don’t claim to be the authority on anything. However, I do know this. Physical product sales are down. Maybe not by numbers of units sold, but rather by the volume of music being sold vs total amounts of music being sold. The CD will certainly be around for a long time to come, but labels will have to pkg them with dvds and other supplementals to entice the buyer. They’re already doing it more and more frequently. Just my opinion, but the single is a way the label can lower the statutory rate the artist earns. It has nothing to do with only having one good track, but having MANY good tracks and selling lot’s of singles cutting artists profits by comparison as if they sold full albums. The one area that I do see a struggle for everyone (except indie artists and unsigned acts) where digital downloads are concerned is the packaging deduction of 25 percent that labels are charging to artists on a product with no package!!! Trent Reznor distributed his latest via Tunecore for this reason. In closing, I’d like to say if ANYTHING is DEAD its the record labels! I am an artist and for the past 18 months managed NOCTALUCA (a kickass band the labels have virtually ignored) and have seen the labels go further down the drain. We are getting back to the days of record deals out of the trunk of you car. Kinda like the 50’s. Very few big labels and hundreds of “mom and pop” shops.
    But that’s just my opinion.
    Keep up your great work Moses.
    Peace and Light,

  9. Barry says:

    Singles were around long before anyone thought of putting them into albums. Up to the mid-1960s all the exciting, worthwhile new pop music came out on singles first. Albums were an afterthought, a means to milk some extra cash from a hit.

    The Beatles showed us that albums could be brilliant from start to finish (but only after they’d proved themselves with a dozen brilliant singles). A few handfuls of other artists have since managed to hold our attention for an hour at a time.

    For the rest of them, thank heaven for iTunes. I’m through with paying $15 for one or two great songs and an hour’s worth of near misses.

  10. Dean Wolfe says:

    you know the old proverb: where there is no vision the people persish…

    It’s the artists themselves who are the prophets of creative expression. They can only be coerced for so long. What we need is more old fashioned pure truthful artistic creation for its own sake.

    ***Analogy: 3 minute song equals average small canvas of art in gallery. Imagine a gallery with nothing but lots of small little pictures- versus walls-size pieces, triptychs etc…as well as smaller pieces…Which gallery would you go to?

  11. Stu Feldman says:

    Hey Mo,
    I’ve been looking for some musical reasons to endorse albums, especially cd albums and you bring up some good points. The only way to fall in love with a band is to listen to the full album. Musicians work hard to write and sequence a full selection of songs to provide a complete listening experience. Sampling one song from an album is like going to a baseball game and leaving after the first inning. How do you know who won the game if you leave before the closer comes in? Albums Forever!

  12. Steve says:


    I’ve been saying this for years! Also, the perfect length of an album is the length of a symphony. That’s about as long as most human attention spans last.
    CDs ruined the “album,” that extra 25 minutes meant more songs for the same mechanical royalties, so the labels started cramming all kinds of crap on cds…and kept raising the prices.

    That forced a lot of record buyers like me to get real picky, while labels became less and less picky about the quality of their product. With less and less emphasis on “quality” and more and more emphasis on “quantity” any product will suffer. iTunes filled a void for a lot of us…the same way McDonalds does…but I would much rather pay for gourmet food. All I need is 8 to 10 really good songs and I’ll buy it.

    Personally, I think the impact of file sharing is overrated. I (and just about everyone I ever knew) had hundreds of 90 minute cassettes of albums I didn’t own back in the 70s. Always tried out records like that…and usually bought the ones I liked. I do it now with files…just aren’t very many good albums to buy these days. Hell, I’m all for vinyl making a comeback, we just need to raise the bar a little then maybe “album artists” will return.

  13. Mike Hancock says:

    Hi Moses,
    As always your post are thought provoking. I like you believe, that the album concept will never die, but I also believe that consumers want choice. Unfortunately, when customer value suffers because of an industry’s existing business model, a multitude of competitive forces will come in to address that void.

    Technology has undeniably allowed me as a customer greater choice. And although a few artists as mentioned in the article are having success, i’m not sure anything that i’ve read convinces me that any thing other than that of a continued slide in CD sales is accurate. The Red Orbit article only indicates the turmoil the industry is going through vs. a declaration indicating some falsehood being perpetuated by the media about declining CD sales.

    If there is more substantive data pointing to an industry wide upswing in CD sales, then i’d love to see it.

    I buy singles and whole albums, it all depends on a variety of criteria e.g., the artist/artist reputation, the time i want to spend previewing an entire album vs. available budget for buying, etc..

