Monday, January 20, 2014

Listen to the Whole Album! Or, Smells Like Teen Spirit In Bloom

In the golden age of vinyl, a music album was often created with the intention that the listener could best appreciate the music by listening to the songs in order. Much would be lost if you played Pink Floyd's The Wall on shuffle.

Nowadays, music is thought of almost exclusively at the single song level. Go to iTunes and pick the song you want to download. It's not clear why artists even wait for sets of ten songs before releasing them. Certainly some artists care about the song order and strive to make a coherent collection based on a theme or story. Let's take an extreme case using a fictitious band:  Sleepy Babies records an album and are dead set on having it listened to in order. What can they do, given the single mentality today?

Let's make a distinction between song number and track number. Song is the complete work (verse-chorus-verse, as Kurt Cobain used to say). Track number is the slot in the order.

The band's engineer could start by having track 1 end at song 1's halfway point. Then track 2 would be the second half of song 1 and the first half of song 2. Likewise, track 3 would be the second half of song 2 and the first half of song 3. Continue this half-and-half method until the final track, which would be the second half of the penultimate song plus the entire final song (to wrap up cleanly and keep the song count equal to the track count). [Radiohead could turn this into a Mรถbius strip of songs by combining the final song's ending and the first song's beginning.]



Convoluted, yes. But a listener playing these tracks would not experience any problems. But try to listen to a specific song and it's a huge hassle. Just like the artist intended.

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