Set the record straight

Updated: May 24, 2020, 18:35 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Has the fading art form of music albums got a fresh lease of life with an increase in listening time due to the lockdown? We chatted with experts and gathered data to find out

Listening to an album is like watching a movie, while an EP is like a short film. Representative pic
Listening to an album is like watching a movie, while an EP is like a short film. Representative pic

Ah, the album. That work of creation where the musician picks up his instrument like an author penning a novel, and not a short story in four tracks. That sonic journey that takes the listener through twists and turns that end when the final note's been played. That marketing tool that has been sharpened for decades across LPs, audio cassettes and CDs, so that industry can cut its own slice of the cake.

Where is it today? Is it still lost in a sea of singles and EPs like it's been for some time? Or is it possibly swimming back up, now that people again have the time to invest in eight songs? A study by streaming service Deezer conducted only last year showed how, in the UK for example, 15 per cent of the respondents under 25 had never heard even one album in its entirety. Let's assume it was because consumer patterns had changed with information overload and decreased attention spans. Simply put, no one had the time. But now, we do. The leisure of soaking in a full album is less of a luxury given these long, locked-down hours listeners across the world are experiencing. So, is the art form finally getting some breathing space after being drowned out by short bursts of content? And is this thus the right time to re-examine its value so that it doesn't start sinking again? We pose these questions to a cross-section of musicians, cutting across a young band serving only singles so far, and stalwarts whose menu consists mainly of records.

Ritwik Ghosh
Ritwik Ghosh

The young band is called Pull. Formed two years ago, they released their sixth standalone track, Ticket, last week. And keyboardist Ritwik Ghosh tells us that the reason the outfit has consistently taken the singles route is because they are still on the road to establishing themselves — it's the need to stand out that drives their churn-out of content. But personally, as a listener, the lockdown has helped him rediscover the pleasure of full-length albums. He gives the example of English producer Tom Mirsch. Ghosh had heard three of his songs earlier. "But the lockdown meant that I was mentally available to listen to his albums even when I am occupied in other activities, like chopping vegetables."

Rohit Gupta
Rohit Gupta

The stalwarts are Peter Cat Recording Company. This is a Delhi-based band that has cemented its position towards the top of the growing pile of Indian independent music. And keyboardist-cum-trumpet player Rohit Gupta tells us, "The lockdown is forcing people to improve our attention spans for listening to music again, which had gone down because of the overload in the market. Musicians can use that to their own advantage and push the limits of their creativity."

Rohit Ganguli
Rohan Ganguli

Rohan Ganguli agrees. The Kolkata-based guitar veteran is about to release his debut solo album during the lockdown. But asked whether the concept of an album is making a comeback right now or not, he says that even if it is, the resurgence won't persist. "Things will go back too soon to how they were for permanent change to take place," he says, while singer-songwriter Ankur Tewari feels that there's no difference either way. Albums or EPs, they are all part of the same business. "The words product and content have become synonymous these days. An artiste is a good businessman when he can create content that sits on a shelf like a product that can be used. There's nothing wrong in that. It's just the way it is."

Be that as it may, data suggests that, yes, people have indeed revisited the idea of listening to long bodies of music these past two months. Neetu Puri, associate vice president of programming at music platform Jio Saavn, revealed, "While the percentage of streams from albums has remained unchanged, the streams on curated playlists have nearly doubled."

Ankur Tewari
Ankur Tewari

And sources at another music app told us on condition of anonymity that album streams have increased twice over in April and May compared to the beginning of 2020. This says that people are again accepting music more as novels than four-track short stories. The lockdown is seemingly reversing consumer patterns, even if Ganguli is eventually right about the change being temporary.

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