The advent of streaming services in popular music — Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play — has unequivocally changed the way people consume and experience music. Some artists, such as Thom Yorke, are less than pleased with the streaming industry and the culture it has created. Yet, other artists have chosen to embrace the good and the bad that inevitably comes with consumers’ shift to it and they’re actively trying to figure out the best way to market their album in a streaming-laden society.
The long-standing debate whether streaming is beneficial to artists is far from resolved,but here’s what we do know about streaming, it makes albums longer. Rather than selling a single record that costs the same whether it’s nine songs or 30, streaming services allow artists to earn revenue based on how many streams they pull. Although some artists point out that Spotify and Apple Music’s payout per stream is less than ideal, it’s simply unheard of to not play into the streaming game these days. It’s how a majority of today’s listeners consume music, and while not inherently bad, it does seem a little too good to be true.
So back to the problem at hand. Say you’re an artist that needs money, would you release an album with only nine tracks? Probably not.Even if the album is great, you could probably squeeze out a couple more tracks and make even more money, right? What if you make it an hour and fifteen minute long album with 21 tracks, like Lil Yachty just did with Teenage Emotions. There’s no doubt he is earning more money than if he dropped a more refined, trimmed down project with only ten or so songs. I highly doubt there are people out there who will listen to seventy minutes of Lil Yachty uninterrupted without any ulterior motive, but he is playing the streaming game right, even if that means doing his own music a disservice.
Could this also just be an ongoing tradition of rap artists to make their albums extremely bloated? I would argue yes, butt this trend has since been over-popularized and by commercialized by artists looking to cash in. Drake went as far as calling his new album More Life a playlist, sporting twenty-two tracks with some huge hits and some huge flops. It’s more of a shot in the dark, a “ let’s release twenty songs, find out which one is the hit and then market relentlessly” type of mentality. Let’s not forget about Future’s back to back albums. Future didn’t know “Mask Off” would be his biggest single to date, but he dropped so many songs in two weeks that it was practically fate one of them to caught on.
Now this isn’t to say streaming is all bad. I doubt a single as popular as Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3” gains all that attention without help from streaming services, especially Spotify, and the way Uzi is waiting for the song to dip in popularity (it currently sits at number seven on Billboard’s Hot 100) before dropping his album is just intelligent marketing, which wouldn’t be wholly possible without streaming. Now, if Uzi goes and releases an hour plus long album with no reason outside of economic gain, then we are going to have this talk over and over until the artists cut it out, albums are gone, or streaming services die out.
I want to clarify, the world isn’t devoid of carefully-crafted, intricate hip-hop albums. BROCKHAMPTON, Kendrick Lamar, Playboi Carti, Freddie Gibbs, etc have all dropped great albums this year, and the future’s still bright for one of the world’s fastest growing genre. I for one don’t think streaming services will stick around long enough to kill the rap album, eventually Spotify’s practice won’t be lucrative enough to keep up (apparently they already lose money every year). But if you’re a fan of the bigger rap stars, you might have to deal with a crappy album or two for a while.