The Creative Impulse: Does it exist in today's music business?

Once upon a time, musicians recorded albums. In fact, they often recorded a lot of them. Back in the 1960’s there are a lot of bands that put out two albums the same calendar year. The Beatles routinely put out two albums a year. They released two albums in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1967, and 1969. Every year from 1963 to 1970, they released a record.

The Rolling Stones also put out two albums in both 1965, and 1967. In fact, the Stones released 12 albums between 1964 and 1974, releasing at least 1 album a year with the exception of 1970 when they released no new music.

Similarly Led Zeppelin’s first two albums were released in 1969, their third in 1970 and their fourth in 1971.

Queen also put out an album a year between 1973 and 1978. They, too, released a pair of albums in 1974.

The Beach Boys, however, take the prize, releasing 18 albums in 10 years. They released at least an album a year, but some years actually released 3 albums, as they did in 1963, 1964 and 1965.

Of course theses aren’t the only bands to rapidly release albums. But back in the 1960’s and 1970’s that’s how things were done. The money came through album sales and in the interim you’d tour in the hopes that people would buy more albums.

Fast forward to the 2010’s and it’s completely the opposite. A band will tour for over a year, take some time off, record an album, for another year and then finally release it. Which essentially has the effect of artists putting out less music. Most newer bands are further into their career than the Beatles with far less albums to show for it.

But in addition to having a lower output of music, one has to wonder what the toll is on their creativity. Nowadays, you wait years for a new album to be released by a band you like to be disappointed. It took two years to make this? Why isn’t it better?

The Stones had a pretty great run between 1968 and 1973, releasing Let it Bleed, Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Mainstreet and Goats Head Soup. The Beatles had a run of Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sargent Peppers and The White Album, while Zeppelin had albums 1 through four.

These bands capitalized on their creativity, consistently delivering album after album of great music. They remained in songwriting mode, they remained in creative mode for as long as they could. It wouldn’t be until later that the albums would come with more and more infrequency, as new inspiration was required.

But modern bands have the luxury of making all their money by touring. Even older bands can tour off their back catalogs and not have to create new music. But how does this benefit anyone? Artists stagnate creatively earlier. Audiences get less new music, and since tours tend to be longer, It can still be years before we get to see we our favorite artists in concert again.

In 1983 Def Leppard declared it’s better to burn out that to fade away, but these days it seems like it’s the exact opposite: sporadically produce a lot of middling music in the hope of some sort of career longevity, and when you can sell out arena’s book casino tours into your golden years.