The future of the album …

In today’s Guardian Guide (futures edition) you’ll find a few sound bites on my thoughts on the future of the album. For the sake of context you can read the full interview below here.

  1. What evidence have you already seen that mainstream audiences are moving away from the album as a predetermined, here’s-15-tracks-to-listen-to-in-order sort of proposition?

The data…. we’re increasingly seeing play origin ( for instance whether it came via artist page, or playlist) and those plays are increasingly coming from playlists at an unprecedented rate. There are several caveats and nuances around this though, including editorial playlist placements so all is not always at it seems. But you must understand this isn’t new either , this change was ushered in by the MP3, the iPod and most notably the shuffle button the change is that we are now able to track these consumption habits.

2. Which current artists really do lend themselves to the album format? How are they showing a (perhaps small, but still significant) proportion of their audience that the album is a concept worth cherishing?

Any artist that creates a body of work they intend to be heard on a full album. There are no creative limitations to whom should or should not release an album! It’s art! The way to think about this is not “which artist is the album format good for” it’s good for them all if they’ve created a body of work that forms an art piece it’s about understanding that the consumption and entry point for that album has changed …. and with that the release strategy.

Maybe (very likely) you hear a track on a playlist – you flip to an artist page and you listen to the album , maybe you save the whole album in your collection but you can now easily skip the tracks you’re not keen on. This isn’t a new concept either …we had this with the CD and before that the cassette … tho… I have to say I don’t miss the game of guess when the track starts and finishes on a tape deck! Again the change here is that we can now track it. The power is in the audiences hands to skip, save and repeat any tracks they want , always has been, but now we can actually see that behaviour.

3. How long is it, do you think, before artists releasing albums is seen as being the exception, rather than the rule?

I think we will always see album releases, what’s changing is the way they’re released and the way they’re promoted. We increasingly seeing bands now release tracks or collections of tracks on eps that eventually form an album or body of work. Big A-listers with pre made audiences can and do still drop a full album (increasingly without notice!) but that strategy absolutely does not work for everyone. The way the new streaming economy works, especially for new artists , it makes more sense to release a track or few tracks at a time to allow each a chance to climb and resonate. A really important point here is that streaming rewards longevity where as traditional album releases rewarded quick hits. That doesn’t work in the new economy. Everything takes a little more time with streaming but the eventual pay off from someone listening to your music for a lifetime and getting paid each time they do is incredible. Tracks now need to be allowed a chance to grow, gain momentum and listeners and gain promotion – flip side to this is that any artist can drop a full album and actually use listening data to inform single release decisions – but going that route you lose the traditional clout in having new , unreleased music to focus promotions efforts on as everyone can and maybe has heard it already. There isn’t a one size fits all plan in the streaming world

4. For consumers, what are the benefits of single tracks over albums? I can imagine why labels might try and resist this – what do you reckon?

We’re increasingly seeing labels and managers embrace the track / EP route but for sure there’s some resistance from the labels and also artists , many view this as taking away their bread and butter but the ones that understand the new landscape are adapting release strategy accordingly. I don’t see that the track route specifically is of benefit to consumers per say any more or less than releasing singles was , but …there are certainly benefits surrounding it for both artist and the fan. After years of myself and others calling for it there are now big changes happening at forward thinking DSPs like Spotify that are about to enable artists to better communicate with fans for instance…to be alerted when an artist has a new album or tour or promotion based on track listening habits allowing Artists to communicate directly to reward fans is the start of a new dawn in the music industry. Let’s say you found a stand alone track on a playlist you enjoyed , you saved it to your library and you now listen to it thirty times a week…. you are exactly the person that may want to be alerted when a full album is released so you can check that out in its entirety (rather than say someone that listened to it once who couldn’t care less) or based on your postcode you are the biggest listener of an artist in proximity to a venue they’re playing so an artist gifts you tickets… the potential reward is for all is vast and currently unrealised. Services have access to all of this incredible data and as they also have your email address and your phone notifications they can tell you accordingly. That’s of huge benefit to everyone in the industry and hopefully will

Allow artists to nurture and form long lasting relationships with their fan bases.

5. For most people, considering algorithms are so good, is human playlist curation going to be a brief historical anomaly that people will look back on in the same way we now view fax machines, floppy discs and dialup modems?

Hell no! We will for sure see smart algorithmic based playlists increasing but every kid I know still makes their mates playlists the same way we did, music is there to be heard enjoyed and shared and playlists afford people the chance to make their own piece of sonic happiness and if they choose, to share that with others. Algorithmic lists do tho provide an incredible discovery portal for consumers. Based on real data of fellow listeners. The most forward thinking services whilst heavily data and algorithm based are full of human music fans being appointed to core editorial positions. – sure theyre using data to inform their decisions for playlist inclusion but the fact that we still have humans to take a punt on a new band, a new track, that’s a beautiful thing and I wouldn’t wanna be in a world where a computer decides “what’s good music” music is art and impacts everyone differently, that’s a wonderful thing .We need humans to take chances , use their gut instinct and give new artists and tracks a chance to break through. I’m happy to say this is the belief of all the services I work with, and I hope it always remains that way.