Entertainment & Arts

Playlists 'more popular than albums'

Chainsmokers and Halsey perform at the MTV VMAs Image copyright AP
Image caption The Chainsmokers' duet with Halsey is one of the year's biggest singles

Pop stars Calvin Harris and The Chainsmokers have questioned the future of the album - and a new study suggests they could have a point.

Playlists are now a more popular way to listen to music than albums, according to the Music Business Association.

It says playlists account for 31% of listening time across all demographics, while albums lag behind on 22%.

But single tracks remain the dominant format, according to the study, accounting for 46% of music played.

The study was conducted by consumer insight group Loop, based on a survey of 3,014 US respondents in May.

Dance act The Chainsmokers, whose single Closer is currently number one in the UK and US, recently indicated they had no plans to release a debut album.

"We will always continue to release music. But an album is something different," they wrote on Twitter.

"An album is a big deal, not just a compilation of random singles, that's how we see it."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Calvin Harris has previously favoured singles over traditional album releases

However, they added that they would consider recording a full-length work if fans "start making some noise for one".

Pop star Calvin Harris has released four singles over the last year without announcing an album, leading The Sun to report he was abandoning the format.

Harris later said he did not know where the story had come from, although he admitted saying words to that effect six years ago.

At that time, he enjoyed a string of top 10 hit singles including We Found Love, Sweet Nothing and Bounce. The songs were eventually compiled on the album 18 Months, which went to number one in November 2012.

"Now it's come back and apparently I'm not doing an album again - but I might," he told Kiss FM last week.

Most artists contacted by the BBC spoke in defence of the format.

"I can't ever see me not making an album," said grime star Kano. "I'm about the art of storytelling. I grew up on artists like Nas, Jay Z and The Streets - albums that really draw you in and you listen to 10 years later.

"Even when the medium is dead, I'll probably still be making albums."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The prevalence of tracks over albums "is what's wrong with mainstream culture," says Laura Mvula

"We need to bring back the album," agreed his fellow Mercury Prize nominee Laura Mvula.

"Mainstream culture is saturated with the singles phenomenon because our attention spans are so short, but listening to albums can be really fulfilling. You're getting a whole story, rather than just a quick fix of a McDonald's meal."

Pop star Olly Murs took a more pragmatic view.

"Every artist is different," he told the BBC. "Some do better sales on singles, and some people don't.

"There's still an album market out there for me. Every album I've released has gone platinum.

"At Christmas time, especially, I think people still want to buy an album, physically. So I will always produce an album - but I'm in the wilderness. I don't know."

Royalty rates

The rise of curated playlists has been a cause of concern for some in the music industry, with UK artists struggling to gain equal footing with their US counterparts.

Polydor president Ben Mortimer recently told the BBC that streaming services were working with labels to address the issue.

Loop's survey highlights another contentious issue - the prevalence of YouTube, which emerges as the most popular source for audio content, with 42% of respondents stating they used the service at least once a week.

The same number said they refused to subscribe to music streaming sites like Spotify, Google Play and Apple Music because they were happy using free, ad-supported services.

Both findings will fuel the industry's desire to make YouTube and other "free" sites pay higher royalty rates to musicians.

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