The rise of the playlist
Adam Ramos | Tuesday, August 22, 2017
As the digital age continues to swallow every component of our millennial generation, life continues to change rapidly, seemingly by the day. Almost every industry, from telecommunications to automotive, has witnessed dramatic shifts within the past 20 years or so.
The music industry is no different, and as streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music continue to become the norm, physical methods of consuming music have become more of a novelty than anything else. Music lovers all over the world, myself included, have discovered firsthand the changes that have resulted from this shift to streaming. Whether it is the declining interest in album art and presentation, the declining record sales revenue and subsequent increases in live performances or the reduced emphasis on the cohesive album, it is hard to tell exactly if these changes have been overwhelmingly positive or negative for the industry at large.
Yet, one facet of the switch to streaming that I believe is now and will continue to be generally positive is the growing importance of the playlist. For those who live under a proverbial rock, a playlist, very simply, is list of songs that is played either in order of shuffled. A playlist allows a music listener to enjoy a previously curated queue of songs without fiddling with a device. Playlists are often used during exercise and in party settings, but increasingly playlists are being used just for casual listening. While the idea of the playlist has been around since the days of the mixtape, today the playlist has become more important than ever, a reality that brings with it some very positive outcomes.
Just as the mixtape was often used back in the day as a way of sharing music between friends and family, today the playlist has inherited a similar role, albeit on a much bigger scale. Because almost all music is now consumed digitally, sharing playlists has become extremely seamless. The result of such rapid and constant music sharing is the resurrection of a social dynamic that has been mostly forgotten. While online publications are certainly liable to provide readers with music recommendations, the ability to receive personally selected music picks from a trusted peer was once reserved for the confines of a record store. However, today is different, and as streaming services continue to integrate social media functionality into their platforms, music listening and sharing is more social than ever.
While the digitalization of music is responsible for giving both artists and consumers alike greater exposure to each other, in many cases, the playlist has become the vehicle for this process. Third party tastemakers have found great success in bolstering the popularity of smaller and lesser known artists by curating and sharing specific playlists. Even streaming services have begun to dabble in playlist creation, helping further expose new artists to new audiences. Spotify has continued to play with the idea of computer generated playlist, beginning with their “Spotify Discovery Playlist” and more recently with their “Your Daily Mix” functionality. Both have been met with mostly positive response — a testament to the growing importance of the playlist format.
Will the playlist stick around as the dominant way to consume music? Maybe, but only time will tell. Until then you can find me bothering my friends with thematically specific and annoyingly eclectic playlists.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.