Listening to music has been damaged by the shuffle button

As the 2020s approach, we have been looking back at how the music industry has gone through a huge shakeup this decade. One of the catalysts of this shift is the simple but powerful shuffle button.
Headphones Listened
The 2010s saw great changes to the listening habits of music consumers. Photo: Pexels

Generational shift

Even though the shuffle was popular among the iPod generation, it had even greater value when it came to the emergence of streaming services. The massive growth of Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and Tidal caused music to be consumed in a massively different way.

Previously, listeners would spend their hard-earned money on a whole album. However, they can now just press the shuffle button at the beginning of any song on a new project without losing out on any investment.

Before, it would be a whole musical experience to purchase an individual album and listen to it intently. Now, with the freedom of choice and mobile lifestyle of the consumer, music has become more passive.

The Apple logo hanging in an Apple store
Modern shuffling habits are rooted in MP3 services such as Apple’s iTunes. Photo: Andrew via Flickr

Part of a package

The shuffle button gave way to the birth of cultivated streaming playlists. These have largely replaced albums as the go-to setlist when needing a hit of music for an hour or two.

These playlists often have an all-encompassing theme such as “Dance Hits” or “Urban Kings”, and listeners regularly press shuffle or skip until they hear a song that catches their ear.

Playlists can also dilute musical tastes as it groups a diverse range of musical styles under one category. For instance, a rock playlist can play the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Blink 182 one after the other, even though they may have a different audience.

These changes in habits have forced music artists and producers to change the way that they compile their projects. Over the last four decades, several popular albums have been conceptual.

However, several songs from a concept album are more likely to be appreciated as part of the whole package as the content can be lost out of context. With this in mind, musicians have recently been fearful of releasing these types of albums due to concerns of listeners skipping over many of the tracks.

Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon helped pioneer a new wave of concept albums when released in 1971. Photo: Capitol Records via Wikimedia Commons

Industry overhaul

Furthermore, Billboard now classes 1250 streams on a paid subscription as an album sales. Although, all 1250 of the streams can be of the same song on a release. Subsequently, if a music artist has one hit song, which their audience listens to on repeat, their album could go on and top the charts.

Additionally, artists get paid more by the service that they are on if their songs are repeatedly streamed. However, many songs on concept albums are there to support a wider context with a deeper meaning and may not be listened to again after a first few listens.

The traditional album method made sense in older business models as the whole sale was already made before the project was listened to. Now, artists need to cash in on every listen before the shuffle button dooms a song to its fate. Therefore, artists are more inclined to make albums full of catchy earworms with a range of features from celebrities.

Spotify inside office
Spotify is the leader in music streaming and it loves showcasing its playlists. Photo: Johan Larsson via Flickr.

Adapt or perish

This has been the case for countless modern musicians and bands. Albums from artists such as Drake are constantly at the top of the Billboard playlist thanks to the way the modern algorithms work.

The same two or three major hits that he releases from each project are all over playlists and are repeated by fans. Meanwhile his other album songs aren’t nearly as popular. However, those few hits will do the job to push him to the number one album spot.

Drake has broken countless music charting records this decade. Photo: Jorja Smith & Drake via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, groups such as Migos famously release albums with features from the industry’s most popular artists. Their listeners can then shuffle through the tracklist till they see a name that they like. More recently, Ed Sheeran went for this approach with his No.6 Collaborations Project.

It’s not all bad

Despite this being the general approach by musicians these days, there are still several musicians and fans who still see value in the concept method. Rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have had platinum-selling records with their concept albums this decade.

Additionally, Tyler the Creator was on the end of some bitterness from DJ Khaled for beating his album to the number one spot. Tyler’s project Igor has a constant theme from beginning to end while Khaled’s release is largely just a compilation featuring filled with celebrities.

Kendrick Lamar
Music critics often praise Kendrick Lamar for his ability to craft well-produced albums. Photo: Fuzheado via Wikimedia Commons

There are also positives when it comes to shuffling through playlists. Many artists have been discovered by new audiences with this approach as an emerging song can be found after shuffling a playlist that includes an industry legend.

Altogether, it’s hard to look back at the last 10 years and identify which albums will stand the test of time. Hopefully, by the time the next decade comes to a close, we can remember some modern albums in the same light as likes of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Do you think that the shuffle button and the baggage that comes with it has damaged the music industry? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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