RIP: The Death of the Album


With the rising popularity of music streaming services such as Spotify, Soundcloud, and Apple Music, the old industry standard for album rollout is quickly fading away. For years, the album rollout model involved releasing one single to garner attention, then releasing a second single right before the full LP is released. However, artists nowadays are releasing anywhere from a handful of singles to practically the entire album before repackaging the singles into a full-length EP or LP. Especially for independent artists, releasing more singles allows them to build a fanbase before dropping a less-accessible full-length album.

More new artists trying to break into the music industry are embracing the building-album method of release. In the whirlwind of social media and streaming, releasing a single at the beginning of each month allows emerging artists to maintain the attention of listeners, as well as build a loyal fanbase that will support a full album. The Chainsmokers released a song nearly every month in 2016, using the momentum of smash hits like “Roses” and “Closer” to build interest in their albums Bouquet and Collage respectively. Releasing a song every month allowed them to gauge which singles held fans’ interests for longer, and use that information to push radio play and drive up sales of the full-length album.

London-based alt-pop duo Oh Wonder also racked up millions of Soundcloud streams using the song-per-month method. On the first day of every month leading up to their album release, there would be a significant jump in Twitter mentions from people anticipating the new single. Constantly keeping their fans on a cliffhanger, anticipating their next release seems to have worked for this duo. Their eponymous debut album, a compilation of every song they released the year before, was certified silver in the UK and gold in Canada. Their popularity has also exploded, with Oh Wonder climbing the charts to #8 in the UK. With their second album, Ultralife, Oh Wonder has maintained their success, releasing a song every two weeks before the full album in July 2017.

Streaming is threatening to outpace digital downloads as the main source of revenue for the music industry. Because of this, it is more important than ever that artists release singles that stick with listeners for months in order to collect per-stream royalties. Singles account for 46% of listening time and playlists account for 31% of listening time, while albums only took up 22% of listening time. With single-streaming time more than double that of album-streaming, releasing more of the album as singles allows artists to maximize play time and top the charts. Especially while listening to music on playlists, listeners are likely to listen only to the singles that are on the playlist, instead of clicking on the artist or album page to discover more. By releasing more singles, artists have more opportunities to increase their streaming revenues and playlist appearances.

For emerging artists, the death of the album is imminent. Even more well-established artists and their record labels are embracing the new single-happy album rollout plan. Camila Cabello released six singles before her debut album, while Taylor Swift dropped four singles before releasing Reputation. As streaming increases in popularity, the landscape of the music industry will likely shift to accommodate it.

Michelle Ng

Cassie Scheirer