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[9-April-2008]

Song Ordering Is Dead

Filed under: Making — @ 13:01 UTC

… or at least seriously wounded.

At first it used to be that when an artist completed a record, the record company would select the song order on the record, often picking the “hit” song for track 1, side A. Eventually the artists themselves took control of the process and agonized over the song selections for each side of the record. Some of it was the physics of record pressing: the grooves could only be so close together so there was a real limitation of which songs could be placed on which side. All of these rules also applied to cassette tapes.

The era of the compact disc, of course, changed the entire song selection process. Song order was important, but there wasn’t a “Side B”. This actually made the song-ordering process a bit more difficult because the artist had to consider the ebb and flow of all the songs that were being published. You need to look no further than Radiohead’s “OK Computer” to understand how song order can take a great record and make it timeless. Some artists even went so far as to release an entire record as a single CD track in order to preserve the ordering of the songs and to guarantee that they would be heard in what the artist deemed as “the correct order”. This is what we could call “clever, but annoying”, but really short circuited a CD player’s “shuffle” mode.

The digital era has changed the process again. Individual mp3 tracks are being bought and traded without regard for the rest of the songs that comprise an artist’s recordings. This is like evaluating Picasso by viewing a single “Blue Period” painting and not considering the rest of the collection. It’s seriously annoying, but what can be done? Here we are on the cusp of a Method of Frobenius release and there doesn’t seem any point to making song ordering decisions and placing the songs on CD. I wish there was a way to keep the songs in order, somehow, someway.

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