Fewer Than 10% of Spotify Users Listened to One Full Album Last Month

The Album Is Dead.
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Grandpa, what’s an album?

Forget about 25 or 1989.  Because those are extreme exceptions to a totally new rule, which is that most music fans never listen to complete albums.  And the proof is in the data: according to the results of a study now disclosed by Universal Music Group, a vast majority of Spotify listeners never finish an album front-to-finish, much less start one.


More specifically, fewer than 10 percent of Spotify ‘freemium’ users have listened to even one album in the last month.  “Based on research that we did at Universal a year and a half ago, we looked at free users, we looked at their album listening habits within a one month period, and we found that fewer than 10% of them listened to an album in full within that period,” said Justin Barker, a former UMG employee during Music Ally’s ‘List for Life’ symposium (full discussion here).

“That’s something everybody’s got to wake up to.”

Most artists are getting the post-digital memo, with drip-drip release strategies designed to puncture the monstrous media noise-wall.  Indeed, hip-hop has long been a frontrunner in this category, with streams of mixtapes and guest appearances peppering awareness between more formal album ‘drops’ since the 90s.

Album Wallpaper
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EDM is also a firmly post-album genre, though all of this begs the question: is the playlist the evolutionary replacement?  “We’ve never had access to more music… but in playlists, it’s resurfacing back catalogue that has potentially never been monetized before,” Sammy Andrews, MD of Sabotage New Media, noted during the same panel.  “I don’t think the album is dead by any means: a few albums this year have proved that.  But we are maybe consuming differently, and entering albums in different ways than before.”

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Dead bird image by ‘color line,’ album wallpaper by Heath Alseike, both licensed under Creative Common Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0).  

18 Responses

  1. GGG

    Does this include EPs, or what’s the time/track limit for this?

    Look, I love albums, I’ve taken a chance on albums based on one or two songs my whole life, and well into the digital era. But for every album I’ve heard that is thoroughly enjoyable (or close to it) from front to back, there’s countless others that are half, or even less so, enjoyable. And I’m not making a point about sales at all, just that I think artists and fans of music alike should realize that maybe sometimes a musical statement is/can be/should be only be 20 minutes. Or 10. Or hell, maybe 1 song is all you need to get something off your chest. Or make it 6 hours if you want.

    The point is, I don’t think we need to look at this like some death knell of culture. I think it’s time to break out of the shell of what an album is a bit, because there are no physical restrictions and there is no wasted money by printing 3 songs on a CD; you can just throw it online. With vinyl coming back, maybe it makes a little more sense to fit a release into that 30-45 minute space, but nothing is wrong with releasing another random 3 tracks as another statement. I could probably go through my iTunes and pick out a number of albums that would be substantially better (in my opinion) if some songs were cut out and the record was half as long. But it didn’t make sense for a long time to release 25 mins of music. Now it doesn’t really matter.

    • FarePlay

      “But for every album I’ve heard that is thoroughly enjoyable (or close to it) from front to back, there’s countless others that are half, or even less so, enjoyable.”

      “But it didn’t make sense for a long time to release 25 mins of music. Now it doesn’t really matter.”

      It’s a cultural/generational thing, but I will say this. By it’s very nature, free streaming music lends itself to casual consumption. And few listeners even seem interested in paying for it.

      • GGG

        I don’t get how it’s much different than anything else, and honestly I don’t even know what that means really. Yes, I get that when you were a kid, plugging in headphones and sitting in front of your record player was probably a more normal leisure routine than it is now, and that’s awesome. My generation certainly has far more ways to distract people. But unless you had no friends and never went out, I bet there were just as many, probably more, times when you were at a party or hanging out or at a bar and music was just on in the background, not to mention just hanging out at home with music on. This idea that before 1985 or whatever everyone just sat in front of speakers absorbing every note is a little far-fetched and looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses.

        So I’m not sure how casual consumption is really an argument. It’s always been like that. Radio is mostly casual, even if you’re sitting in traffic doing nothing else. Playing music at home is/was often casual even when you bought the album, be it vinyl, CD or digital.

