Music streaming has forever changed the way we listen to our favourite artists. But has our collective flocking to services like Spotify or Apple Music changed the way music is made too?
On Queen’s campus, you’d be hard-pressed to find a student still paying for music on iTunes. The new musical norm of our generation is shelling out $5 monthly for a student streaming plan. While this new method may prove cost-effective for us, the already arduous task of making a living as an artist has never been more challenging.
Spotify says the average amount of money rights holders receive from streams of their songs is between $0.006 and $0.0084. This means for an artist to earn what they’d regularly be paid in a month on minimum wage, their songs must be streamed over 150,000 times.
In an attempt to adjust to this new reality of music making, artists are already discovering loopholes and other tricks to maximize their profit. Music releases from the past month — specifically from Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Taylor Swift — exemplify the struggling artist’s attempt to capitalize off of streaming culture.
Listening to Chris Brown’s latest album, Heartbreak on a Full Moon, has never been more difficult. And it’s not because of the quality of the songs or his troubled and violent history. It’s because the album, released on Oct. 31, consists of 45 songs and runs over two-and-a-half hours. You may be wondering what could compel someone to release an album this long.
The answer is the little green-and-black app sitting on your phone.
Charting the top-selling 200 albums in America, Billboard began counting streaming towards its album chart in 2014. The
math behind this streaming integration is 1,500 song streams from an album are equal to one standard album purchase. Under this rule, albums with more songs technically have a larger chance of “selling” more copies. Since 10 tracks are defined as an album, 1,500 people listening to Brown’s album in its entirety would actually equal out to four album sales instead of one.
Making longer albums to capitalize on this sales trick isn’t a new concept. Drake’s number-one mix tape More Life has 22 tracks and The Weeknd’s double-platinum Starboy has 18. But whereas Drake and The Weeknd’s albums utilize the new rules to their advantage, Chris Brown’s 45-track monster is straight-up manipulation. Brown even begged fans on Instagram to stream the album on repeat while they sleep, because apparently stream revenue is more important to him than consciously appreciating music.
While the streaming boom has obviously affected release strategies, its effects can also be seen on the music quality itself. Brown’s album contains a solid 10 quality songs, including standouts like “Party”, “Questions” and — though I hate to say it based on the title alone — “Juicy Booty.” The other 35 songs sound like they’re filling space.
A similar example is Ty Dolla $ign’s Beach House 3, released on Oct. 27. An aspect where the content of Ty’s album differs from Chris Brown’s is that it’s mostly good, receiving positive reviews from music critics across the web. But the album’s six weak spots come in the form of “interludes.”
Beach House 3 features six placeholder tracks which each run a little over 30 seconds. The interludes don’t sound like anything in particular, other than miscellaneous drums and whispers. The purpose the tracks serve is strictly monetary, since a song must be streamed for over 30 seconds for an artist to receive payment. By sprinkling in these random fluff tracks, Ty Dolla $ign makes the same amount of money on them as he does on regular four-minute songs with little effort.
If you need any more proof of streaming’s impact on the industry, look no further than pop music’s biggest star, Taylor Swift. In 2014, Swift released her record-breaking album 1989 and held off on putting it up for streaming until three years later in 2017. Swift’s latest album, Reputation, is only expected to be held from streaming services for a week. If music’s most commercially successful artist can’t even be excused from playing the streaming game, can anyone?
Streaming is no longer an option of listening to music; it’s the norm. As artists begin to cater to our obsessive streaming habits, we listeners can expect to see longer albums and shorter tracks in the near future.
Personally, I’m excited to review Chris Brown’s next album, which is sure to have between 1,000 and 2,000 tracks all lasting approximately 30.01 seconds.
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