Music Industry

The Album is Dying Because Streaming is About Playlists

The album, that collection of songs that artists would like us to consider as a complete, unified piece of art, is in trouble. It’s being killed by streaming, which doesn’t respect the album. Streaming equals playlists, not albums. MIDiA Research breaks us down.

Later this week, we’ll publish a new report in the MIDiA Research Music report and data service: ‘After The Album: How Playlists Are Re-Defining Listening’.  In it we explore the changing role of streaming playlists and in particular how they are impact albums both as a consumption format and as a revenue model. The full 18 page report includes half a dozen graphics and a couple of sheets of excel, including a detailed revenue model.  I want to share with you here one of the key themes we explore in the report…

Playlists Are The Lingua Franca Of Streaming

Streaming hit a host of milestones in 2015, reaching 67.5 million subscribers and driving $2.9 billion of trade revenue, up 31% on 2014. While the competitive marketplace upped the ante, music services wielded curation to drive differentiation. Playlists have always been the core currency of streaming, but now more than ever they are becoming the beating heart, the fuel which drives both discovery and consumption. In doing so they are helping drive hit singles into the ascendancy and albums to the sidelines.

The Album Is No Longer The Market

Perhaps the biggest problem with streaming’s dissolution of the album is that the wider industry is still catching up with the concept. Artists still consider the album as their core creative construct, their novel. Similarly, labels still build P&Ls, marketing campaigns and their core business models around albums and album release schedules. There will long remain a market for albums, especially among core fan bases, as TIDAL’s exclusive album campaigns for Kanye West and Beyoncé reveal. But it is just that: a market, not the market anymore.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38321 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “The Album is Dying Because Streaming is About Playlists

  • Hey Alan — interesting post. Here’s a thought though (and I’m sure someone’s already had it): why not create albums that a geared towards the playlist. Hear me out. Playlists, mixed tapes, etc, are created for self-segmentation–who am I today, what am I doing today, what’s my imagined audience if I was a DJ, etc. So a smart label might encourage an artist to think in that way: What if your audience was trying to create playlists about X, what would they want to feel, what modes would they encourage in that playlist, etc. The aim would be (as almost all albums do) to try to get 4-5 “singles” that hit the mainstream. Therefore the album itself could tell a story, but its general sound would be designed for streaming/playlisting/mixtapes. A great example of a band who does this really well, albeit unintentionally, is The Foreign Exchange.

    While I know my thoughts are a little meandering in this reply, I feel like there’s a kernel of an idea to be had here.



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