Undoubtedly the introduction of streaming has had a huge influence on the music industry as a whole. Long gone are the days where the physical format was the dominant method of consumption for the average music listener and now even downloading music has become near extinct. It’s no secret that it’s been great for consumers, we no longer have to run the risk of downloading Soulja Boi tracks or viruses every time we go scouting for new music on Limewire, we have instantaneous access to artists across the globe, signed and independent. For artists too they now have genuine means of their music reaching wider audiences through playlist placements and as recommended music on Spotify.
However with these changes to how music is made available publicly it has generated unavoidable adverse effects on a wider industry scale and at a grass-roots level for how music is created. On a micro level, artists are having to adjust their creative process with streaming services placing indirect constraints on song structures. Songs need to be listened to for over thirty seconds to count as a play and in order to beef streaming numbers artists are introducing the chorus earlier to reel listeners in and maintain their attention. In the 1980s intros to songs lasted between 20 to 25 seconds on average and by 2015 it had dwindled to a mere 5 seconds. Artists are front loading the most accessible and catchy parts of their music in order to reduce the skip rate, thus highlighting streaming services indirect influence on song structure.
It could be argued the format of songs is becoming more rigid due to streaming but its prevalence is providing scope for creative freedom in other unintended ways. On a cursory glance it appears Spotify killed the traditional album format; Artists often focus more on singles and in response to their audience’s aforementioned shorter attention span many are creating shorter and more concise projects. Exemplified by Kanye West championing the 7 track albums that in reality seem more like EPs in the Summer of 2018. Another trend of artists rapidly and frequently releasing singles challenges the traditional 2 year album cycle, with each single piggy-backing the previous one’s momentum until sufficient demand for an album has built.
The formula leaves audiences little time to breath feeding their demand for consumption and can be illustrated by the likes of Ariana Grande who dropped ‘Sweetener’ and ‘Thank You Next’ within 6 months of each other. In terms of singles slowthai dropped 4 in just over five months, already presenting nearly half of his album before it was released. Spotify’s instantaneous nature is creating huge demand for content and through this the format of the album is evolving to be more flexible, giving artists more freedom and creativity in the timing of their releases and in their format of their projects.
Conversely hugely popular artists such as Chris Brown have capitalised on the potential for huge streaming numbers by releasing massively long albums with numerous songs exemplified by Chris Brown’s 45-song ‘Heartbreak on a Full Moon’. Although none of its singles cracked the Top 40 the album was certified gold in less than 10 days. Since the incorporation of streams in the album chart calculations it’s become more common for huge artists to have more songs on albums that cumulatively create a larger stream count, thus propelling the projects to higher chart positions.
With this wider scope for frequent releases comes tactics that while successful, abuse the new streaming focused musical landscape. Non-english speaking artists are given more exposure than previously possible due to streaming and there is more cross-pollination of genres, with artists wanting their songs to qualify for multiple playlists of varying genre.
This motive, encouraged by Spotify’s playlisting system and the scope for previously less accessible tracks to have wider reach is illustrated perfectly by Lil Nas X and Ed Sheeran. ‘Old Town Road’ had multiple remixes featuring artists ranging from RM from k-pop group BTS to Billy Ray Cryus, giving the original track legs to reach vastly different audiences. ‘Shape Of You’ has an acoustic version, a raggaeton version, one featuring Stormzy, another with Major Lazer and multiple dance remixes. Spotify is dictating the priorities of artists and labels, songs are created with streams in mind and marketing schemes based on tapping into various audiences are overshadowing natural musical creativity.
Frequent adoptions of remixes and changes to song structure sit alongside another frightening trend. Due to the demand from Spotify for new music to satisfy consumer demand, major labels are signing on average 50 new artists a month adding to a growing number of polished acts lacking character. This huge intake of artists also satisfies a label’s need to have big market share which then ensures larger one off payments from different entities like Facebook that pay based on market share of artists.
This huge amount of new artists coupled with the aforementioned freedom to release multitudes of new music is arguably resulting in huge waves of uninspired playlist fodder that satisfies streaming service’s demands for shiny new music to feed to the masses. Coupled with repetitive remixes and the changing structure and format of songs, it’s clear not only the way we consume music has changed but now music is being designed to excel in an era dominated by streaming.