I was talking to some students in my Jazz Ensemble at school one day and they were telling me how after they heard a recording I may have played for them in class it made them want to go home and get the album. Of course today, it's so different from when I was their age. Today, when they want to purchase an album, they think about downloading the album off their computer and then move it onto their iPod or phone. They never really hold a physical product or for that matter have a set of liner notes to read. I have to say that I miss going into a record store and just thumbing through the inventory to see what comes up. That physical act doesn't exist anymore and I admit that sometimes I go into Academy on 18th Street just to thumb through their cd's. You just cannot get that same sensation on iTunes; although it is a great feeling to think about wanting to pick up a new recording and there it is, always ready for you to purchase it. No more disappointment of going to the store, all excited, only to find out that they are sold out.
In putting together my new album, lema sabachthani, because it is a two cd album I had to consider the placement of the songs that would hopefully make the listener want to get up and put on the second cd. Very much like how artists in our day putting out a record had to consider the order and placement of their compositions so that the listener at the conclusion of the first side would get up and turn the record over. With a cd the artist really needs to consider the order of their songs so that the listener will make their way to the end. CD's force us to listen from the beginning each time. With mp3 players, you have the ability to pick and choose the songs on an album that you want to listen to by creating your own playlist. Does the artist today need to consider this when imagining the entire project and how one song flows to the next for the duration of the recording or because of playlists does this even come into consideration anymore?
In preparing the liner notes for my new album, I began to think about how liner notes have become yet another thing of the past. As you know, when purchasing music today, aside from the recording you only receive the cover artwork of the album. I've often wondered, and I'm sure the technology is there to do this, why can't they make it where you can click on the album cover and it flips to the other side? For that matter, why can't the liner notes be available as a digital download for every album that has them when you purchase a new album? Just thinking out loud.
As I prepared to lay out the design concept for my new album I began to think about the cover art work and how today you really only get to see a very small thumbnail of that cover. As a designer, your artwork literally has to be simple and bold enough to stand out from such a small image. It's as though you cannot even conceive of putting great detail into the album artwork because of the small display, you would never see the artists intent.
So, is all of this a bad thing? The kids I teach know of no other way, so they have embraced it. I think about what has been lost in the transition from records to cd's to downloading the music onto a tiny player that can store thousands of songs. Yes, I do miss holding a record cover and reading the liner notes; however I have to say that I enjoy carrying almost my entire music collection in the palm of my hand wherever I go.
I'm not qualified to get into a discussion on the difference between analog vs. digital sound reproduction. I have often thought that there is a warmth to the sound of a record that that has been lost on cd's and mp3's. Yet, when I listen to my own recording I believe that Jay Bianchi and Ben Gramm were able to get a warm, beautiful sound reminiscent of the analog sound of a record album. I'm not sure how they did that, but kudos to them for, in my view, achieving it. I think what concerns me more is that these small mp3 players has caused us to become more casual listeners. We listen to music on the train and while walking down the street which I too enjoy immensely, but how often do we put on music and just sit back to listen, in silence without interruption? Manfred Eicher, the owner of ECM Records was once asked, "Why do you place five seconds of silence before the first song?" and he replied, "You have to sit down, right?" I have often thought that was a great answer and it goes to the idea that music should be much more than something that is in the background. ECM records has truly embraced the concept of deep listening, of having one song move to the next to pull you into another state of being for the entire length of the album. And this state of being actually begins when you observe the album artwork, art and music become one with the listener. How can we not take the time to slow ourselves down and listen?
I have embraced the technology of downloading music and getting it onto my iPod and I realize that there is no going back, even as some artists are releasing their music on vinyl again. I was asked why I ordered so many hard copies of my new album and for me it was important to have that product in hand, for there to be a set of liner notes with great artwork to help better understand the music and the progression of one song to the next in telling a story and to have all of these elements join together for a complete artistic experience for the listener.
So, all of this is merely for us to think a little and join in a discussion. Please send me your thoughts on these topics and any others regarding the changes in the music industry. I look forward to hearing from you. Until next month...