Streaming and how it impacted musical depth

Every day, I find myself scrolling through my Spotify library, faced with numerous choices, from AI-curated playlists tailored to my tastes to playlists made by fellow music lovers to the latest “Top 50 Global Hits.”

 As a self-proclaimed music connoisseur who thrives on critical engagement, or what some might call a “hater,” the noticeable shift in the quality of contemporary music becomes increasingly clear with each new release.

According to Mixmag, about 120,000 new tracks are released on streaming services daily. 

Patently, the amount of music being released isn’t an issue. 

Instead, it is evident that many upcoming artists are more dedicated to getting “top 100” hits than releasing cohesive, well-thought-out albums. Furthermore, Gitnux provides evidence for songs progressively getting shorter by the year — the average track length from 1979 to 2019 has decreased by 50 seconds.

Today, a prevailing trend for songs is to stay within the three-minute mark. 

Most of these songs accompany a strong bassline and a blaring trap beat. 

For perspective, Ariana Grande’s newest album “eternal sunshine” has 13 songs, yet falls short at 35 minutes and 32 seconds, meaning each song averages around 2.5 minutes.

In retrospect, her debut album “Yours Truly,” with a 12-song tracklist, is 46 minutes and 26 seconds long, making each song nearly four minutes long. 

Even some of the most popular albums released recently, like NewJeans’ second EP “Get Up,” has six songs and is just over 12 minutes long.

Furthermore, the low-effort production of music poses a threat to the overall quality. 

A simple listen to the top songs of each decade will suffice as evidence. What used to be a mix of soulful instrumentals and thought-out arrangements has turned into drowned-out trap music characterized as pop with minimal complexity. As a disclaimer, this comparison is not to say that new music is bad. 

Irrespective of my qualm about the lengths of songs, I, too, have some songs on my playlist that barely hit the two-minute mark (one of my favorite artists is PinkPantheress, known for her interlude-length songs). 

There isn’t a spectrum to what classifies as good or bad music — essentially, everybody has some genres or artists that cater to their tastes that others
may find unlistenable.

What I do critique, however, is the blatant reason for this decline: the need to reach the Top 100 charts on Billboard, have high album sales and reach record-breaking streams on streaming platforms. 

Picture this: It’s 1969, and you’ve decided to play music to set the mood. 

Thus, you choose your favorite vinyl from your shelf and place it on the turntable. 

The intricate design of vinyl records makes it an ordeal to choose a specific song, so you have two options: allowing the album to play wholly or replacing the vinyl for each song, moving the needle intricately to your satisfaction. Of course, there is one answer that is more time-consuming. Before the invention of mixtapes, this was the reality for music lovers, leading to full albums getting recognition and longer full-listening times. 

Today, anyone with a smart device and a streaming platform like Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube Music can take less than 20 seconds to find their favorite song. 

This level of accessibility has changed the way we appreciate music, as it fulfills the instant gratification that recent generations so desperately crave in everything (social media, online shopping, fast food — the list goes on). 

Although these platforms have revolutionized our accessibility to music and exposed us to thousands of creative genres, the ability to mindlessly skip songs and the lack of engagement in deep listening have also led to a culture of fleeting musical experiences.

Moreover, the rise of viral hits and chart-topping singles has perpetuated a cycle of disposable music consumption, where songs are valued for their momentary popularity rather than their lasting artistic impact. 

In hindsight, artists recognize this pattern and may prioritize producing addictive hooks and repetitive beats designed to capture attention quickly, rather than releasing songs with interesting, creative compositions. Therefore, shorter, easy-listening songs have gained popularity as they are more conducive to chart success, aligning with the pursuit of recent musical standards. 

Although I understand the motivation behind artists putting less effort into their music (after all, the profit has to come in somehow), the modern music industry has experienced such noticeable, vital changes that cause some listeners to long for older music. 

At times, older songs regain popularity which returns millions of streams in turn. 

Recently, “Linger” by The Cranberries was revived as a “TikTok song,” following in the footsteps of Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” just years earlier. 

This cyclical nature of music trends highlights the endless appeal of nostalgic classics. 

As we navigate the newest music releases, it is evident that chart success often prioritizes accessibility and listenability over depth and complexity. 

Beyond the conformity of viral hits and streaming metrics, albums offer a holistic journey into the artist’s world, inviting us to rediscover the joy of immersive listening.