Epic AF: The Birth of the Playlist-Album?

In late June, Epic Records quietly released a streaming-only compilation album named Epic AF - essentially a playlist compiled of and continuously updated with the label’s current hits – presented as an album.

A month and a half later, the playlist-album is far from a one-week wonder, as it peaks on the Billboard 200 this week at #5, likely owed to current buzz surrounding DJ Khaled and Kent Jones.

Streaming services are notoriously difficult to pitch to, and most — especially Spotify — very rarely promote any playlists other than their own in-house ones. Rather than pitching 10 artists for a slot or two in Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist or the ephemeral New Releases page, Epic side-stepped this in the knowledge that their current hits would prop a compilation album up the charts. And it’s working.

Every label would love to have a highly visible one-stop shop like this to push their artists. It extends the lifespan of a song and opens up artist development possibilities, and Epic’s largely urban focus means that sizeable cross-polination of fans will happen. If you like Future or DJ Khalid, who currently occupy the first few slots of the playlist, you’ll probably like the label’s latest breakout success Kent Jones, and probably will want to re-listen to (or even discover) last year’s Yo Gotti hit “Goes Down In The DM” further down the playlist. And if you get to the latter tracks in the playlist, you may even discover a new artist (I for one, have never heard of Rory Fresco or Lotto Savage).

The label’s deluge of breakout successes over the past few years, ranging from Future to Meghan Trainor to Travis Scott, means that Epic Records is not only back from the dead, but innovating ahead of their peers — the fact is that no other label, amongst several larger competitors, did the playlist-album first. Is it gaming the system? Absolutely it is. But that’s what the smartest strategists are able to do to their advantage.

An interesting end-note or two…

  1. Labels in 2016, and particularly majors (perhaps with the notable exception of Def Jam), struggle to impose firm cultural or brand identities. Epic’s recent focus and ability on breaking urban artists has built a certain amount of credibility in the industry, and now a fan-facing branded compilation-album may just give them that coveted credibility with fans.
  2. Adding to the previous point about focusing on urban, it is interesting to note that the label’s poppier artists that are mid-campaign such as Fifth Harmony and Meghan Trainor are excluded from the playlist. This reinforces the label’s commitment to urban, as simply put, fans of urban music do not want to listen to Meghan Trainor.
  3. Prediction: another label will copy the concept of the playlist-album before the end of the year.