Recording an album is a specific form of insanity. This is clear to anyone. What is curious is that so many people are interested in willfully hurtling themselves towards catching an ever-shrinking horizon such as this. I can isolate three main reasons why anyone would want to record an album:
1) "Let's see if we can do it! Recording an album! Like the Beatles! That would be awesome!"
2) "We're going to make it big as a band! Like the Beatles! We gotta record an album!"
3) "There are some things I have to get off my chest. Like John Lennon did with the Beatles. I need to record an album."
These are all perfectly good reasons to want to record an album, but you also might want to consider the fact that the whole process is ultimately a descent into
(Notice how my use of line breaks emphasizes my point.)
Recording music is not what healthy people do with their time. It's what insecure, unhealthy-- I'm speaking mostly from my own experience here, and from things I've read in MOJO—unhinged and narcissistic people do to cling to some sense of permanence in an ever-changing world. It is like trying to write a sonnet in the snow and have it not only stay forever, but continue to be meaningful throughout history. ("Sonnet In The Snow" is a good name for an album. Wait. No! Stop thinking of album titles.)
Let's remember that recorded music has only existed for less than a hundred years. Just think for a moment what this world would be like if recorded music had never been invented (and when I say 'for a moment' I mean 'for the rest of this essay'). How would a lack of recordings change our perception of music and how we relate to it if it meant that there were no iPods, cd players, home entertainment systems—if it were just not possible to capture music on magnetic tape or in ones and zeros? If music could only ever be transmitted by vibrating air molecules traveling directly from instrument to ear, and if those molecules couldn't be tricked by a computer and a woofer and a tweeter into simulating the sound of a band playing in a little box… what would THAT be like?
First of all, if you wanted to hear music whenever you desired you'd have to become a musician or become really good friends with one or become rich enough that you could pay musicians to be near you at all times. You'd have to have a piano in your house and order the latest sheet music when a new song came out. This would make being a musician less special and more utilitarian. Knowing how to play an instrument would be like knowing how to stuff a turkey or wash your clothes: just another household skill. Secondly, the value of seeing a live band would increase greatly, because not only would there be no comparison between the live and studio products, but in fact the music you saw at a show would be the only form of music that you could consume. Live music would be called simply "music." Recorded music would be called "that thing that crazy people won't shut up about; let's up their dosage."
Musicians would be paid more, because any restaurant or bar owner who wanted to liven up the atmosphere of his establishment with music would be forced to get an actual guy or girl with a guitar and pay them to sit on a chair to strum the latest Lady Gaga song. There wouldn't be any other way that people could hear a Lady Gaga song unless they went and got the Lady Gaga sheet music themselves and went home and played it on their piano. (This convoluted scenario has forced me to use "Lady Gaga" and "sheet music" in the same sentence.)
To take this to its horrifying extreme, in a world without recorded music we would likely lose out on Lady Gagas in general. The image and personality of musicians would be secondary to the music they made. While we feel like we might have a sense of the character of someone ancient like Beethoven, it's easy to forget that a) we're just picturing Gary Oldman when we picture Beethoven and b) no one alive today has ever heard Beethoven play an instrument. (Maybe we've never heard Lady Gaga play an instrument either. Bad example.)
A record is called a "record" because it is supposed to be a document of a performance. It captures a moment or series of moments when certain musicians played music. In one sense, it's kind of weird to expect any record to be applicable to everyone at any time, as if you could record a phone conversation you had with your friend and always listen to that instead of needing to talk to your friend again. As people have gotten better at recording, they've gotten better at simulating spontaneity. They've gotten better at perpetrating the illusion that when you press play you are hearing a band perform a song just for you.
There is a theory (that I just made up) that all the technological progress we are making ultimately just replaces abilities that we already have but are afraid to tap into. Smart phones, for example, help us find places, connect to people, use a slingshot to fling birds at monkeys… all things we used to be able to do just fine before. When we're left on our own to figure out how to locate destinations and intuit what someone is thinking, we are able to. When we have a phone in our hand, we just look at that. Technology is gradually externalizing our own latent abilities. At some point that technology might become so advanced that it will go back into our bodies and we'll have it internalized again. And then we'll be able to search all the information in the world from our own brains, which we used to be able to do without technological assistance, back when all the information in the world was only as far as we could physically see. Soon we'll have so many insights into musicians, documents of every aspect of their performances and personal whims that it will be like they belong to us. Technology is turning us all into rich people, with music at our demand at every moment, like we've got Scott Joplin sitting in a closet waiting to play for us whenever we want. Whether we become complacent and entitled with those privileges is still up to us.