Recently Pink Floyd were successful in their bid to sue EMI because their tracks were being sold unbundled. After they argued that their record contract with EMI “expressly prohibited” the unbundling of album tracks, and had expected there to be a lock on their songs so they could only be purchased as full albums. When it came to light that their songs were made available as single tracks, this of course was a bone of contention for them.
There are two different arguments about this, one of which is if the consumer downloaded one track it may entice them to buy the whole album eventually. However, it’s equally as likely that one track will be downloaded, and even if it’s considered to be a fantastic track, that will be the end of that. What’s the point of buying the album when you already have the one song you definitely like and want?
One musician strongly in support of songs being locked so they’re only available as album purchases is Elbow’s Guy Garvey who believes the album is a dying art form, stating that, “You spend a large chunk of your life making [an album] and you think about every note, squeak and crackle. When you put your heart and soul into something you want people to hear it as it was intended.” It would be very easy to accuse the musicians of being greedy, and that this is just some veiled attempt at trying to get as much money from the consumer as possible, but in truth I’m inclined to agree with Guy Garvey.
I tend to look at albums as being like books, a series of chapters containing different scenes and insights. Purchasing a track, that isn’t at the time being released as a single, I see as being like buying one chapter of a book because you know it’s the one chapter you’ll definitely like. But what about the rest? Albums are meant to be played as a whole piece, and I think in some instances people will be missing out. What if the majority of people had only bought ‘She Bangs The Drums’ from The Stone Roses’ debut album, or ‘Grounds For Divorce’ from Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’? Those albums, full of cohesive and defining tracks, could easily have disappeared into oblivion if this was the case.
Naturally this is all subjective, but I personally am in support of locking some bands back catalogues so their music can only be purchased as full albums. Otherwise, bands may see albums as being a waste of effort and time and will only release singles. Could this be the future of music?
2003 - Witnness 2003, a comprehensive review by Brian Kelly of the 2 days of what transpired to be the last ever Witnness festival (in 2004 it was rebranded as Oxegen when Heineken stepped into the sponsor shoes).