This is a real question, and if you have any opinions, please chime in. Now that iTunes and, to a lesser extent, Amazon are big players in the music business things have changed. You no longer have the physical limitation providing a cap on the length of the album. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida can be twice as long and they don’t have to worry about it fitting on one side of an LP. Nor is the 80 minute limit of CDs an issue. There’s no longer a cost associated with the physical production of the album, so it’s not like there’s a significant base cost–an album can have one song.
Thing is, what do people really want? If you, the consumer, are going to buy some music from a band that you’re kind of familiar with, but have never bought anything from before, what will make you click on “buy album” rather than just cherry pick the “buy song”? For me this means that at least three song clips have to sound good, but, for the purpose of this blog, let’s assume that you are already fairly confident that this is a solid band and it’s not like there’s one good song with a lot of filler tracks.
iTunes pricing of albums (often) works thusly: if an album has 10 or less songs the album price is $0.99 * (the number of tracks). A six song EP will cost ya $5.94. If it’s more than 10 songs the album will be $9.99, so if you buy a 14 song LP the cost per song will be about $0.71.
So are people more likely to buy a long album and get a good deal on a per song basis, or a short album and spend less than ten dollars?
I’ve noticed some newer bands seem to be leaning towards the short album. Pelican and MGMT come to mind. This works for me. I feel if I’m buying a short album I’m probably not getting filler tracks (WTF with all the skits, M.I.A.?) and if I don’t love it I haven’t spent a lot of Washingtons.
Shorter albums also lend to making a more cohesive recording. We can’t all be Ryan Adams or Billy Sugarfix and pop out a song a day. Writing good songs takes the average songwriter a lot of time; what do two songs written three years apart really have to do with each other? A songwriters style can change; their life events are in flux. The first MGMT album is a good example–it sounds like those kids wrote all those songs Spring semester and recorded them during Summer break. It’s a tight, cohesive album that has a definite feel to it.