The popular music industry is comprised of structured temporalities that shape how music is produced and consumed. In an era increasingly marked by individual songs and shuffle mode, a band choosing to play a full album live in concert may seem antiquated. However, this act has been called “a sign of the times” that can attract new audiences and stimulate lagging careers (Laban 2015). This trend has recently been practiced by a diverse group of established musicians: the Stooges have performed their 1970 album Fun House, Rush has toured 1981’s Moving Pictures, and Lou Reed has played all of 1973’s Berlin, to name just a few. Following the proliferation of digital music, a decline in album sales, and a subsequent increase in concert revenue, musicians’ livelihood is now primarily dependent on touring, and the need for musicians to innovate in order to maintain relevance and success means they must now focus their attention to possibilities in the live setting.
Recent research has correlated file-sharing with higher concert revenues (Mortimer, Nosko, and Sorenson 2012). It has also shown that concert revenue and demand for concerts by established musicians have not varied significantly because of these artists’ pre-existing visibility, but that they can also lose market share because of lesser known artists gaining greater access to the market (4, 14). While this study reveals important statistical data, it raises questions about the qualitative features that established musicians use in the current live context, which suggest a need to compete in a changing market. Performing an album live is a “way to stand out” (Vincentelli 2006) by reinventing a musicians’ archive. In this way, the shifts in music listening and consumption that negatively impact the album (and record sales) also maintain its relevance (ibid.). Established musicians in particular are in the privileged position of benefitting from the accumulation of a back catalogue and the passage of time, which creates the possibility of a musical archive, the canonization of albums, and activates memory.
The live performance of an entire album is an intersection of the past, present, and future. In this paper, I argue that the live performance of a full-length album intersects past and present economic and industrial practices that shape and reflect this contemporary moment of change in musicians’ labour. I will situate this practice as a form of innovation that extends and reinterprets a musicians’ back catalogue from the recorded medium to the medium of the stage. In this way, this practice is dependent on the existence of a musical archive and history and the once-significant album format. In addition, the simultaneous and collective presence of album, live performance, musicians, and audience represent a temporal overlap of the roles of recorded music and touring, of which the purposes as economic drivers of musicians’ labour have shifted with time and technology. This study foregrounds the important role of time and temporality in media and communication studies, and exemplifies how a temporal perspective illuminates economic, technological, and industrial change and continuity in the cultural industries while providing insight into how these temporalities become hardwired. Continue reading