October 29, 2007

What's up with first albums

I've heard a lot of talk about first albums - that first albums are better, and why this is. The thing is... I think people take this out of context and sort of miss some important things. Here are the reasons I've heard:

On their first album, bands...
  • have more time to spend on their first album (since they're not yet in high demand for tours, appearances etc), so they really get to make it exactly how they want.
  • are younger when they make their first albums, and because they're less developed as musicians, they don't have subconscious tendencies toward doing the same things over again (which certainly puts a damper on new, creative ideas)
  • sometimes only really have one thing going for them, and so when their first album comes out it's new (to people who havn't heard them yet) but on release of subsequent albums, it becomes clear that they don't have any other ideas.

These ideas seem logical but after endless nights of pondering I had a breakthrough. Here's what I think:

When a band stumbles on a really good idea, they quickly become popular and are 'discovered' (signed). They go on to produce an album based on this good idea. The album is good as it's the embodiment of the very idea which brought them their initial success.

At this point, the band has to try to do something new in order to keep the interest of the their fans and the media. This is where many (even most) get caught up. At this point it's sort of a numbers game - what are the chances the same handful of people will have two great ideas in a row? I say it's pretty low. Following this logic, most of the time they release something that is less desirable, and people start drawing conclusions (see above).

When you look at it this way it's pretty clear how to explain the circumstances that lead us to the conclusions at the beginning of this entry.

Bonus features:

Mike Sudhalter mentioned in a related blog post that often times fame creates a disconnect between the artist and their fans, making it difficult to continue writing songs the masses can relate to:
Take Gretchen Wilson. On her "Here for the Party" debut, she had a megahit with "Redneck Woman", a song that millions could relate to. The reason they could understand? Listeners realized that Wilson lived every word of that song and was proud of who she was.

Now, she's a multi-millionaire in Nashville, not the small town girl bartending in a rowdy Illinois tavern. She's tried to duplicate the success of "Redneck Woman", but it's tough to be the same person when you're now a superstar. It's tough road for Wilson. Because if she goes for a different image, some fans will say she sold out. But it's pretty clear, by listening to her songs, that she's not living them like she once did.

I believe this is probably a valid concern, but it doesn't seem to bother too many people if you embrace your fame. Sure some will say you sold out, but lets take a look at a few artists who still sell lots of records despite a change in song writing (due to fame).
  • Nickelback - "Rockstar"
  • Britney Spears - "Lucky"
  • Kanye West - "Gold digger"

There's a huge base of songs I could list but I think one generic artist from each of the 3 biggest genres will do. Now it's your turn... find all the exceptions and prove me wrong!

© 2008 Jim Robert