The Album You Made Might Have Been a Giant Waste of Time
a.k.a. The trouble with big projects in a time of short attention spans.
Back in September, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bambounou, and while most of the conversation focused on his unorthodox (albeit successful) approach to social media, the French producer also said something interesting when asked whether he had any plans to make a new album:
People have short attention spans, and although I don’t necessarily want to constantly be releasing music, I also don’t want to work on an album for five years just so someone can listen to it for 15 seconds and say that it’s shit. What’s the point of that? I’m not saying I’ll never do an album again, but not right now.
He’s likely on to something.
A borderline absurd amount of music is being released these days. Just a few weeks ago, it was reported that 100,000 songs are now being uploaded to streaming services every single day. (Let’s assume those 100,000 songs have an average runtime of three minutes; a person would have to spend more than 208 days listening, 24 hours a day, to get through them all.) Consumers—even those who consider themselves dedicated music fans—are being bombarded with content, and when the onslaught of television shows, movies, news, books, podcasts and social media is factored in, very little room is left for new music.
Even I, a person whose career literally revolves around keeping tabs on just one relatively small corner of the music world, have a hard time keeping up. Every week, I receive hundreds of promos, and am alerted to dozens (sometimes hundreds) more by Bandcamp notifications, social media posts and news reports on various websites. Keeping track of them all is a gargantuan task, and even when I try to limit my scope to only those electronic music releases I personally think might be noteworthy or interesting, I’m still often left with more than 100 albums / EPs / singles to consider each and every week. (And when a week includes a Bandcamp Friday, that figure often shoots even higher.) Writing about them all would be impossible, and frankly, even mentioning all the ones I genuinely like is frequently out of the question.
(For what it’s worth, somewhere between 10 and 20 tracks from new releases are usually highlighted in the ‘New This Week’ round-up that appears in the Thursday edition of First Floor, and that number of reviewed releases holds relatively steady across most music media outlets. Even Pitchfork, which literally founded its entire publication on the back of album reviews, generally only runs about 20-25 reviews per week, and that’s across all genres, utilizing both its sizable staff and large freelance pool.)
In this environment, securing press coverage—let alone getting noticed by music fans who aren’t actively on the hunt for new music—is, for lack of a better term, something of a crapshoot, especially for new, unestablished and underresourced artists. Being on a big label, being affiliated with known talents / scenes and having the help of a manager / PR company can of course help, but even then, there are no guarantees. Having a plan—not to mention a budget—can absolutely give someone a leg up, but in the end, a lot of getting noticed boils down to matters of luck and timing.
Knowing that, maybe making an album isn’t the best way to go. When every release is essentially a roll of the music industry dice, what’s the point of slaving away on albums and only throwing those dice once every few years?