    All I know is that things (including the music industry)are in great flux, and flux spells opportunity for those who have insight, vision, courage, and the ability to communicate and execute.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  14. It`s interesting to read the comments regarding this blog. There seems to be two schools of thought here; those like myself who agreed w/ what you wrote [not simply because YOU said it, but because the facts bear this out] and those who are saying “No, it`s NOT true! The CD really IS dead! The majors ARE dead! You`re wrong, wrong, wrong! I know the REAL facts!”. Obviously, these comments [on all sides] are colored by the individuals own perception, which is hard to get away from, of course. For me, the whole downloading/MP3 thing should be seen as yet another option, NOT the ONLY format. Much like the rather dubious claim that E-books are replacing the printed page, or that downloading movies will cause the movie industry to go out of business. When television first came about, everyone was sounding the death-knell for the movie business, which obviously never happened. Why CAN`T we have more than one format? [CD, SACD, DVD audio, MP3, hell even vinyl!] I personally like having the whole package, the booklet, artwork, etc. Why? Because its`……fun. Anyone remember THAT word? I buy CDs all the time, from various outlets like NEH Records, Amazon, Sentinel Steel, CD Universe, Metal Disc, Musical Heritage, CD Inzane, to name but a few. I always manage to find the best prices I can. I like choice, and no million dollar a year computer dork is gonna tell me what I can listen to or how. I also get a kick out of people who claim that CDs` are too expensive, yet are able to afford computers, a GPS, video game systems [and a zillion different games, as well], cell phones that do everything but park the car and walk the dog, and all the other latest toys that the “tech-masters” claim you just HAVE to have, otherwise you`ll be “left behind”. [these toys will of course be obsolete by lunchtime, but you can always buy the latest upgraded version, right?] I`ve ranted about all this before: Looking at some of the comments, I noticed [w/ out dumping on anyone for voicing their opinion] the good ol` “Music should be free” contingent is still kickin` & screamin`. The individual who claims CDs` are obsolete because he [and presumably everyone else] doesn’t have time to listen to them is an example of that segment of the population who want everything instantly yesterday. [Dethloks` album the most successful Metal album in history? I doubt that. [but their album DID debut at #21, so you can`t argue with success!] Let`s see where this “virtual band” is in 5 years.] Another interesting entry is from the gentleman who claims that the labels ARE dead, and the proof is that the band NOCTALUCA [checked `em out; good band! Hope they do get signed!] whom he has managed for 18 months has been ignored by the majors, thus they HAVE to be dead! One can only imagine what his feelings would be if the band got signed to a major and experienced serious chart success. All a matter of perception. “If you understand, then the world is the way it is. If you don`t understand, then the world the way it is.”

  15. Susan Rabin says:

    I like the information as it feeds into my hopes for the music industry. Fear and drama are annoying after a while. Thanks for the encouraging outlook.

  16. Jeff Haines says:

    I agree that the ability to put up to 80 minutes on a CD helped to perpetuate the notion of “Only one or two good songs on this whole thing!” Vinyl’s limitations of 15 to 20 minutes per side forced an artist to come up with quality work. A lot of my favorite CD’s are 30 to 40 minutes long. I’ve been in music retail 30 years and there always seems to be this death march towards killing the current popular format for the newest hippest thing but guess what? They tried it with vinyl & now that there are only a few pressing plants left, vinyl is having a resurgence! I think people who claim they have no time to listen to an entire album are not neccesarily true music fans. Yes, I have an ipod & I listen to shuffle mode a bunch but there is still no substitute for immersing yourself in an artists work warts & all! Trying to kill off the CD is way premature at this point. Digital is a sexy story for the media & the media itself is helping to kill the CD.

  17. Craig says:

    Hey Mo – I started doing mail order records in 1978, opened a retail store in 1984, carrying all sorts of music EXCEPT NEVER to this day sold rap or hip hop and NEVER will, always treated CD’s like cassettes (purely a convenience item) and never got off the LP bandwagon of my generation. Still here 30 years after beginning, LP & 7″ single sales outstrip our CD biz by a mile STILL and I have high school & 20-somethings in here daily buying vinyl. iPod’s & digital downloads are the future for the mindless robot-generation of Terminator IV but music & art fans are still connected not just to the ‘album’ as a concept but to the LP and packaging of both vinyl & CD as tangible evidence of life on earth for the artists and their fans. The same people who know nothing but downloads for their music are the same people who will someday buy Soylent Green.
    Craig in Peoria,
    Younger Than Yesterday

  18. charlie says:

    in my personal experiences on tour, people always want vinyl. maybe it’s the crowd we attract but they want a 12″ disc with big artwork on the sleeve and song titles/lyrics/credits they can read without a magnifying glass. this is why our latest release will be on vinyl. “what about my iPod?”, i hear the masses cry. well, you can also download the album from our page with an included code in the jacket. how cool is that?
    i could talk about how sweet a record sounds as opposed to an mp3 but technology has a way of working stuff like that out. instead i’d like to point out how albums last for decades if cared for properly. cd’s? maybe 15 years tops. digital media? hope you have backup copies. anyone can make cd’s but ‘the album’ in a modern context is a statement; a big, physical statement. not a statement of exclusivity but one that says, “we care about what’s in these grooves.”

  19. john allinson says:

    cd sales are up 2% this year,what am I doing wrong?? put me on your mailing list

  20. Laura Evans / McAloney says:

    Moses, I believe there is one key point that everyone is forgetting when it comes to albums, singles, CD’s and downloading. Computer downloads, or even CD’s could never produce record covers as they did in years past. Could you imagine Iron Maiden’s Eddie without having the whole album cover to do so. Record art was almost as important as the album itself. And the coolest part was, there was no “computer imaging”. These were albums that were either hand drawn, or a 35MM/ Polaried camera. We, as consumers, looked for that art. Almost like the commercials for the superbowl.

    I also must add that buying “singles” is nothnig new. Did we forget about 45’s? Then when CD’s came out they had CD singles. Neither one survived very long. I know everyone thinks that the internet is the “wave of the future”, but if we, as consumers, all started boycotting and fighting for REAL ARTWORK as well as REAL MUSIC, I believe that the industry would HAVE to make changes.

    I could go on and on Moe and you know it, so I will end it here.

    -Just an opinion from an X-Music Exec and always music lover!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.