Is Spotify Changing the Way Music Is Made?

The playlist has arguably become more important to music than mainstream radio stations, and its impact is still growing.

Swedish streaming giant Spotify can turn mixtape musicians into megastars with their unprecedented use of playlists. If Spotify decides to support a track, it can place it in thousands of playlists and hence increase its exposure. From broad playlists like ‘New Music Fridays’ to strategically curated lists such as RapCaviar (over 7.5 million followers), Spotify can launch artists from the shadows into global popularity.

Spotify playlists have arguably become more central to music than radio in bringing new music to your ears, as they make navigating some 40 million tracks a lot easier. Former head of music at Radio 1, George Ergatoudis, says this is because “Mainstream audiences generally need more guidance to help them discover new music.”

With the rise of the playlist comes the fall of the album. Artists are hoping to be broadcast across as many different playlists as possible, attempting to accumulate the amount of streams needed to have a serious impact on the charts.

This isn’t just about the myriad of versions of Despactio released (including the original by Daddy Yankee, the Justin Bieber pop version, the salsa version and several remixes), this is also about the masses of hip-hop artists who have rejected the traditional blueprint for releasing music. And since Spotify and other music apps are streaming hip-hop and r&b tracks at nearly twice the rate as rock (the next most popular genre), you can see how the Swedish giant might have a significant impact on the way music is being made.

A prominent example is 23 year old Philadelphia rapper, Lil Uzi Vert, who became internet famous with a wave of digital singles, ep’s and mixtapes. Back in February 2017 whilst touring with the Weeknd, Uzi dove into the crowd in Geneva and later realised he’d lost two phones, “and broke the screen on a third.”

Before the tour, Uzi had been in LA and Hawaii making tracks for his debut album with Leighton ‘Lake’ Morrison and producers Don Cannon and DJ Drama. All of the songs they had finished were unfortunately stored on one of those aforementioned phones, but it wasn’t the first time this has happened.

In 2016 he lost a phone that had collaborations with Young Thug and those were soon leaked on the internet. One night in his hotel room, Uzi pulled out his laptop, logged into SoundCloud and with a few clicks, leaked everything he had. He made up song titles on the spot, then decided to text Morrison in Atlanta to say “I just leaked everything I recorded”.

A month later his label Generation Now, under Atlantic Records, had added official producer credits and added these tracks to Spotify and Apple Music, recieving an overwhelming and positive response. As Lyor Cohen, co-founder of Def Jam and now YouTube’s global head of music said “Hip-hop artists have liberated themselves from the shackles of the album,”.

They have also liberated themselves from the traditional process of releasing music; the massive marketing campaign, the radio-friendly singles and the countless radio appearances - all designed to create maximum exposure before the studio album is released. Up and coming streaming stars and young hip-hop artists no longer have to follow the old rules, and are releasing new music whenever they please, regardless of whether they are making a new album or not.

The increasing popularity of streaming compared to traditional radio was again highlighted on May 6th 2017, when there were five hip-hop songs in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 - including Lil Uzi Vert’s ‘XO Your Llif3. These songs were receiving little to no airplay on America’s hit radio stations, with most of their plays coming through streaming services. The game has changed, and radio’s influence on the music charts continues to waver.

As Spotify’s popularity continues to grow, and more playlists are created rather than albums, the way music is made slightly changes. It means each artist can create and release how they want to, whether that’s on Spotify or SoundCloud, and whether that’s as a song or as an album. Everyone now has more flexibility, and anyone - signed or unsigned, can potentially become a chart topper.

You can catch Lil Uzi Vert touring Australia in February 2018.

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