As the way we consume music continues to morph the deeper we get into the digital era, the distribution end of that relationship has had to do its best to adapt.
When people stopped buying CDs, iTunes snatched the torch and digital downloads reigned for years. And when .mp3s began to give way to YouTube and Pandora, streaming services were there to attempt to patch the leaky ship of profitable music distribution. Now a couple years into the streaming wars, people are beginning to notice that the way music is packaged and presented has become as outdated as the mediums through which it was previously doled out.
Top-tier, Platinum-selling artists like Drake are forgoing the traditional album route in response to the sharp rise in playlist consumption, and while the album is still the status quo, viral singles and touring/merch are quickly becoming a more standard route for those looking to make beaucoup cash and remain relevant.
So what does that mean for the future of the recording industry? The labels and contracts? How will they adapt?
In a recent interview with DJ Whoo Kid, Sheek Louch of The LOX posed an interesting possibility that has been popular in European territories for years and has been growing in popularity Stateside—single deals
"Remember I said this to you right now: It's gonna be all single deals in a minute."
His comments resonate with Jadakiss immediately, who posits that SDs are already a reality for a majority of new artists. While the three go on to lament the lack of artist development and paint the music industry as parasites latching onto flash-in-the-pan movements from across the nation, it's not all gloom and doom.
We’re already seeing labels become increasingly enticed by curated playlists that can benefit multiple artists at once rather than seeing huge sums of money go into a single album—a format that's becoming increasingly less commercially viable—and a more intense and calculated understanding of the modern music marketplace, ultimately, will benefit artists as much as the companies backing them financially.
When Drake—arguably the hottest rap act in the world right now—is saying his next project is going to be in playlist form, you better believe there’s been some legitimate research and number crunching done behind the scenes for that decision to have been made.
It’s entirely possible that in the coming years, we’ll see artists picked up with the expectation they'll need to create 12 smash singles rather than a carefully-crafted 12-track album. For the label, it's easier to invest in the marketing and promotions of a song than it is an entire album, which, most likely, will contain more than a handful of tracks that will never be worked at radio, turned into a video or performed live in concert.
The landscape of music as we currently know it will continue to change, and perhaps suffer, but we should all remain hopeful that great art will still be created, and there will always be a market for craftsmanship.
Only time will tell, but I think we’re about to see the industry flipped upside down once again.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.