Donna & Yoh In Conversation: How Has Streaming Changed the Value of the Album?

How has streaming changed your relationship to the album?
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The streaming era is fucking exhausting, or is it? 

Earlier this month, we published one piece describing the extreme music fatigue aided by streaming services. We also published a piece explaining the benefits of the streaming era, and why your exhaustion is mostly on you. In the spirit of healthy discussion, we then lobbed the question to our two senior writers Donna-Claire Chesman and Yoh. 

How has streaming changed the value of the album? How has streaming changed your relationship to the album? Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, answering these questions, follows below.

donnacwrites [12:05 PM]

Hello, my friend. Happy Monday afternoon.

yoh [12:05 PM]

Happy Monday afternoon to you too. I hope the weekend treated you well.

donnacwrites [12:07 PM]

That it did, a lot of reading. A lot of thinking about the pieces we ran last week about streaming being fucking exhausting. It made me wonder how streaming has changed our relationship to the album. I don't listen to playlists ever. I listen through full albums and believe in the experience of a body of work, but I seem to be in the minority. So my question to you is: How has streaming changed your relationship to albums? Are they more or less precious to you? To listeners in general?

yoh [12:20 PM]

Great questions. The album has always been precious to me. Radio was a tool to know what was popular, stay attuned with the hottest songs, but the album is where you found the music and the listening experience that touched your soul. That's how I feel about playlists now. I'm pretty sure, growing up, the album felt like being in a serious relationship with one person. The amount of time you spent with a project was long enough to uncover everything about the music in the ways you slowly get to know someone. 

Streaming turned that feeling of courtship into speed dating, an experience that swaps intimacy for options. My mind is in constant wonder instead of focusing on one sole project. Just seeing a link across my timeline can cause an abrupt pivot from the album I'm playing to an entirely different project, sometimes in a completely different genre. The number of options we have really changed the intimate aspect of albums for me. 

What about you? How different is your relationship with the album now compared to when you first fell in love with music?

donnacwrites [12:26 PM]

Things have sped up, definitely, but I really try my best to resist the way music is moving now. People are surprised when I say things like, "I listen to God Loves Ugly once a week," because that album came out ages ago. People are equally surprised when they find out something from this year is in my rotation. 

There's an expectation now that with an album, you need to listen long enough to form a take, and then you better scurry to the next album, to get the next take. I think the crux of the issue is the shame we feel for not having a take. People might be more inclined to slow down their listening if we didn't have this pompous air to being first on an album. 

I understand the way media moves, and our industry, but for the common person I have to wonder, how can we slow down the rush? The album has always been precious to me, and since music is moving so fast, it has become all the more precious. I feel like a record has to be all the more impactful to not only cut through but last. It has to beat that pivot you're describing, and that means it has to be really vulnerable or packed with bangers, or both. In some ways, I wonder if streaming might make albums better, for those artists that still care about albums.

yoh [12:38 PM]

I love what you said about albums and the search for having a take. I can point a finger at social media for that. When your entire timeline is discussing an album, you want to join in the discussion. Yet, you can't insert an opinion without discovering how you feel about it. There's a social currency to having a take, but I wonder if that encourages less replay value since you've shared your thoughts on one topic and are preparing to move on toward the next.

I have a group chat with two friends who aren't in the industry but still complain about being overwhelmed. That's a feeling likely connected to a sense of keeping up. There's no slowing down in the gold rush of weekly album releases. We all should strive to be more like you and slow down.

As for your last point, it depends on how artists view the album as an art form. If the goal is to have a bulk of the music dominate the streaming platforms, there's no real consideration of the work as a complete body. The intention is for the music to be split, a song for different spaces rather than to be enjoyed in a central gallery. Streaming could make the album better, the potential is there, or streaming could make the album a marketing tool to dominate playlisting. Look at Drake and Kendrick, two different kinds of album creators who receive two different kinds of results with consumers.

donnacwrites [12:46 PM]

I definitely think that the social currency component takes away from replay value. If your end-goal is a take, and not to bond with music, then the album is just the vehicle to gain some clout. Why replay it, if you're only here to fire off a tweet or two? I also have a group chat with two friends, and one of them is you, but I think we don't complain so much as we are tired to the point of resignation. If consumer behavior changed, the industry would have to change, but then again which one comes first? Very chicken-and-egg.

You're right, streaming can turn the album into a business venture only. And then there's Atmosphere, who, in countless interviews with either Slug or Ant, talk about being one of the few artists who still care about and craft albums. I will say that my hopes are up if only because all of the upcoming artists I speak with talk about the importance of crafting an album experience. Look at J.I.D, who talks about not wanting to go down as "a song," and knows that artists last when they have enduring bodies of work. You can make playlists and business ventures disguised as albums, but unless you're Drake, I think we will forget you. The artist needs the album, that is if the artist wants to become our artist.

yoh [12:57 PM]

I love that. The album is where an artist becomes an artist. With that said, I wonder what the artists will look like in the climate of memes and viral intention. Because music, much like every form of content online, has the opportunity to have a massive reach. Each time I see a new challenge I wonder what came first: the song or the idea for fan participation. Does the album, the way we view albums as these precious treasures, survive if the commercial value plummets? Streaming has such an impact on the industry and the consumers and the artists that I don't know what will remain when change is so abrupt. Do you worry about the future of how we will consume music? Do you believe the album to be eternal?

donnacwrites [1:00 PM]

I don't worry about the future because trends pull from the past enough that one day concept albums will be vintage, and the reviews for albums with heavy storytelling will discuss the "nostalgia factor of the skit," or something to that effect. The album is absolutely an eternal thing. At the end of the day, we have ears and minds and hearts that are all functioning and we know what we need out of our media. We need albums just as much as artists need to make albums. We need albums as much as we need full novels. I would never read a few chapters of a book, in any old order, and nor would any serious novelist write that way. Everything comes and goes, but albums are forever.

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