How artists are changing their songs to optimize for streaming

A good convo !

As you mentioned, Drake’s album had 25 songs, Migos’ Culture II had almost 30 songs. And then another album from late last year that was from Migos’ same label had 30 songs on it, which is less so an album than it’s sort of a playlist or collection of tracks. Even if you were to talk to those artists—I don’t think they would say that you are meant to listen to it all the way through. It’s just sort of a collection of songs that can get the most streams eventually.

But on the other hand: Last year there was a Florida-based rapper named Lil Pump who had a really big song called “Gucci Gang,” which was under two minutes long. That two-minute song fits in with a trend across SoundCloud, where a lot of rappers are coming up nowadays, and a lot of their songs are like minute and a half, two minutes, two and a half minutes of just hook, verse, hook. That ends up being the way that people are producing music now, where the idea is you are constantly just clicking play on a new song because you aren’t buying it. And the only way they get money is for each additional play that you give to a song.

I think you made a very good point, which is that as technology changes music also always changes alongside it. Which I think is something that sometimes gets lost when talking about the sort of impact of streaming on music right now, which is, as you said earlier, that singles in the ’50s and ’60s were actually around this sort of incredibly short two-and-a half-minute, three-minute length and then as albums came up, which was not because artists … I mean certain artists want to make longer albums and make more thoughtful albums, but for a lot of them it’s just sort of an economic reason that labels made more money when they sold albums rather than when they sold singles. And that is also why during that time period they also tried to reduce the number of singles that were being produced so you could have more albums being sold.

So what’s happening in today’s marketplace, one of the things you see are longer albums. You see shorter songs, but I also think it depends on genre. A genre that I follow a lot is indie rock. Indie rock is one of the ones that has not done as well in the streaming era, but still produces solid 10-, 12-song albums because their audience actually still wants to buy vinyl and buy CDs and even buy MP3s on sites like Bandcamp. So streaming is affecting different artists in different ways.

Which is something I trend ended up happening across dozens, maybe even 50 different Spotify playlists that have these kinds of acts sitting on them, even in 2018. Where if you actually look up an artist like Figgy Malone, you’ll be like, “Oh, there’s no Figgy Malone or Jeff Bright Jr.” None of these artists are real, but you can still hear their music on Spotify and they’re getting millions of plays on all these top playlists.

Because the early investors in Spotify are the major labels, which is why almost all Spotify playlists have an allotted amount of space that is dedicated only to major labels. So if you’re a truly independent artist your chance of getting on some of the top Spotify playlists are essentially the same as your chances of getting on radio. It’s not going to happen.

There’s a platform called Resonate, which is a music cooperative that does music streaming and also some form of digital music ownership that I’ve seen some artists gravitating toward, which I think is very interesting in terms of finding a new way to understand and think about this phase.