LP stands for ‘long-playing’. (Album stands for ‘album’. Collection of songs. Record. You know the kind of thing.)
‘LP’ was originally used in reference to vinyl, in contrast with the ‘EP’ (extended playing) and Single vinyl records. A 12-inch vinyl record would play 45 mins of music over both sides… or 12 songs at 3 minutes and 45 seconds each. 6 songs per side.
Albums still tend to be about 45mins long. They still tend to feature 11-13 songs. Songs still tend to be 3-4 mins long.
The most popular early (we’re talking 1910-ish) vinyl discs were 10-inches, which could only play about 5 mins per side; restricting the length of compositions. This quite quickly became convention – hence the “3 minute pop song” we all know and probably hate.
So originally albums were just collections of songs; compiled by genre or artist. For a while there was the ‘Concept Album’ (some artists are still making concept or concept-style albums – that’s a discussion for another day / post)… and now?
Since the internet became a thing, there’s been rather a lot of unbundling going on.
By ‘unbundling’, we mean only listening to certain songs from an album rather than the whole album and not even necessarily the singles. Everyone’s tacitly agreed that ‘unbundling’ is pithier.
People have made mixtapes for, like, ever – but the creation of mixtapes still required someone somewhere along the line to have bought the whole album. When the internet (read: piracy) came along, people could pick and choose the songs they liked from an album and just download those few. They didn’t have to have listened to the whole thing. iTunes allows the same practice, albeit legally.
Streaming means you can listen to the whole album, choose the songs you like, then only listen to those… or, if you’re really serious about it, download those. Or, for the few remainingly physical-format-devotees, buy those singles (if they’re singles… otherwise, this hypothetical scenario doesn’t really work.)
So lots of worried music industry people / smug tech industry people have been declaring the death of the album. They’ve been declaring it every year for… what feels like a lifetime.
And that’s what I’m here to talk about. (Hi.)