by Mike Masnick

If Albums Are Dead, Why Not Offer Playlists?

from the just-a-suggestion dept

Every few months or so, we see yet another article talking about the end of the "album" concept. The latest one comes from the NY Times, noting that even some record labels are signing artists to only record a couple songs at a time. The article notes that many music listeners don't think in terms of albums any more, but rather think of "playlists" found on iPods or other music listening devices. Of course, what's not explained is why the industry doesn't shift to bundling up music and offering such playlists. If the concept of the playlist is replacing the album in the minds of consumers, why isn't the same thinking moving to the industry execs as well? Why not bring together DJs who can create compelling playlists of a variety of different bands, and offer that as a compelling value-added service? Oh... that's right, because the industry wants to throw those DJs in jail.

Also of interest in the NY Times article is the following quote: "Another solution being debated in the industry would transform record labels into de facto fan clubs. Companies including the Warner Music Group and the EMI Group have been considering a system in which fans would pay a fee, perhaps monthly, to "subscribe" to their favorite artists and receive a series of recordings, videos and other products spaced over time." Funny that some of us were suggesting exactly that concept four years ago -- but we're still being told that the business models we're suggesting have no basis in reality.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 4:20pm

    brilliant idea. im glad they are actually problem solving instead of pointing fingers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    insomniac4104, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 4:25pm

    drm'd play lists

    A playlist that is drm'd to play in say win media player or real or winamp only or apples play list for iPods certainly won't help matters. We are just shifting formats not innovating. What they need is a way to make a universal median that plays on all devices that all companies can agree on and work on quality not competition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Jim, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 4:27pm

    Now thats what i call music

    The recording industry has recognized the playlist idea. This is evidence in the "Now! Thats what i call music" series. This is an album which just bundles a bunch of current pop hits.

    The Now series is a fixture on billboards top "albums."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Michael Long, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 4:28pm


    Better is the comment from the end of the article, “You have to create an almost hysterical pace to find hits to sell as digital downloads and ring tones that everybody’s going to want.”

    Which again tells you that their head is in the wrong place. In today's fragmented market finding music that "everyone" wants is increasingly difficult, if not impossible.

    Instead of focusing on the mass-market "blockbuster", they should be doing everything possible to foster niches and subniches, and ensuring that they have the best offerings in each.

    It might not look as easy, but it's more of a sure road than spending millions in promotion on a band they "hope" will succeed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    davin, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 4:30pm

    or just skip the record company

    Einstuerzende Neubauten deals directly with their fans... the "supporter" fans can subscribe to receive supporter only CD's as well as webcasts and a personal email address.

    Its pretty cool.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Simon, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 4:32pm

    Re: Now thats what i call music

    Exactly. Not to mention the many compilation albums at the "cooler" end of the market - both DJ mixes of electronica/dance, and compilations put together by artists such as the Flaming Lips or the 'Back to Mine' series where New Order, Morcheeba, Ian Brown and many others created a mix-tape/playlist/compilation CD of their favourite tunes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    squik, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 4:58pm

    Playlists exist

    Playlists already exist within the music industry. They are "Best of" artist, genre, year, and decade albums. Yeah, they aren't so compelling.

    The idea of offering playlists because they are popular in iPods misses the mark. The iPod personalizes the music experience by letting the owner to put together playlists. I find it hard to believe a DJ could select a better playlist than I can.

    DJ playlists sound like something Apple or other music download services can offer as a value add. Apple already does something list that since they have celebrity playlists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Michael Long, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 5:03pm

    Re: Playlists exist

    Apple also has compilations they call "iTunes Essentials", basically playlists of a specific type or for a specific mood.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    nonuser, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 5:42pm

    tightly focused compilations

    A shift towards compilations is a good idea, since an album featuring the best 1-2 songs from 8 different bands is likely to be more consistent than one band trying to put together 12 songs. But the industry should concentrate on compilations that educate the listener, each putting the spotlight on a particular geographic scene or sub-genre. And they should invest in a good set of liner notes and photos so there will be an extra incentive to owning the physical CDs.

    I hate buying a CD and finding out there are no liner notes, just a piece of paper with a list of other products I "might enjoy".

