Music Industry

Playlists are Killing the Album. Here’s Why.

Unless you were prepared to make a mixtape on cassette (and later, a bespoke burned CD), we listened to albums, those carefully-constructed collections of songs meant to be heard in a specific order. Sometimes we’d skip through songs we didn’t like. Other times, we toughed it out through the bum tracks because we couldn’t be arsed to hit the button or move the tonearm.

Napster its progeny began messing with those primal forces of nature when it allowed us to just grab the songs we wanted. Then came iTunes in 2003 with its industry-sanctioned ability to pick songs on an a la carte basis. Don’t want the whole album? Fine. Just download the songs you fancy. In hindsight, this was the official beginning of the end of the album.

Now we have streaming music services that allow for the creation of custom playlists. A quick search through Spotify will undercover millions of them. Albums? Listen to them if you want, but most people don’t.

If people (a) don’t stream albums; and (b) continue to buy albums in fewer and fewer numbers, what’s the point of making them in the first place? The Guardian picks things up from there.

[S]ongwriting is now starting to contort to fit the aesthetic and audience of certain playlists; trying to second-guess what will connect best.

“There is absolutely no doubt that music is being written and put out to do well on streaming services,” suggests David Emery, head of global marketing strategy at music publishing company Kobalt. “But that’s in exactly the same way that tracks have always been written for Top 40 radio. The format the music ends up on determines how people write for that format.”

Second, Spotify, because it is so far ahead of everyone else (140 million active users, of whom 60 million are paying subscribers, compared with Apple Music’s 27 million subscribers), has become a playlisting priority for labels, ratcheting up its dominance yet further. Spotify has a vested interest in making playlists – particularly its in-house playlists – the lingua franca of streaming. “I think this is now Spotify’s entire world,” says Darren Hemmings, who runs digital marketing agency Motive Unknown. “Spotify doesn’t own the catalogue, so it has to have power on some level. They could be looking to completely destroy the album as a format, if we are going to be extreme about it, and replace it with playlisting.”

When I ask Wallace if he feels the album will be superseded by track-centric playlists, his assessment is blunt: “Probably, yes.”

Read the whole article here.

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 38513 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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