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Albums Are Dying a Slow Death at the Hands of Prospering Playlists

The album has been dying for years, but playlists are on a tremendous rise.
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A wise rapper once said that numbers don’t lie. I don’t agree completely—they do lie—but statistics can be a great source of information in the music business. Research and communications company LOOP (Lots Of Online People) recently shared some vital numbers with the Music Business Association, with their research uncovering that playlists have overtaken the album as the way most people consume music.

The survey was conducted back in May, with over 3,000 Americans questioned, and the reports concluded that 31% of total listens across all demographics came via playlists, while only 22% listened to traditional albums. This is a great reflection of the streaming era; the album isn’t just dying in stores, the album is also on life support on the internet.

If more people are hearing music through playlists and not on albums, why do we put so much emphasis on album sales? Albums aren’t selling, and albums aren’t the dominant form of online music listening, but we continue to care how much rappers sell in their first and following weeks. What are album sales in this era? Young Thug could sell only 15K units his first week, but if his album has songs that appear on multiple popular playlists, he could very well still tour and have a fan-favorite setlist. It’s important to understand your audience, and this current audience of music listeners cares more about curated playlists than they do official album releases.

Back in July, DJBooth reported on how Apple Music blew up “PRBLMS” by 6LACK. The article highlighted how 50% of Spotify’s 100 million users are listening to human-curated playlists. It also stated how one out of every five plays across all the various streaming services are now through playlists. This shows the power of being the playlist curator; they’re the new DJ’s, the new bloggers, and the new gatekeepers that could help someone who is completely unknown becoming fairly acclaimed overnight. 6LACK’s “PRBLMS" was able to achieve this kind of success after his manager reached out to Carl Chery―Apple Music’s hip-hop and R&B playlist curator. “PRBLMS” has accumulated millions of views, has been co-signed by various music celebrities, and has propelled 6LACK to the forefront as a newcomer who has a great chance of being the next artist to blow up. There’s a good chance that the song would’ve done well, but because of his manager reaching out to Chery, it opened up so many other possibilities for the song to be successful.

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Back in August, DJBooth also reported how Epic Records has been using playlists to manipulate the charts. A simple loophole opened the doors for them to turn a playlist of songs into a Billboard-charting album. Streaming isn’t perfect, but it’s causing a lasting effect on the music industry. Knowing that playlists are dominating album plays once again shows that we are truly in a new era that plays by new rules. Artists are getting pennies for their streams, but appearing on the right playlist can turn those streams into lucrative opportunities.

More playlist placements mean more ears, and that could lead to more fans. The playlist is doing for artists what blogs were doing a few years ago. It’s the shift, the change, and despite being a very small change it’s big enough to affect careers.

Another notable statistic that appeared in LOOP’s research is the fact that more than 46% of music listeners would rather listen to a single track over an entire project—a slight drop from 2015. Singles and playlists have a bigger impact than an entire album in 2016. This is why we have seen more singles become Gold and Platinum-certified than we have albums this year. Streaming is truly impacting the way we consume music as a whole. The album simply isn’t the powerhouse that it once was.

It’s a frustrating change for someone like me, who adores albums and what they represent. I prefer full bodies of work over one song, but that time in music has come and gone. We’re now smack dab in the age of singles, the age of playlists, and most importantly, the age of streaming.

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By Yoh, aka Must Be Two Yohz, aka @Yoh31

Photo Credit: Clipartkid

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