Death of the Fixed Album

The recipe is simple: a diary in the form of mostly improvised piano music; add a little text that tells a bit about my thoughts as relates to the improvisation (or perhaps vice versa); sprinkle with a photo, often a self portrait taken with my phone, with occasional doctoring in PhotoShop. That’s it. It’s not an album—it’s a piano blog. It’s an ongoing recording of my musical and non-musical thoughts.


The genesis of the idea came out of  my last “physical” album, Things Better Left Said (2003). This was a transitional album after my magnum opus up to that time, Kabbalah Blues/Quantum Funk (2000). The important point is that this was really the around the time iTunes and other online formats (none of which I, as a musician, particularly loved) started to come to the fore, and the idea of the death of the physical album was beginning to be discussed, though somewhat tacitly. For me, however, the album in it’s physical form was already done, or more accurately, I was done with it. I had only released three albums up to this time, but I must tell you, I never liked the process.

Oh, I loved the recording process, even if I found it exhausting.  I even liked most of the post-recording process of getting the album ready for release—particularly preparing the artwork (either by myself or by hiring a real artist). What I didn’t like was the release and subsequent attempt to publicize the album. This is where I lost interest, not so much because I had a inherent distaste for publicity (though I sort of do), but more because by the time the album was released I was pretty much done with it, had moved on. It was not just that I had moved on to other music, but even within the context of the music on the just-released album, I had moved on. In the intermediary period between the completion of the recording process and its commercial release, in other words, I had already become bored with the fixed interpretations of my tunes as presented on the album: I was playing them differently.

So there I was, summer of 2003, with a new album about to come out and all I could think of was, “I really don’t want to do this anymore.” I didn’t have a clear idea yet about what I exactly I wanted to replace “this” with, but it was then that I that the incipient idea of a dynamic type of album was beginning to percolate in my mind.

Online Frustration

By 2003, of course, with iTunes, CDBaby and many others, music was well on its way to becoming an online medium, both for listening and distribution. I put my music on dozens of sites (most of them now long gone), and while each had something good, none of them (including iTunes) had what I was looking for. What was I looking for? That was the question. On the most basic level, I was looking for something to replace the CD, something online, something that could be distributed without a box and a stamp. Of course there were, and are, many platform that allow you to do just that. But that was just the beginning. What I liked about the LP was the it was a larger format, suitable for telling stories through music, words, and images. I wanted to the modern equivalent of that. I wanted to tell stories. So what did I do? I invented it.

Virtually There

It was called the Virtual Album, and I formed a company and spent a lot of other people’s money (but not nearly enough as it turns out) to create it. The company, Music Online Alive, is no longer in existence (blame a clueless partner, blame the economy, blame the developer…in the end, it just didn’t work), but the idea lives. In fact, what I learned out of that experience (most of it entirely unpleasant for aforementioned reasons) was that no one platform was sufficient for the kind of musical stories I was trying to tell. Though Piano Diaries originated on Music Online Alive, it actually works better on this platform, WordPress, precisely because it’s an open platform that allows you to plug-in all sorts of third party tools to make it work the way you want it to work. In this case, I’m embedding audio content from albums on Bandcamp, video from YouTube, and using various plug-ins for all sorts of other functionality. So I’ve found my music-storytelling platform after all these years—it wasn’t one platform, but the combined talents of multiple platforms working together seamlessly (or close to it) on the modern web.