In the era of streaming and short attention spans, albums better start with the hits
Future. As streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music unwittingly normalize a culture of just listening to singles or the first few songs on albums, artists are trying to find a way to avoid the dreaded “skip rate.” The solution seems to be arranging albums to be top-heavy with the songs the artist and label think will have breakout potential… possibly turning albums more into artist-specific playlists than arrangements of ideas or themes.
Artists are trying to come up with solutions to keep people listening to entire albums in a world that has a short attention span.
- Singers, songwriters, and producers are working harder to reduce “skip rates” — where listeners abandon songs in less than 30 seconds, thus preventing them from receiving royalties — on streaming services like YouTube and Spotify.
- When a song becomes highly skippable, not only does the artist get the information from creator metrics… but so does the label.
- In a streaming world, “album sequencing” — the strategic arrangement of songs on an album — has become more of a business requirement than just an artistic or thematic statement.
- Putting a hit single as the first song on an album gives the song a boost on the charts… because people still typically start albums at the very top.
So what does a rising artist do to make sure that their (supposedly) hit song sticks? Put it up front on the album. Barry “Hefner” Johnson, co-founder of the management company Since the 80s, said: “put the best six songs up front, make it top heavy to keep ’em glued in for a longer listen.”
Concept Deficit Disorder
Putting the top six songs up front may seem like a solid strategy to keep people listening, but it will also have an effect on how albums and even music videos are conceived. Will the idea of an album having a certain tonal experience, story progression, or thematic arc take a backseat to avoiding being a victim of a song skip?
Johnson noted that a concept album from Earthgang that had a lot of the hits toward the end of the album received pushback from Interscope. The executives allegedly said, “what if people don’t get to the back of the album? Attention spans are so short, if you don’t catch people right off the bat, they might not hear the hits at the end. So how about putting the bigger songs up front.’”
But none of this matters to mega hit-makers like Ariana Grande or Kendrick Lamar, because they make all the money back for the album from just one or two singles… meaning that “the Album As Statement is now primarily a luxury, a plaything for the mega-rich.”