"Tracks in the context of an album can have a totally different effect in comparison to hearing those tracks in isolation..."
Streaming services have revolutionised the consumption of recorded music, with millions of tracks now available at our fingertips. However, I still find purchasing and listening to the physical copy of an album to be a much more immersive, engaging and rewarding experience. As a teenager, I remember receiving the cassette of Oasis' Be Here Now for Christmas and saving pocket money for their subsequent album The Masterplan. Once I had my first Saturday job I would visit Circa Records every Monday to browse the latest releases to add to my collection, having read about them in the previous week's NME. Fast‑forward 15 years, and on recent trips to London and Manchester I spent time browsing independent record shops searching for hidden gems, artists recommended to me by friends and releases by seminal artists.
The physical album evokes memories of when I discovered the artist, who suggested I should listen to them, where I bought the record, and moments in life associated with listening to the record. For me, this deeper connection and experience of owning the physical item combines to enhance and enrich the listening process.
From the artist's perspective, the album format gives us the freedom to craft a journey upon which to take the listener. For a creator, a collection of songs can reflect a time period, mindset, the involvement of a collaborator, and in some cases it can be autobiographical. While the same can be said about individual songs, the shorter format limits the scope of this for the writer.
As a listener, it is important to remember that tracks in the context of an album can have a totally different effect in comparison to hearing those tracks in isolation, and some don't always have the same impact when heard as stand‑alone works. Nostalgia can also play an important role in the listening process, and often reminds me why I fell in love with music in the first place, thanks to a childhood friend lending me some of his cassettes to listen to. Those were the only records I had access to, so I listened to them on repeat. While the tape could be rewound, the limitation of the playback format encouraged the consumption of the whole album in the way it was intended. Just as it can for a creator, an album can have an association with a time, place or mindset the listener was faced when they first heard it.
As a composer and music producer, listening to an album can inspire my next track or project. Along with the obvious characteristics including genre and instrumentation, I listen for inspiring sounds and textures, chord sequences, rhythms and the way the instruments present are performed and utilised.
While I certainly don't feel the album is becoming a lost art form, instant digital access to almost any record removes some of the magic from purchasing and experiencing an album as a whole. With this in mind, I encourage you to take the time to listen to an album from start to finish, with no distractions. While there is no inherent problem with listening on digital services, perhaps we should be mindful to take the time and effort to listen to albums as they were intended, instead of jumping to the latest playlist or trending track. This mindset and approach to music consumption can enable us to reap the full rewards of the emotions triggered and the overall sensory experience we can have with music.
Michael Denny is a music producer and composer. You can hear his music at www.michaeldennymusic.com.