by Noreen Plabutong
Don’t really care for that fourth song on the Arctic Monkeys’ last album, AM? Skip it. Obsessed with Adele’s big hit “When We Were Young” off the critically acclaimed 25? You can search that online. Done. There are few things in our society more convenient, or more widely used, than social media and music streaming services. In fact, a majority of the time, music streaming services– such as Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Tidal, and a surplus of others– function as both. Many music listeners, casual and zealous alike, have turned to these options in order to track down and sample songs, engage with them, and share them instantly.
No one can deny the convenience of being able to find and listen to any song with the swipe of a finger. We are granted the almost overwhelming freedom of being able to rifle through millions of songs in a music library, pick and choose what we do and do not care to listen to, and just as quickly decide the order we wish to hear them in. There is no choice you cannot make. It is a powerful feeling, being in charge of such an intimate exchange between an artist and a listener. But has this control veered into dangerous territory?
Before the dominance of streaming, music came in packages– vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes. When recording, and subsequently crafting an album, an artist carefully considers the order in which the songs will appear. In the heyday of purchasing music in physical copies, artists knew precisely how a listener would be hearing their work, since they were in charge of picking the track listing. There was a careful science behind how their message would be delivered to an audience; it is a special experience that rivals an artist actually playing the songs in front of an audience. With the kind of control that streaming gives to a listener, the artist loses out on how they intended their fans to engage with the music. As a result, the listener also loses that experience and connection.
Today, in the digital age of instant connections and simple swipes, there appears to be a decline in this artist-to-fan relationship. Rarely do people listen to an entire album anymore, only interested in hearing the first three or four songs or skipping through it to the song they want. According to Billboard magazine, “data suggests that the earlier a song appears on an album, the more likely a listener is to stream it.” This sadly leaves many of the later songs unheard.
Given the ease of carrying thousands of songs in your pocket, the average consumer is often engaged in a multitude of other tasks while they’re streaming. Capturing the attention span of a listener is important for an artist to do, proving to help album and single sales and establish a sense of mutual trust between both parties. Yet does this new method of consumption deduct from the way artists intend for a listener to hear their music? And how a listener relates to them?
Artists should stick to their guns regarding the way they want their album to sound. They should always take charge of the story or experience they want to relay to their listeners. In the same vein, music fans should take the time to appreciate how an artist crafts a tracklist. This involves relinquishing a portion of control vested by music streaming powerhouses, and giving some of that back to the artist. If you’re willing, it is often well worth it to regain that intimate connection back. Perhaps there is no concrete way to completely remedy this shift in the music industry, but it’s something to consider the next time you’re streaming an album.