Albums, Singles or Playlists? How Consumption Patterns are Changing

17 March 2017
By Sergey Bludov, SVP Media & Entertainment

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We are in an age where music consumption patterns are changing. Just as any other aspect of the music business, they follow the evolution of the industry based on the consumer behavior. Singles once were the driving force behind record sales, until cassettes and later CDs gave the pedestal to Albums. The digital revolution brought yet another change not just to how music is created and distributed but to how it is consumed. And the current patterns are not as clear cut as their predecessors.

A recent article on the Music Industry Blog website paints a picture of an extremely fragmented market related to how we consume music. Albums and CD’s in the past had a dominant position and were treated like gold. People would display their collections on their walls with pride, and when entertaining, their guest would peruse their collections with keen interest. There has been a surge in vinyl sales of late, and though this is a very interesting trend, will it continue to grow at a rate that streaming music services are now enjoying? Most likely not.

Back in the good old days, one size basically fit everyone. However, today one size does not fit all and consumers hold the buying power that will ultimately dictate how music is delivered to their respective devices. Playlists are quickly becoming the most popular way for music enthusiasts to discover, curate and collect their preferred tunes. In the digital age, technology, data and music recommendation algorithms are being used to introduce fans to new songs that fit their listening profiles. Though playlists have always been the core currency of streaming, they are becoming the beating heart, the fuel which drives both discovery and consumption. In doing so, they are helping drive hit singles into the ascendancy and albums to the sidelines. The results of a recent survey by consumer insight group LOOP (Lots of Online People), published by the Music Business Association, showed that playlists account for 31% of listening time across all demographics, while albums lag behind on 22%. In the same report, single tracks were named the dominant format, accounting for 46% of music played.

Artists also recognize that music consumption patterns are evolving. The band Chainsmokers, who released their breakout single “Closer” which reached number one in both the US and the UK stated they have no plans to release an album. On Twitter, the band posted, “An album is a big deal, not just a compilation of random singles, that’s how we see it.

Indeed, creating and manufacturing a whole album requires a significant commitment and a huge investment, which may not be sustainable in the age of streaming. Consumers don’t have to buy an entire CD or Album based on a couple of good songs anymore, nor would they face a disappointment only to find out that the other tracks were awful. Playlists negate this issue forever.

And so the emerging influence of playlists is redefining the music industry for both artists and labels. They have become so important that the major labels are now paying for placement on high-profile playlists. Undoubtedly, part of their appeal is the fact that they give full control to the consumer to purchase only what they actually want; while another more prosaic impact is that they produce a better ROI for labels and artists. With all this in mind, we may risk suggesting that singles will once again be the driving force shaping the future of which platforms, distribution methods, and marketing opportunities will thrive.


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