April 2018 has been one of the busiest months for mainstream music in recent memory, seeing the release of big-name projects from artists like breakout hit Cardi B, veteran star J. Cole and unlikely sensation Post Malone. Accompanied by up-and-coming artists who have boasted impressive first-week streams like Carnage, Rich the Kid and YoungBoy Never Broke Again, overall streams on major platforms have continued their meteoric rise towards the industry’s gold standard. In addition, J. Cole’s April release “KOD” broke Spotify and Apple Music’s first-day streaming record, a milestone which was shattered just a week later by Post Malone’s “Beerbongs & Bentleys,” with over 78 million album plays on the first day of release alone.
The success of these internet-age artists has, however, caused a stir in the industry as a whole. In an atmosphere that glorifies wealth and riches, an intensifying quest for cash has begun to seep its way into the very structure of modern releases, and is pushing the industry towards a dangerous precipice.
On most major streaming platforms, artists are paid by play per song and per album. Shorter songs, more tracks and more visible lead singles are easy ways to garner more clicks, streams and revenue. Streaming platforms incentivize these practices, posting large and plainly visible promotions for popular artists’ singles and albums. This too pushes the intent of music making away from exemplifying emotion and towards self-advertisement.
These April releases exemplify a long list of these money-minded flaws, primarily the flashy, streaming-focused nature of the albums themselves. Both Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” and Post Malone’s “Beerbongs & Bentleys” at one hour and four minutes feature teaser tracks, material from the album that is released weeks or months before to drum up hype (and pre-sales) for the album. Both albums featured smash-hit singles, primarily Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and Post Malone’s “rockstar.” The songs themselves sit as the centerpiece to the albums, being the most attractive and interesting tracks to potential listeners.
However, in both cases, the rest of the album was lackluster compared to each single, leaving the albums as a whole feeling like cushioning or filler for the more reputable tracks. Despite both albums’ run time, each contained only six to 10 minutes of high-quality, individualistic music. The remaining tracks on both records were either unsatisfying, uninteresting or indistinguishable from one another.
What’s more, each artist’s performance on the teaser tracks was much more vibrant and listenable than on the full album’s tracklist. This lack of attention to detail leaves both records with a bloated and lopsided listening experience, with some tracks making the final cut solely to bolster the album’s runtime. And with rumors circulating of modern rap duo Rae Sremmurd’s third outing containing over 40 tracks, a half-dozen well-received lead singles and half a decade of press behind them, the album is sure to rack up sales and streams just like the recent projects of Post Malone and Cardi B.
Similarly, artists like Rae Sremmurd and XXXTentacion have drastically shortened the length of their tracks, hoping to rack up more song repeats and plays, specifically those filler tracks which surround the more affectionately-produced singles. Projects like XXXTentacion’s attract millions of streams, but have an average track length of just two minutes, which is barely the length of a classically-produced interlude track, which have historically served a similar but more minute purpose to modern filler tracks.
This focus on money over content is troubling. Music as an art form is intended to replicate emotion, experience and understanding, but is very quickly shifting towards an investment endeavor with little in the way of substance. However, these tracks are pervasive on the radio and on streaming platforms, and so they continue to be very profitable. If the focus of modern musicians doesn’t shy away from the money-minded production it is currently trending towards, the landscape of the music industry will be irreversibly emblazoned with the need to pad albums with bland music, short tracks and flashy singles in order to make ends meet.