Are music streaming services reducing the number of albums released?

It's not just declining sales, even mega platinum stars like Adele have paltry catalogs. What's going on?

Opinions about the future of the music business cover a lot of ground, but one thing is certain: today's bands release albums at a much slower pace than bands did in previous eras. It's not just that Spotify and other streaming services have been taking their toll on sales; I doubt too many of today's top artists make albums at the rate Bob Dylan did early in his career. He released 21 albums between 1962-1981. The Beatles were even more prolific and released five albums in the U.S. in 1964: "Meet The Beatles!," "The Beatles' Second Album," "A Hard Day's Night,""Something New," and "Beatles '65" (released on December 15, 1964). They slacked off in 1965 and only released three U.S. albums. The Fall put out 29 studio albums between 1970 and 2011, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded an album a year for the first few years, and then the pace dropped to one every three or four years. The sales numbers were trending down so you really can't blame them.

Steve Guttenberg

So it's no wonder today's younger bands, even ones with record contracts, barely manage to squeeze out a record every two or three years. Arcade Fire, one of my favorite groups, have made just three full-length studio albums, including their last, "The Suburbs," from 2010. Adele is the biggest star of the moment, and she's made a grand total of two studio albums, "19," released in early 2008, and "21," from January 2011. Radiohead waited three and a half years between releasing "In Rainbows" in 2007 and the latest one, "The King of Limbs." What happened to the creative spark? Technology has made it easier than ever to make records, but technology can't write new songs, yet.

Those artists still sell lots of albums, but most musicians now see recorded music primarily as a promotional device for generating concert and licensing income, and don't expect albums to be profitable on their own. So musicians are less likely to invest a lot of time and money into making really great albums. They are, after all, essentially worthless to the fans who "love" the music.

Thanks to streaming services , you may never have to shell out a dime to legally enjoy your favorite music, but you may lose out in the long run. Ten or twenty years from now when you're looking back on your favorite artists' discographies and see that they only released a handful of albums, will you wonder if the fans lack of support had something to do with that? Concerts are great, but most bands break up, so your opportunities to enjoy their music in the future will be limited to the band's recorded legacy. It's a shame that a great artist like Amy Winehouse released just two albums while she was still alive.

If you're still buying recorded music, tell us why in the Comments section.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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