Drake’s latest album, “Scorpion” has broken several records on the Billboard charts. With 25 tracks, “Scorpion” follows a trend of hip-hop albums with huge tracklists. We explored the changes in the Billboard charts that have led to the increase in album lengths in the past few years. Following is a transcript of the video.
Drake’s latest album, “Scorpion,” debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and had one of the biggest weeks ever for a hip-hop album. But to listen to the entire project, you’re going to have to dedicate a lot of time. It’s Drake’s longest album. It’s 25 tracks and has a running time of one hour and 30 minutes. But Drake isn’t the only artist with a bloated album. The deluxe edition of Chris Brown’s latest was a 57-track behemoth that ran for a solid three hours and 18 minutes. That’s longer than “The Two Towers.” Migos followed a similar path with “Culture II,” which had nearly twice the amount of tracks as their previous album, “Culture.” But these lengthier albums aren’t just a coincidence. It might just be a response to the way we consume music.
To understand, you’re going to have to look at streaming services. Spotify and Apple Music have completely changed the music industry. In 2017, 54% of music consumption came from streaming platforms, and streaming generated $US3.9 billion. But the Billboard charts have had a hard time trying to figure out how to count streams in an industry that was once dominated by physical album sales. In 2014, people sat around, debated, deliberated, and ultimately decided on a way to quantify streaming music: 1,500 streamed songs counted as one album sale. Previously, Billboard didn’t take streaming into account. It only counted the sales of full albums.
This caused a huge shakeup in the music industry. Record labels and artists quickly realised that more tracks equals more streams, and that ultimately equals more money. Artists like Eminem, Post Malone, and Future all held top stops on the hip-hop charts in 2017, with albums that averaged at least 18 tracks. Suddenly an individual track could help an artist reach number one on the Billboard charts without selling any physical albums, which was hugely beneficial for hip-hop, because streaming made up 89% of hip-hop consumption in 2017.
That’s one of the reasons Drake might have added “Hotline Bling” onto “Views.” By adding that one track, Drake almost guaranteed his album would go platinum. It had 400 million streams that converted to 267,000 streaming albums before “Views” was even released. So if an artist has a massive hit like “One Dance” or “God’s Plan,” it can help turn an album into a hit. Streaming listeners quickly pluck their favourite tracks from albums, put them on playlists, and then reject the leftovers. In 2015, a research company found that 60% of streaming service listeners only listen to albums a few times, because they’re discovering so much new music. So the more tracks you have, the higher chance you have of making a song that lands on a playlist.
But it didn’t always work this way. Music was once dominated by different physical formats. Vinyl, cassettes, and CDs all had restrictions that dictated an album’s length. But no matter how long or short an album was, if one album was purchased that meant one unit was sold. But that same rule doesn’t apply anymore. Streaming is the dominant format, which means the 25 tracks on “Scorpion” make a lot more sense. You could argue that Drake is a prolific artist who enjoys making long albums, or he’s an incredible businessman who understands his audience’s habits. But no matter how you feel about streaming, it’s completely altered the way we listen to music and the way music is made, for better or for worse. Artists are still trying to experiment and find their footing on these new platforms. Kanye West took the opposite approach from Drake, releasing a bunch of albums that were only seven tracks long. Some have argued that the shorter length helps with the album’s replay value, although you’ll need to listen to Kanye’s album a lot more times to reach 1,500 streams.
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