Last week, my iPhone automatically updated to the newest iOS. Last night, my laptop updated to the latest version of Windows 10. And today, my “The Life of Pablo” album updated to its most recent edition as well.
Almost every gadget and app we own is changing, renewing or updating constantly. It took me a while to realize what I was witnessing as I refreshed Tidal (Kanye’s preferred streaming service) and saw new content for Kanye West’s latest album downloading: history in the making for music as an art form. “The Life of Pablo” is the first commercial album to evolve in front of our very eyes.
Of course, Kanye has a history of pushing industry standards, but in this case it’s impossible to ignore the precedent he has set for the musicians everywhere. Albums will become living works of art if streaming services eventually eradicate the notion that music needs to take a physical form. And with Kanye’s trendsetting ability, this could come sooner than we think. Unlike other arts, music doesn’t really have that “original” or “authentic” copy that you might see in a museum. It’s meant to be reproduced for the masses, and if streaming becomes the easiest way to do so, then this purely digital format will change the entire concept of what an album is.
If streaming becomes the norm artists won’t have to worry about their work being perfect before release. Mixing and mastering can be fine-tuned post-release. Features can be added to an original song or taken away (similarly to Vic Mensa and Sia on Kanye’s “Wolves”). Artists can edit songs to the taste of their audience by taking out an unpopular verse or expanding an acclaimed baseline or chorus. Tracks can be rearranged to give the album a more coherent story or mood; mistakes can be erased and triumphs accentuated. Renaming songs, adding verses, changing the album cover, revising lyrics — this is all possible once streaming makes the physical release obsolete. And as a bonus to artists, I imagine pirating rates would drop since torrents can’t be renewed.
Despite the potential for increasing the quality of records, I can imagine this conceptual renaissance being met with some resistance. Listeners might argue a switch to digital is an excuse for artists to release unfinished work, or that their edits are influenced by reception rather than their own vision. But such views take a short term view; any blemishes would be polished in time and artist’s listening to their fans feedback is no bad thing. The truth is that ownership will no longer be associated with albums once streaming kills the CD; artists will earn their profit from the amount of listens rather than the amount of purchases. And you know how you get more listens? By updating your album.