Last year, I wrote a post about the rise of playlists as a music release format. Just to recap from that post, I had two main arguments why releasing playlists instead of albums could be more beneficial. First, in the age of streaming, most people do not listen to every song on the album, and instead focus on the two or three best songs. The second argument is that playlists provide data about who listens to your songs, where do they live, what age group they are, what other kind of artists they also listen… In the age of streaming, album seems to be a rather inefficient release format. In a recent article at Rolling Stone last week, compelling data about the fall of the album format was published.
The article cites that According to RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) the total number of album sales in the first half of 2018 in United States dropped a whooping 25% compared to the first half of 2017. Analysts are expecting that the drop will continue in the second half of 2018. They are adding that should this be the case, then the U.S. album sales in 2018 will be the half of what they were in 2015.
Here’s a graph they shared that shows the drop over the years:
The major drop starting in 2015 is of course no coincidence, this is the year when streaming ‘went mainstream’, established its credibility as the acceptable format for consuming music and gained millions of global listeners.
In the first argument of my playlist post, I stated that in the age of streaming, people rarely listen to full albums regularly anymore. Rather, most of the time people pick the best 3 songs out of the album, and move on. Through the latest data released by RIAA we now also have data to back this claim up. For instance, the top selling album of the year, “Scorpion” by Drake has 25 songs on it.
Here’s a graph showing the breakdown of the album by songs streamed:
Out of the total streams of the album on Spotify, 6 songs on the album make up 82% of the total streams. The other 19 songs only make up 18% of the streams of the album.
Under these circumstances, it is more efficient and profitable to focus on smaller packages, such as CDs and EPs. This not only reduces the costs for musicians, but also keeps them more relevant. It’s a very costly project to write, produce and release a professional quality album. Moreover, we live in an age where music is consumed so rapidly, that by the time an artist writes and releases a song, it takes at least a year for the full production/release cycle to be completed. The streaming model calls for more frequent releases, such as releasing a single every 3 or 4 months and staying in the radar of listeners on a constant basis.
It seems that album seems to be a decaying as a digital release format. I think that we need to keep vinyl out of this, because there is a charm of listening a great album top to down in analog speakers and tapes that digital release can not capture. I think the album format will always exist for this format, because the single format does not really work for vinyl or cassette tape. But, I do think that album will go from a mainstream format to a niche format, where it will probably continue to exist for a very long time.
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Alper Tuzcu is a Berklee College of Music and Denison University alumni, and a Boston based guitarist, songwriter and producer. His new album ‘Aurora’ was released on October 19, 2018 and his debut eclectic album ‘Between 12 Waters’ featuring 8 different vocalists is available on Spotify. In addition to being a musician, he regularly teaches workshops and masterclasses internationally. You can follow him on Instagram or Twitter, and for more information you can visit his website www.alpertuzcu.com