Right, so we’ve had a look at the importance of ‘buzz’ around an album. Now I’m going to talk about streaming and downloading’s effect on the album. Because it’s jolly interesting.
So… Napster became a thing at the end of the 90s, which is when music piracy really kicked off. Music industry analyst Mark Mulligan says:
“Whereas with file sharing many users downloaded entire albums – and as bandwidth and storage improved, entire discographies… With iTunes, price was a limiting factor and so people focused on acquiring single tracks rather than albums. Labels and artists had been scared iTunes would cannibalise album sales, they were right.” – Mulligan, 2014
iTunes appeared in 2001, although it was only available on Macs until 2003. We all know how iTunes works; it’s not particularly exciting.
Piracy encouraged unbundling (and Mulligan clearly thinks otherwise) and iTunes emboldened the trend further, but I would argue that YouTube also had a great impact on the unbundling of albums. YouTube was launched in 2005, acquired by Google in 2006, and was in a sense the first music streaming platform.
The thing with YouTube is that it’s all about videos. Which means that when it comes to music, it’s all about singles. Unless you’re Beyoncé and can afford to make a video for every track on your album, you’re going to stick to the traditional and somewhat cheaper model – only putting out videos for your singles.
For a lot of now 15-25 year olds, your first experience of streaming music
Which segues neatly into some ‘hits-driven album’ stuff.
“singles are the lifeblood of the music industry, and people prefer their music as bite-size chunks, in whatever bit rate available and on their phones whenever possible. ” – Montgomery, 2010
Some people have been suggesting we move to an entirely singles-based industry; do away with albums altogether and just release single after single after single. Which could be problematic if you’re not really a hit-writer.
Others, quite rightly, have picked holes in this plan.
“A single-only release model assumes every release must have independent mass appeal. It furthers the notion that every single has to be designed as a hit or it’s not worth the resources to produce, market, and release. This is problematic because it ascribes value only to music that appeals to a broad audience and ignores the experimental and the esoteric…
… Stand-alone releases effectively put blinders on listeners who are more likely to explore music when presented with options. Becoming acquainted with an artist’s musical catalogue allows listeners to understand and appreciate it; appreciation begets loyalty, and loyalty is vital to career longevity. Shorter career lifespans are likely on the horizon for the modern performer” – Newman, 2014
Tied in with this idea of releasing a string of singles instead of an album is… THE PLAYLIST. Playlists are cool. Everyone likes playlists.
“playlists risk making everyone either highly specific or woefully generic… [playlists do not promote] an enjoyment of music in the old sense, nor… foster a sense of community between fans.” – Walker, 2014
Hm. Maybe not everyone.