Why can’t we just listen?

We’re running, before we can walk, finishing before we’ve started and arriving at the end of things before we’ve even heard the beginning. Album song shuffling is here to stay, disrupting the musical journey, but the artists are pushing back.

As a teenager growing up in 1970’s Great Britain, I listened to music on vinyl, played on a record player with a single speaker and it was great. Most Saturdays, I would cycle across town to the record store and thumb through the hundreds of albums and singles, buying my single of choice with my saved-up pocket money, cycling home to play it endlessly in my bedroom. Sometimes, I would save up my money and after a few weeks, I would be able to buy an album; that collection of songs that the artist has put together to take the listener on a musical journey through time; I still prefer albums over singles. For some artists, the album art, was as important as the music itself, Motorhead’s ‘Bomber’ being a classic example of this art, along with Mike Oldfields ‘Tubular Bells’ album. Then came MTV, the internet and then Spotify, spoiling this musical journey, crafted so carefully by the music artist. Google Music. SoundCloud and now YouTube Music have continued this “mix it up” trend.

But the artists are pushing back. In case you missed it, when Adele released her fourth album “30” last month, she successfully convinced Spotify to change its default setting so the listener cannot randomize the songs, thus preserving this musical journey. ⁠(Fig:3). This Latin, Grammy Award and Emmy Award winning music artist, who has produced more than 90 albums wrote an article and explains the importance of album-sequencing – that is, the art of compiling album tracks to take the listener on a personal musical journey, creating themes and stories that enrich the listening experience and by clicking on random, listeners may well be missing the message as well as this audio journey that has been carefully created, which is why so many musicians supported Adele’s non-randomization request.⁠ You wouldn’t shuffle a book or a movie, so why shuffle the musical story of an album? A well thought out album that is crafted with a storyline is best listened to in its entirety start to finish, with the pauses, just as the artist intended it. Listening to The Beatles’ Abbey Road on shuffle, for instance, is like reading the chapters of a great novel in a random order. For concept albums like David Bowies, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust, you need to have the rise before the fall.

Charles Deluvio | Unsplash

Premium subscribers to Spotify have now gone one step further, changing the usual ‘shuffle’ mode, defaulting now to ‘play’, meaning that every time users want to listen to an album, the default option is to play it from beginning to end instead of hitting the first song and then choosing to keep the regular queue. For advertisement supported listeners though, they still have to listen to the songs in whatever order the Spotify algorithm chooses to, taking the listener to the end before the start

However, despite this, push back, artists writing musical journey albums seem to be becoming increasingly hard to find, as artists create music for this digital, randomised play market, where sales and music play, via streaming services have greatly expanded, bringing music on demand for anyone with a smart phone.

All we need is the choice. Albums often contain a mix of good songs, some great, some good and some not so good and so the ability to skip the bad ones makes sense, doesn’t it? Surely. It’s about the customer, and they are always right, right?

It remains to be seen if Adele has reversed a trend and all eyes will be on her which sounds good in one sense, until you realise that Adele is selling a product and the more people who hear about it and talk about it, for any reason, the more money she will make from it. She is a clever and talented artist, far cleverer that the people commenting on this minor issue. More power to her I say.

Tim Miles

Andorno. Jose (2021). Spotify ditches shuffle button for play for all artist albums after doing this
for Adeles ‘30’.

Smith. Chris (2021). Adele is right – shuffle buttons are a betrayal of great albums.

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