The Length Problem in Streaming

There have been various articles discussing the growing length of albums on streaming platforms recently. I’ve talked about this in a previous blog entry – the rules of how streams are being converted to album are causing artists to release longer albums. Drake is one of the famous representatives of this tactic and now that he has released his new record labelling it as a “playlist” he’s is one of the first artists deliberately re-shaping the album format and pushing it into new waters.

Most opinions on the length problem are not positive though, especially when considering how the music quality is suffering as a result. Drakes last album “Views” was widely criticised for being too long, too many tracks were weak and quite obviously just there to make the album longer. After a while it’s just dragging on for too long, you get bored and it’s too much similar content. The highlights of the album are weakened simply because of the amount of filler tracks. Mapes points out that the only reason why Drake put on the already one year-old Hotline Bling is, so that the streams count towards the album charts. Rhianna’s latest album was pretty long as well, but at least she didn’t put Bitch Better Have My Money or American Oxygen on it, which have been released before. They wouldn’t have fit the album creatively. There are artists where it’s obvious that tracks have been added to make it longer and then there are those where it’s clearly a visionary creative decision.

The term “deluxe” album lost its meaning as well – you’ve always released deluxe albums to sell a bit more, especially targeted at super fans, with special editions for different stores. But these extra long versions of the album still felt like something special – like secret access to a more intense artist experience. Those super long tracklists, which some albums now feature on streaming services, feel so artificial though. It makes you think that they put songs on the album just for the length even though they probably know it doesn’t fit. It’s so obvious that every music critic and many listeners notice it.

That Drake now released his new record as a “playlist” seems to shut this conversation down to a certain point and takes away pressure. A playlist doesn’t have to be coherent like an album, it’s simply a selection of songs which most of the time have been selected around a few parameters. And it’s normal that a playlist features more songs than an album. No one can question the length of a playlist. So does this redefine the album format? Is this something which could get more common in the future?

The longer albums on streaming services are definitely not being listened front to back anymore anyway (the first track on Drakes album is one of the least streamed tracks on Views). Does this mean the listener doesn’t give a damn about an album anymore? On the one hand it only reflects the mixtape anyway and is not a new thing after all, but on the other hand is this really what you should deliver as an artist? Only to generate more streams?

It’s natural that you’re rethinking the album format as there are new opportunities on streaming services and revenue is being generated differently, but I think the most important thing is, that the quality of music doesn’t suffer. Drake has found a new way to create an artist led experience by releasing the playlist and it’s definitely a new approach which might work for quite a few artists. Those who are still trying to make an album as long as possible to get more streams should definitely start to rethink what other release strategies might be worth trying, which won’t weaken your output like pointless filler-tracks.

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