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What Does the Album Mean to You: Celebrating National Album Day

National Album Day celebrates the art of the album and the joy of listening to an album as a body of work. This year Naomi Pohl, MU Deputy General Secretary, shares what the album means to her.

Person's hand shuffling through records at a vinyl sale
CD and vinyl sales continue long after some predicted that digital would have entirely monopolised the market. Photo credit: Shutterstock

There’s something about listening to a complete album that takes me back to a specific period in my life and sparks nostalgia like nothing else. True, a single can lead you back to a specific moment but when an album hooks you it becomes the soundtrack to weeks, months, sometimes even a solid year of your life.

For example, ‘Definitely, Maybe’ by Oasis. Surely most people my age who were teenagers when that album came out are hugely nostalgic about it. It takes me back to being seventeen, going to house parties and drinking warm lager. I also listened to it in my bedroom for hours and hours on end.

Blur’s ‘Parklife’ and ‘The Great Escape’ remind me of that period too incidentally so I’m not nailing my colours to the mast on the Blur vs Oasis debate.

‘Sha Sha’ by Ben Kweller reminds me of my first year in London and a particularly intense relationship with a lad who gave me his own copy of the album.

I didn’t just love the music, which I listened to for hours at home and travelling to work, but I loved the physical item. I treasured it, held onto it and even, I’ll admit, smelt it on one occasion. Not something you can do with a stream!

I think lending or giving music in physical form still has its place and maybe that contributes to continuing CD and vinyl sales long after some predicted that digital would have entirely monopolised the market.

I can’t bear to part with my CD collection although it’s collecting dust. Many of the albums have hand-written notes in from friends who gave or borrowed them. They are deeply rooted in my history.

One of my favourite ever gigs was a live performance by Leisure Society of their 2009 album ‘The Sleeper’. Dreamy and totally captivating. When I hear the album now I’m taken straight back to that wonderful evening at the Barbican. Such a happy time.

The same goes for St Vincent’s ‘Strange Mercy’, Sufjan Stevens’ Come On Feel The Illinoise’ and Daughter’s ‘If You Leave’ which take me back to End of the Road Festival. After the festival, I listened to those albums on repeat as the end of summer faded and the leaves started falling off the trees.

Streaming music is more like radio than sales

I do listen to Spotify playlists and artist radio, often when I’m driving or pottering around at home, as it’s a great way to discover new music. As a consumer, I absolutely love Spotify and I’m an avid BBC 6 Music listener too.

The Musicians’ Union is making a case that streaming is more like radio than sales because of the curation of playlists. This may sound like semantics but it would make the difference between session musicians receiving royalties for streaming, as they do for radio broadcast, or not.

The distinction legally is in the interactivity – when you listen to a playlist you tend to be passive (as in radio listening). This is a major campaign for us and international colleagues.

Streaming royalties should be user-centric

We are also making a case for streaming royalties for artists to be user-centric – the subject of a motion passed at our recent MU delegates conference. There is a growing consensus among musicians across the globe that user-centric royalty distribution would be better for the many, not the few.

If I listen to Daughter’s album on repeat for a month, for example, and don’t listen to anything else, my full monthly Spotify subscription fee should go to the band.

At the moment, royalties are distributed pretty much on a market-share basis so the artists at the top of the chart, and their labels and publishers, will get the majority of my payment regardless of whether I listened to them or not. This means independent artists do badly overall.

Deezer has announced that it’s trialling user-centric distribution so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

Try listening to an album from start to finish

Take some time this Album Day to snuggle down in an armchair and listen to a favourite album from start to finish. Let it take you back to the time when you first listened to it. Think of it as taking a lovely, warm and indulgent sound bath.

And if you have the physical copy and it means something to you, let me encourage you to give it a sniff – something future generations may not have the chance to do.

What does the album mean to you? Share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #NationalAlbumDay

Find out more at nationalalbumday.co.uk.

Published: 08/10/2019

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