There’s no escaping the fact that the way we listen to music is changing. As streaming services provide access to a library of practically every song ever released, the industry appears to be shifting in the favour of the playlist. After all, the playlist is a music-lovers dream, right? Instead of sitting through tracks you might not like, just to get to the ones you do, playlists put the listener in control. With entire genres at your fingertips thanks to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, many would argue that there’s no need to ever listen to an album again – you can just make your own.
One click on the Spotify app shows that listening to your favourite tracks, or discovering new ones, is even simpler still. Each tab is filled with an abundance of ready-made, meticulously crafted playlists and all you’ve got to do is press shuffle. Just pop your earphones in and go – from ‘Hot Hits UK’ to ‘The Indie List’, and ‘Alone Again’ to ‘Walk Like a Badass’, there is quite literally a playlist to fill every possible mood or occasion (yup, there’s even a playlist titled, ‘This is The Wiggles’, if that’s what floats your boat…). My point therefore, is that playlists are just so easy; goodbye to that album track you hated, hello to a chosen-to-perfection list of all your favourite tracks – there surely couldn’t be anything better?
But maybe there is, as many listeners don’t actually want the effortless listening experience enabled by a playlist. Take a look at the resurgence of vinyl, for example. Listening to a vinyl record is perhaps the most authentic album-listening experience of all – a physical copy to treasure and add to a collection, no option to skip a track, no shuffling – and its made a massive comeback at the exact moment that streaming services and playlists appear to be taking over. Coincidence? I think not.
After all, putting together an album isn’t a random process of making ten or so tracks and chucking them together ’cause they all sound nice. Producing an album is a craft whereby hit-singles come together with intricate musical interludes to tell a story or capture a specific moment, and vinyl allows the listener to hear this story exactly as the artist intended it to be heard. In 2017, the sale of vinyl records hit a 25-year high, and these figures continue to rise, with vinyl now commonplace on the shelves of not just your local junk shop, but also your local supermarket – maybe there’s more desire for an authentic album than ever before as music lovers reject a commercial experience and instead look to preserve the value of an album as an album, rather than a selection of tracks that would pop in a ‘Big Night Out’ playlist.
Even without vinyl, people are still talking about albums wherever you look. It’s near impossible to have a browse of social media without hearing somebody’s opinion on Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino by the Arctic Monkeys, buzz surrounding Travis Scott‘s ASTROWORLD, or excitement for the third album by The 1975, A Brief Enquiry into Online Relationships. Much like attending a gig feels totally different to listening to music in your bedroom, playlists and albums offer completely different experiences, and the ability to build anticipation around and extensively discuss the latter cannot be recreated by the former.
We can’t completely disregard the way that playlists are hugely changing our music consumption, but to place the album in the category of dying art disregards why people ever made albums in the first place. If anything, the album is on the rise, and its unique ability to channel the emotions and stories of a particular artist is more valuable than ever in an era of endless streaming.