Streaming has changed the way we consume media. In the modern era, videos like movies, vlogs, and other forms are entertainment are streamed through services like YouTube, Netflix and Hulu. The way we consume music has also changed significantly. People are no longer limited to listening to music through forms like radio and albums. This shift has led to a switch in the direction for artists in releasing their music.
Streaming services have allowed for direct access to music. When something is released, people can go on their streaming app of choice such as Spotify or Apple Music and hear new music immediately. This is a fundamental change to how people consume music. Unlike the past, there is no longer an upfront cost for music. People can listen to what they want and find new music without thinking about the cost of any specific song or album, and many artists have taken note of this as well.
The album has fundamentally changed as well. In the past an album purchase was an investment. When you bought an album you expected a cohesive group of songs brought together. Now that streaming has become so popular, certain artists are taking artistic liberties with the concept of an album itself.
For instance, rapper Kanye West released his album “The Life Of Pablo” on Feb. 13, 2016. However, the project was released unfinished in many aspects. Over the following months the album was changed several times. On “Ultralight Beam” extra lyrics were added, and on “FML” the entire vocal had been re-recorded.
In total, there were at least 14 changes made to the album. By the final incarnation of the project, another song was added as well.
Since there was no physical release of the album at all, the only way to listen to the album was through streaming and because of that it could be updated like computer software, unlike a CD or vinyl record. Kanye also stated on his twitter, before he later deleted all his tweets, that he would no longer release his music physically. Kanye himself called “The Life of Pablo,” “a living, breathing, changing, creative expression.” That’s something that wouldn’t be easily possible without streaming.
The artist Drake used the streaming platform to his advantage as well. On March 3, 2017 he released “More Life.” Though as long as an album, he considered the group of songs a playlist and no physical release has been released. Many critics, myself included, viewed the project as unfocused and without a cohesive vision. However, that was from design of the artist. Drake did not wish to release an album in the traditional sense. Rather, he released a project that reflected the types of playlists people make. It was something meant to create a general vibe for the listener.
“More Life” is not meant to have the weight and impact of a traditional album. Instead, it is simply a few extra songs the artist wanted to release for their fans. Creating and releasing a playlist like this would make less sense in a traditional release, but is made much easier through the streaming platforms.
With the popularity of streaming services growing every year, I predict that more artists will begin to take advantage of the new ways music can be shared with their audiences. Albums may start to look more like computer software in the way it can be updated and improved and not just looked at face value, and more artists may adopt the playlist model for their music.
People tend to view the economics of streaming since they do have a major impact, but it’s also important to look at the artistic standpoint, and the different avenues it can lead artists to. Music has always been about pushing boundaries. Only the future will tell how the streaming boom with change the forms music takes.