        Plus, getting back more to this article, when you get right down to it, does it really matter if someone listens to music for an hour and they listen to 1 band or 10? I mean, sure, I’d love for someone to listen to my bands’ albums in full, but from just a fundamentally humanist standpoint, listening to music is listening to music. Who the fuck cares if it’s an album or 15 singles?

  2. Irving Mindreader

    Proper grammar suggests the headline should read ‘Fewer than…’ not ‘Less than…’ as the object (users) is plural.

  3. Me

    Probably because they don’t like ads interrupting their albums? What’s the stat on Premium listeners?

  4. DavidB

    How many of them listened to anything at all? If you are not paying for a service, there is no incentive to use it unless you particularly want to listen to something. A lot of people will have signed up to Spotify’s free service out of curiosity, or just as a backup to their main sources of music.

  5. Jim

    Spotify is not where you go if you want albums – it appeals to people who want singles. The people who want albums, the ones for whom the album is the priority, don’t want something that’s not about albums.

    How about doing a study of people who listen to the radio? When they’re listening to the radio, they’re typically not listening to albums, because the radio typically doesn’t play albums.

    Download album from Pirate Bay, listen to album. No need for spotify. Not interested in duplicating a radio-like experience.

    • Me

      That’s not true at all. I listen to albums all the time. That’s one of the benefits of streaming services – you can listen to any album you want all the way through.

  6. superduper

    This is one of the problems with Spotify, is that encourages individual songs over full albums. This, in my opinion, is bad for artists because it ensures a lower share of listens than if they encouraged the listening of full albums. The thing is all these streaming services are all about “curation” so it will be hard for them to change. This is why I like the idea of musicians monetizing their music by actually “selling” it, instead of streaming it for free or on paid subscription services, is that they not only get a way large share of the revenue, but that they also establish a decent value for their music.

    • danwriter

      “This is one of the problems with Spotify, is that encourages individual songs over full albums.”

      So did/does radio. Until 15 or so years ago, singles played on radio drove album sales. This isn’t a Spotify problem, it’s a larger culture problem.

      • Me

        Spotify doesn’t encourage one method of listening over another. It simply gives you options on how to listen. If you want to listen to an entire album, it couldn’t be any easier than going to the artist’s page and clicking play on the album you want to hear.

        • superduper

          I would agree with your statement, as both of you are absolutely right, but it becomes a grey area when you consider WHY curated streaming is so popular. I have a theory though: I think it has at least in part something to do with the fact that streaming services are so big in terms of its selection. So, basically instead of spending the time to actually search for the back catalogues, listeners decide to settle on the curated playlists. Somebody once told me that the disadvantage of using YouTube is the fact that you have to select your songs individually (that’s not entirely true either because there are playlists and there is the option of AutoPlay but it certainly is less about curation that say Spotify). I think it goes to show you that there’s more of a stronger attitude of having songs pre-selected in curation.

          Even still if people played full albums, the situation would still not improve for artists so in the end it’s only a really minor issue because if people actually listened to full albums it would only slightly improve the situation for artists, not significantly. Artists still only get paid a fraction of a penny, and that won’t change even with paid streaming, so I think that the more fundamental issues with streaming still need to be addressed before artists worry about their share in listens.

  7. Jerome

    Well thay don’t know what they’re missing – some albums can ONLY be listened to in their entirety.

  8. Nick

    Why is there a photo of a decomposing bird? This is baffling and makes absolutely no journalistic sense, aside from being disturbing. It’s as though the site has been hacked. I see no connection between that photo and any of the content on this page.

  9. Anonymous

    This evidence isn’t surprising. The music industry makes a majority of it’s money from pop music and pop music has been a “single” driven release structure. It’s no longer about the body of work for these bigger artists. It’s about the hits.

  10. Hank

    Not sure if it’s a generational thing – In my vinyl days, I would skip tracks, but not always, ’cause it would mess up the disk and it wasn’t easy to do. Now it’s easy to do, so I skip tracks on a album. Not that you should with all of them – I agree there are some albums that are absolutely brilliant – Has anyone ever released an album as just one long track ?