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Albums are out, playlists are in say Tempah and Ergatoudis as streaming hits the singles chart

By | Published on Monday 7 July 2014

TInie Tempah

With this week’s all-new singles chart embracing the streaming music future, Tinie Tempah has said that his next album could be his last. And, yeah, I know all artists say that, in a ‘who knows what could happen tomorrow’ kind of way, but Tinie was making a point about where the music industry is heading.

”This is a Spotify/iTunes/shuffle generation”, the rapper told The Sun. ”I don’t think people really listen to albums completely from track one to twelve. People now curate their own playlists, so I think it’s clever to beat them to it and say, ‘Here it is, done for you’. A third album will emerge some time, but I think another after that is uncertain”.

I’m not exactly sure how delivering a playlist of your own material is different to delivering an album, but Tempah isn’t the only one wondering what the future holds for the good old fashioned long player as more and more music fans primarily consume tunes via the streaming services. And Radio 1’s Head Of Music George Ergatoudis led the debate last week.

Of course, everyone predicted the demise of the album format when single-tracks-centred iTunes first launched, but some reckon that, while that prediction never came to be, this time albums are losing their relevance because streamers navigate catalogues of songs not via album tracklists, but via playlists created by friends and those pesky opinion formers.

Ergatoudis got everyone chatting last week after tweeting: “Make no mistake. With very few exceptions, albums are edging closer to extinction. Playlists are the future”.

Elaborating further to BBC Newsbeat, he said: “A couple of things led me to write that tweet. Of course, I did use strong language. I used the words ‘towards extinction’, which is rather emotive. I’m not saying that artists are going to stop making albums, I’m not saying that albums aren’t artistically relevant and there will still be some amazing artists recording amazing albums”.

He added: “We are still going to get exceptions where the artist is brilliant, the audience loves that artist and they release a body of work that is strong enough, consistent enough that the public go out and buy it. Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Adele potentially – these are going to be the artists who still succeed in selling slots of albums. But I think the number of artists that are selling albums, honestly, at a mass market level is already small and it’s going to stay very small”.

There are plenty of logistical and marketing reasons why it makes sense for artists and labels to make and release recordings in sets of ten (or thereabouts), though the point here, really, is about how music fans consume rather than how artists create. In that, ever since CDs enabled easy skip, and digital allowed users to delete filler tracks, fans haven’t necessarily been consuming music as the artist or label intended. And as artist/label is increasingly paid per track listen, rather than per CD or digital album purchase, that fact becomes more apparent, and more relevant to revenue.