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Do Playlists Make It Harder To Break An Artist?

playlistsA record label would love to break an artist after one release or album, but that’s getting more and more difficult these days according to One Direction’s manager Will Bloomfield. One of the reasons is that the industry is breaking songs now, and not artists at all, almost without even realizing it. This is thanks to the “playlist dominated culture” brought about by Spotify that’s changed everyone’s view to more short term than career building.

While the playlist culture has been great for music discovery, it turns out it hasn’t been that great for artist development. Where before listeners were “consuming artists in their own eco-system” (meaning via the album), that’s all changed as streaming has now made the business more song-driven instead of artist-driven.

“Our greatest challenge is breaking artists,” he stated at an event hosted by media consultancy ID Comms. “We’re currently breaking songs in our business world and that’s much harder and it takes much longer [for a potential fan] to buy into the artists proposition, which means we have to look at the trajectory of an artist. It used to be two to three years, whereas now it’s more like four to five years.”

While Bloomfield isn’t wrong about the song vs. artist transition, the fact is that the record business in the 70s was more into long-term artist development over 4 or 5 years, and that that yielded some of our most beloved legacy artists. From Tom Petty to Earth, Wind and Fire, to Fleetwood Mac, to David Bowie, those artists became the successes they are through a slow build process that worked first with a grassroots fan base. That strategy could still work today, but the labels are much less inclined to wait through 4 or 5 albums until the hit comes. The song is still the most important asset of an artist, regardless of if it’s on the radio or a stream, but generally speaking, the faster the rise, the faster the fall, especially in the music business.

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