Downloading might be on the rise, but artists like Kanye West and Katy Perry are convincing fans to chose plastic over digital.
In the age of digital music, the thought of getting in your car, driving to a store, and paying $10 for a full album that includes songs you don’t care for seems dumb in comparison to downloading a single song off iTunes from the comfort of your home. Although the record industry would gladly prefer consumers using legal downloading sites over online piracy, buying that $10 album would be even better.
I’m one of those weird people who loves buying physical albums. I realize that I could save money and space by just downloading songs, but there’s something magic about holding an album in your hands, flipping through the record sleeve, and popping the disc in your car. It’s an experience that iTunes cannot duplicate.
Luckily, some artists are making albums especially for people like me. Kanye West’s opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one such album. In addition to liner notes, the deluxe edition features five different covers printed on gold, high gloss paper that peeks through a window on the album cover. Of course, most people are buying the new Kanye record not for its packaging, but because it is a cultural milestone. In some instances though, those details can make a difference.
Take for instance Katy Perry’s sophomore set, Teenage Dream. It features the singer laying in clouds of cotton candy on its cover, and it actually smells like cotton candy.
“I was so taken with the experience and impressed by the gimmick that I actually bought a copy of the CD, even though I already owned a digital copy purchased the day before,” wrote Kyle Anderson for MTV.com after smelling the album for himself. “It’s rare that I’m even in music stores nowadays, and it’s even stranger that I’d be holding a copy of a brand new CD (most of the compact discs I buy are used, and most of my new music comes either digitally or on vinyl), so even the experience of exploring album packaging was strange and unfamiliar.”
Miss Perry doesn’t deserve much credit for her vocal ability or contributions to the pop canon, but her marketing skills are impressive. The experience of purchasing an album from a brick and mortar store and enjoying it is a foreign concept to so many these days, and bringing it back should be a high priority for artists and record labels. The demise of the large canvas vinyl provided surely contributed to it, but artists don’t do themselves any favors when their album sleeves are skimpy, lacking lyrics, commentary, or art. The album sleeve is an extension of the music and a deeper look into the artists’ mind and motives.
Considering the infrequency that most consumers buy an album from Best Buy or Wal-Mart, it would behoove record companies to make that the best possible experience for the buyer. And for heaven’s sake, put the lyrics in there. We’re all sick of exiting out of ringtone ads just to look up lyrics that are only half right on some sketchy website.
Thoughtful and engaging album packaging won’t save the hemorrhaging record industry, but it might slow the bleeding.
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