Albums don’t dominate the market anymore – how playlists are changing consumption and discovery

Spotify reached a new milestone about two weeks ago – with 50 million paying subscribers they continue to lead the growth of the streaming market. As reported earlier this year around 100.4m people are now paying for a subscription based music streaming service and those services have created a revenue of $5.4 billion in 2016 for the recorded music industry.

And the power to influence people on what to listen to is also shifting. Spotify, for example, likes to limit the possibilities for labels to promote their music, they take over the role of curating music discovery. And playlists are a big part of this.

Playlists are now driving music consumption and music discovery with millions of subscribers and active listeners. This shouldn’t be a surprise as compilation CDs have always been and continue to be extremely successful – which just shows that the average music consumer likes to listen to a bunch of songs curated around a special occasion, mood or popularity. No everybody can simply curate as many playlists as they would like with the help of digital platforms. The main problems are that labels haven’t identified this new revenue stream quickly enough and also haven’t restructured their marketing and main business model around it.

The most successful playlists on for example Spotify are owned by Spotify. And the owner and playlist curator is in power over discovery and consumption. This gives Spotify influence which actually should belong to the label/ artist, but by not adjusting quickly enough they gave this power away. The main problem for the album in its traditional form is that playlists weaken them. Playlists only drive singles and as albums don’t dominate the market anymore we have to finally think about what long form artist led content could work on streaming services as Mulligan pointed out.

Obviously albums will always have a market, especially among the core fans, but for most people they are not the most convenient way of listening to music, playlists have a bigger market. Fans do want an artist-led experience, but this simply has to be created around playlists. For some artists it might still be best to release an album, because it’s what their fans want and they might be happy to wait for two years for it to be released but for other artists it might be worth looking into releasing more singles, maybe an EP in between, remixes and similar content. Continuous staggered releases would be an option to keep fans engaged and also gives the opportunity to constantly be placed on playlists.


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