The War of Playlists Against Albums

Or how the creation of streaming services has changed the listening habits of an entire generation

Streaming is the next wave of music. I mean it’s the current wave but we haven’t even seen its total effect on the musical landscape and how it has completely changed how people, especially younger audiences experience music. The idea of all music, coming to you by the touch of your fingertips and in some situations for free would have been a fever dream only 25 or 30 years ago. Now though, for those who grew up listening to those musical cornucopias, it’s a normal part of life. But now as streaming becomes further entrenched in our lives it becomes clear how it has changed not only through what medium we listen to music but also how we experience it.


After conducting a poll with 20 sophomore students, the facts of where listening to Gen Z goes became clear, Playlists. Instead of what previously held the title albums. 95% of people said they preferred playlists over albums when it came to general listening, and 100% primarily listened to their choice of streaming service (Spotify being the most popular). Sophomore student Manu Soriano said, “I definitely prefer playlists over albums regularly. It’s just easier when I’m trying to listen to what I like. It’s not that I don’t like the albums, I just listen to them less when it comes to just randomly putting some music on during a study session or something.”  


On the other side of the spectrum, we have outlier Sophomore Noah Montalvo. After adding to the poll as the only person who preferred listening to albums as well as being in multiple music theory classes, it only made sense to interview him. Montalvo said, “Albums are really how the artists wanted the album to be heard, you gotta think of the albums as a story and the songs as chapters otherwise you don’t get the total experience.” The truth of the matter is, due to how most people now listen to music, artists are changing their albums to be more playlist ready.


Drake’s first studio album had a track list of 14 songs, a little on the high side for the album but not monstrous, throughout his career and the 12 years between that and his most recent album, that track list has increased drastically, 20 tracks in 2016 with “Views”, 25 tracks in 2018 off of  “Scorpion,” and although his numbers have tapered off since with his most recent two albums “only” having 14 and 16 tracks, they were released within 6 months of each other. It’s not just Drake, many popular artists have switched over to larger tracklists in the wake of the streaming shake-up. 


Originally it made sense due to there being no physical limit to the number of songs possible on an album, but over time it became more of a grab for ratings. Virality in music is a crapshoot, there is no way of telling what will become No. 1 and what won’t really, especially since the advent of TikTok. So creators have now turned to cramming as many possible hits into an album every year. This only feeds the cycle further as albums become less appetizing and their singles become more separate from the project they stemmed from. 


This isn’t necessarily the worst thing for music as there will always be room for albums in the space and always good singles coming from poor albums but it does mean that for the foreseeable future pop music will be dominated by singles and massive tracklists.