The adoption of streaming services has drastically changed the way we consume music – now when we want our music, we want it immediately, and we want it across all of our devices.
This is having a knock-on effect, with a plethora of options now available when it comes to releasing music, making it an exciting time for artists and fans alike.
Traditionally we lived in a world of singles, albums and EPs – released within similar timeframes and available physically at our local record store. That model still exists, but is becoming less relevant as artists (and labels) experiment with the way in which they produce and distribute music through digital channels.
The traditional ‘album every three years, then tour’ cycle is far less en vogue, with artists dropping tracks whenever they please.
Earlier this year, John Mayer started releasing his new album The Search for Everything in ‘waves’ – four songs at a time, for three consecutive months. Clarifying his intentions on Facebook, Mayer noted that “There were too many songs to ever get out the door at once”.
That’s good for the fans, who don’t have to wait, and great for Mayer, who can release songs as and when he is happy with them.
More recently, Robbie Williams announced that he was set to release his new album Under the Radar Volume 2 exclusively on YouTube. A collection of songs that didn’t make his last release, The Heavy Entertainment Show, the album will be released one by one, in order to keep fans “interested”.
This is a smart move. Traditionally, releasing a b-sides record would have been a strange move for an artist of Robbie’s stature, and the time and effort for a physical release might not have paid off. By using a familiar and accessible platform like YouTube, he has the flexibility to release content as and when he chooses in order to keep his fan base engaged.
Mid last year, Kanye West made numerous changes to his latest album, The Life of Pablo, after its release – adding tracks, changing others, and trying to fix the track ‘Wolves’. This introduced the innovative notion of an album being a living, breathing entity that could change and morph over time.
At the heart of innovative content distribution are the technology music companies enabling it – the likes of Spotify, YouTube, and Soundcloud. It’s their platforms that continue to develop their product to enrich the musical landscape.
Soundcloud is a particularly interesting case because it levelled the playing field by democratising the distribution of music. Suddenly artists had the tools to post music, embed it anywhere, and have users interact with it – all without the need for a record label. As former CEO of EMI Music, Roger Faxon, explained – “major record labels, if they ever were, are no longer the gatekeepers. It’s the music that matters, not the source anymore. You don’t have to have a [major label] to produce an album anymore. The power now is with consumers, not labels”.
We’ve come a long way since artists fought against the distribution of their music digitally, driven primarily by rampant piracy. Artists generally now embrace these channels, adapting to how music is being consumed.
As Rob Zombie guitarist John 5 pointed out, “I wouldn’t care if someone put my new songs up online, because selling records is completely, utterly a thing of the past.” John 5’s most recent solo album was released one track at a time to YouTube, and then in its entirety both physically and digitally.
Late last year, Metallica – the band that led the charge against the online revolution – released a music video for every song from their album Hardwired… To Self-Destruct on the band’s site and with various editorial partners every two hours. The videos gave fans the opportunity to hear the hotly anticipated album a full two days ahead of its official release, and drove huge excitement amongst their fanbase.
Digital has enabled and encouraged artists to once again be more prolific in their output – releasing new songs as and when they please instead of at the label’s behest. The cost is lower, and the options are endless. Needless to say, it’s a really exciting time to be a music fan, and equally to be an artist, with literally no restrictions on what can be released.
The net result is more music, more regularly – liberating for artists and a treat for music fans.