Forrest Fang’s new album, Letters to the Farthest Star is out now on Projekt.
In the recent brave new world of “all you can stream” and on-the-fly playlists, it can be easy to forget that at one time the album as concept ruled supreme. At least that was my experience growing up during the heyday of progressive rock in the 70s and even during the DIY-indie days of the 80s. It wouldn’t occur to me not to play Yes’ Close To The Edge or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon from beginning to end, with a break in between to change side one to side two. At the same time I was listening to the music and admiring the cover art, I could read the liner notes to tell me not only who played what, but also when and where the album was recorded, with occasional shout-out to influences, family and friends. Listening was a very personal experience you could share with your friends. You might buy the latest King Crimson while your friend bought the latest Gentle Giant and have an album listening party with like-minded music fans at your school or your dorm.
In the 80s, I would continue this practice of listening to albums like REM’s Murmur, Husker Du’s Zen Arcade or Lou Reed’s New York all the way through. Today, listeners are not only split between the physical and digital format for music, but also are lured by the option of not paying anything at all or a nominal amount per album to stream it. I think that divorcing the music from its visual form has already had the unfortunate effect of fragmenting the overall experience to the point of lessening the listener’s personal connection to the artist. Turning the album into an a la carte streamable playlist of individual tracks takes this fragmentation one step further.
I’ve always to tried to create each of my albums as a whole, so that each piece becomes a part of a continuous story or dialogue. With diminishing sales of physical CDs (let’s face it, ambient just doesn’t cut it on LP, because the music is too long and too quiet), the album format in our genre appears to be in danger of disappearing into the 21st-Century equivalent of radio. It will make it increasingly difficult for artists like me to continue offering music in a physical form, which would be a shame. If you value the album format, please do what you can help keep it afloat.
Sam commented: The one thing that I can say in reference to our fans is that Projekt albums are regularly downloaded in total. The Projekt bandcamp page is only full-album, and sales at iTunes is around 60% full-album (vs ala carte tracks). So there’s that to keep in mind.
Forrest replied: Hi Sam, That’s good to hear. But I’m also thinking of services like Amazon Prime that allow you both stream whole albums and make make playlists of individual tracks for very little per album. I could see how it would be tempting to a casual listener to stop buying albums altogether in favor of streaming. But, of course, labels and artists would get almost nothing for this, and it turns music into a loss leader for something else — much like the way Best Buy used to sell its CDs ultra cheap as a way to entice customers into its stores. We simply become fish bait for something else which actually makes the retailer money. At its heart I think it becomes an ethical issue.
Sam commented: Yes, you know have faced the same realization I have. All these services make it way to easy to NOT buy music…. because they want to sell their subscription. They don’t care what it does to us, as the “fish bait.” It’s nice to see we still have some loyal fans who support the full album. The creative piece of art.