April 19, 2008 / 2:54 AM / 9 years ago

How to save the album

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Ever since Shawn Fanning launched the original Napster -- and even more so now that legitimate downloading has taken off via iTunes -- I've been hearing lots of talk about the death of the album.

It's getting louder and louder, and it has our industry running scared. As you all know, single tracks -- whether they're purchased legitimately or downloaded illegally -- are cutting into the sales of albums, which are far more profitable.

The big question is, What, as an industry, should we do about this? Do we deny consumers the freedom of choice of buying single tracks, as Jay-Z did with his "American Gangster" album? That's one way of preserving the art form known as the album, but I think there's an even better solution.

Artists, producers, songwriters and A&R folks: Rise up to the challenge and make your album so good that fans will want to buy the whole thing. I realize every album can't have six or seven top 10 singles, like Michael Jackson and I were blessed with on "Thriller" and "Bad," but you've got to try. If it's good enough, the fans will buy it. Maybe they'll want to whet their appetite by only buying a track or two at first, but if you keep coming out with good tracks and pique their interest, they'll be back.

There's actually an opportunity here to sell more than just the album. Release a digital track early. That's an easy sell, but make sure the rest of the album delivers that same kind of quality and excitement, and they'll be back to buy additional tracks and/or hopefully the entire album as you conceived it. And don't forget special packaging for the physical product. If you and your team deliver quality goods, the fans will want to buy it.

Can you imagine a world in which people only bought a single download of Miles Davis' "So What" instead of the greatest jazz album of all time, "Kind of Blue?" Or "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" instead of Marvin Gaye's complete masterpiece "What's Going On?" Or even a single track from Herbie Hancock's Grammy Award-winning "River: The Joni Letters" instead of the whole collection?

We need to stop complaining about single-song downloads and instead focus on making better music that'll make fans want more than just one song.

Reuters/Billboard

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