Being a computer user and my preference being an Apple computer I often check in with a website called Mac Daily News. It gathers all of the Apple related news into one place. A lot of the news is about those big old music companies trying to get some leverage on Apple’s iTunes music store so they can dictate to Apple how they want to do business. Like they do with brick and mortar CD stores.

The iTunes music store is set up so that the buyer doesn’t have to shell out for a whole album. Every song is sold for a dollar whether it’s good or bad. You can buy the whole album too for about ten bucks. This is a good deal if there are more than ten songs on the album. But the record companies hate it.

Record companies are used to charging a premium for a hit song. Let’s say you heard a great song on the radio. You used to have two choices to purchase it. Buy the album for $17.99 (before the internet and lawmakers made them lower their illegally inflated prices) or buy the CD single for 4.99 or so. Now you have the choice to buy that song for one dollar. Record companies hate that and I can see why. Clearly they make less money. But I can also see why people would love to pay one dollar for just the song they want.

Most music, according to the charts, is bought by kids and young adults. There are a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that most of the marketing dollars are aimed at them, but one of the reasons that I really hadn’t though about (before the notion popped into my head) was album fatigue.

On the Mac Daily News website it is always pointed out (by whoever is commenting on the news for that website) that the album is an artificial construct invented by the record companies to make more money. As I pointed out if you like a song you have to buy an album of songs to get it. The illusion of value exists because there are many songs on an album and per song it is cheaper than buying them all as $4.99 singles. But you’re buying them without ever hearing them. Maybe you’ll like them maybe you wont. Some musicians have embraced the concept of the album as a whole work (Pink Floyd) but for the vast majority they are a collection of nearly random songs.

I noticed as I grew older that when I would mention a new album by so and so more and more of my friends would turn their noses up and say something like, “Eh, I’m done with albums”. Often they would mention whole albums they bought where they only liked one song. I often put this down to them getting older and not as into music anymore. As a consequence they weren’t a choosy as they should have been and got some stinkers for albums. But now I’m rethinking that conclusion.

I did the math and stumbled onto the concept of “album fatigue”. Let’s run some numbers. For the sake of argument I’ll say that every album has ten songs. By the time a person reaches their twenty fourth year or so they probably have a hundred albums. That’s a thousand songs. Now I’ll break down how much someone likes their music collection. Ten percent great albums. They like eight out of ten songs the other two are just okay. Ten percent lousy albums. They like one song, four are just okay, and five suck. Forty percent good albums. They like four songs, four are just okay, and two suck. Forty percent mediocre albums. They like two songs, five are just okay, and three suck.

Those are just guesses based on my own experience but they leave us with this: out of a thousand songs: 330 songs they like, 420 songs that are just okay, 250 songs that suck. That is an overwhelming amount of mediocrity in a music collection. As a person gets older and has less time to listen to music that person has a one in three chance of hearing a song that they like when listening to their own record collection. It’s no wonder people stop buying albums and listening to music. You get to the point where so much dreck is accumulated that it’s not worth it to ever buy another album. I think this is what happens to people and why they are embracing the age of MP3s and buying just the songs they like. Why not just add the songs you like into the mix. It’s easy with MP3s.

I think the age of the record album is definitely over. The musicians and big music companies may not know it yet but it is. Album fatigue is almost everybody’s destiny.