    They should leave the task of assembly party tapes, workout tunes and personal soundtracks to their listeners. Frankly, nobody cares about Mr. Executive's fave tunes from the last 20 years, even if he happens to have excellent taste.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    VinceF, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 5:56pm

    Horrible Idea

    This is shocking to hear... I really hate the way this sounds. I don't want my favorite band to produce 2 songs at a time so I can create a playlist! I want my albums! That's all I listen to is music in album form . That should be the way most music should sound the best. What will happen to the good old concept albums? Some types of music are meant to be listened to as a whole for the sole reason thats what it was created for and I dont want anybody taking that away from me. I will always buy a cd when I know I get my moneys worth and I just don't get why music has gone in such a horrible route the last few years. If this is what everyone thinks is the best way to distibute music then I say Pop music killed the music industry but thats just my opinion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Ben, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 6:06pm

    This does not sound good

    The songs that are popular are always the ones that I get tired of first, but if the artist has a solid album, I begin to enjoy the others as well. I want to make playlists myself, or I can just get one from Webjay, but getting rid of albums altogether is a bad idea in my opinon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    RandomThoughts, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 7:06pm

    Maybe the Times should take its own advise and make us stop buying the full paper (which we don't read) and just sell us the article they think we should read?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    :HAn., Mar 26th, 2007 @ 7:12pm

    Al "album" is just a freaking "playlist". I dont get it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    EvilWoodchuck, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 8:04pm

    The Reason that Albums Suck

    The whole reason that we need playlists now is because most artists cant sift through all the bullshit their small little minds dream up in order to make a decent album. If there were still artists around that could make an album that one could play all the way through without completely changing moods and getting a headache; than we would have no need for playlists. Getting rid of albums is a horrible idea because if albums were gotten rid of, all the music industry would consist of is a bunch of loser ass wannabe rappers who come up with one decent song and then completely dissappear, which would cause the whole fan base for the music industry to evaporate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    zaneZEROZERO, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 8:21pm


    A couple songs?

    If I have an artist on my iPod, I can guarantee I have about 50+ songs, or if they're indie, then I've got all that's possible to get.

    a 'couple of songs' is for a casual listener, not someone into the music scene.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Timmy, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 9:03pm

    Playlists....satellite radio

    Isn't this just the same thing as satellite radio? Just paying for one continuous playlist. I do agree with the strategy though...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    hastings, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 9:24pm

    albums will never die.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Charles Griswold, Mar 26th, 2007 @ 10:29pm


    A mediocre album may be just a bunch of songs thrown together, but a really good album is more than just the sum of its songs. For instance, "Another Brick in the Wall" is a great song, but if you listen to it out of context, you're missing part of the experience.

    Going to a different genre, an Enigma album really should be listened to start-to-finish. Pulling one song out and sticking it onto a "playlist" of songs by different artists destroys a large part of what makes an Enigma album truly wonderful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Danno, Mar 27th, 2007 @ 6:56am

    I'd really miss albums. There's a number of groups whose album work is significantly stronger than their single song output.

    I actually tend not to buy single songs, unless it's a remix off an EP or something like that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Mike S, Mar 27th, 2007 @ 7:23am

    playlists a new business?

    haven't the record companies been selling soundtracks from movies already? Isn't that a play list?

    A whole new industry; figure out a way to pay the creator of the play list a bit (after all he/she is acting as producer), or even better let them be your distribution channel, let them keep a little piece of the action when they sell the songs on the list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    rkm, Mar 28th, 2007 @ 2:07am

    Albums are not dead

    They are just called CDs now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Mark B, Mar 28th, 2007 @ 8:00am

    albums and playlists are the same thing

    the musics industries busnines model died in the late ninteis.

    by not addressing this issue then they really have a two pronged battle on their hands. One of which is that there are music fans who may have never once paid for their music.

    The second one is the older fans, who have supported artists, by buying the same music on 8 tracks, cassettes, vinlye and cds.
    those older fans also grew up in a era where it was never really considered ileagal to make a recording of your albums.

    In my opinion these mind sets will be hard to change.
    The reality is if one ureleased song was leaked to the internet, within days or weeks there could easily be a million copies of that song. Which would translate to a million dollars in lost sales to that record company.

    what is needed is a radical new bussiness model. Perhaps record stores could have kioseks in them where they could pick their songs and burn their cds on the spot. They could have release parties for newly released albums. Perhaps the bands could play the album over the internet and be streamed to these stores and at the end of the nite these concerts could be sold to those at the parties.

    Or maybe there could be a insurance policy on your cds where damaged disks would be replaced free or for a small service charge. Or you could upgrade your music collection from cd to DVD.

    Is this the right bussiness model maybe not but the possibilities are endless and the music industry change or die.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Charles Griswold, Mar 28th, 2007 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Albums are not dead

    Not to be pedantic or anything, but an album is just a collection of media (e.g. a picture album). I believe that what you're referring to is known as a "phonographic record".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Mar 28th, 2007 @ 7:30pm

    Albums vs. compiliation

    I agree that albums are a good thing. Tking the example of Another Brick In the Wall, most of the time, only part 2 is played, so you don't even hear the whole song unless you listen to the album.. I can think of plenty more albums which are more than the sum of its parts, such as Sgt. Pepper's, Days of Future Passed, and In Search of the Lost Chord.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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