With The Beatles now on iTunes, the album format is no longer yesterday

Nov 16, 2010
Finance

Millions of music fans around the world read the news today that The Beatles full music library can now be downloaded at Apple’s iTunes store. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Fab Four, who first “invaded” the United States more than 45 years ago, the long-anticipated marriage between The Beatles and Apple (AAPL) could permanently […]

Millions of music fans around the world read the news today that The Beatles full music library can now be downloaded at Apple’s iTunes store.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Fab Four, who first “invaded” the United States more than 45 years ago, the long-anticipated marriage between The Beatles and Apple (AAPL) could permanently change how we consume and enjoy music.

With a string of albums in the 1960s including Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road (now all available to download for $12.99), the Beatles transformed the music industry both artistically and commercially. Short pop singles were replaced by longer-form concept albums that encouraged the listener to play them all the way through and appreciate each song in its proper context.

The album format, mostly available on vinyl records and later audio cassettes, dominated the music industry for the next three decades. Music consumers were more interested in investing 45 minutes in albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon than three or four minutes in the biggest chart-topping singles of that time.

Bands begin to sing new tune on the Internet

The rise of the Internet and MP3 players in the late 1990s returned the music industry back to its original roots. Short-form singles, which could be downloaded for 99-cents a pop on iTunes (and for free in other legally grey outlets), made a major comeback. When Apple debuted the iPod in 2001, it became possible to store our entire music libraries in our pockets.

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The ability to shuffle and rearrange songs on this new magical device ended up diluting the importance of listening to albums all the way through. Bands responded by focusing more on singles and alternate forms of distribution (commercials, movies, etc.) rather than the classic album form. In this respect, Apple reverted the music industry back to its pre-Beatles status.

While vinyl loyalists are leading a mini renaissance for that medium – record sales were up 33 percent in 2009 – the focus and energy of the music industry is now online.

Getting back home with The Beatles

More than any other band in the past half century, The Beatles have the ability to disrupt the commercial music industry whenever they repackage their material for new audiences. When you combine this with Apple, itself the most influential media and technology company of the past half-century, you can see how the music industry can spin back to the album format. Sure, individual singles from The Beatles are available for $1.29 per download (and last year’s comprehensive The Beatles Box Set for $149).

However, what better ad for The Beatles albums, and that musical format at large, than on the front page of iTunes? Further, we can expect Apple’s massive marketing campaign around the catalog to extend through the holiday season and beyond.

So in the months and years ahead younger generations who have not yet experienced the ageless wonders of The Beatles can now access the band’s music in ways it was meant to be heard, but in a medium comfortable to them. Older folks may want to register iTunes accounts for the first time in order to replace one or two of their favorite records that have gathered dust or a few scratches over the years.

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Either way, we’ll no longer say goodbye to buying full albums. It’s again hello, hello, hello.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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