You're No.1, now try harder: Why the music biz needs to work to give albums a longer shelf life

Post Malone

With the arrival of The Script's Sunsets & Full Moons at the summit on Friday, the UK saw its 12th different brand new No.1 album in as many weeks.

Since Ed Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project returned to the summit back in August, the position has had a higher churn rate than even Donald Trump’s White House staff.

It’s big release season, of course, so you’d expect a lot of records to open large. But while this year has escaped 2018’s Greatest Showman dominance, which saw a myriad of records by established names fail to hit the top, the biz will now be concerned at just how difficult it is to make a record stick in the minds of consumers.

Sheeran, Billie Eilish and Lewis Capaldi are the only artists this year to return to the top after their initial stint. And, of the 11 most recent No.1s before The Script, only two remain in the Top 20 this week (From Out Of Nowhere by Jeff Lynne’s ELO, at No.7 in its second week, and Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding, at No.10 on its 10th week).

The fact that Hollywood’s Bleeding is a streaming-led album is telling, all other recent chart-toppers have been more physical in terms of their sales breakdown. But, while actual album sales are crucial in propelling you to the top in that first week, a blanket presence across the streaming services is fast becoming the only way to extend the chart life of a record.

That may not matter too much in business terms as the streaming starts to pay its way, but it does dent music’s wider cultural impact. So much of the industry is still built around the long-player (we've yet to see a concert where somebody just plays their most popular Spotify songs in order, although it might not be far away), yet how many releases in recent years have genuinely resonated with the public as an entire body of work?

From Lana Del Rey’s Norma Fucking Rockwell to Taylor Swift’s brilliant Lover or Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars, 2019 has seen no shortage of records that hang together brilliantly. The vast majority of artists still value the album and  – if we want that to continue – the biz needs to do more to make sure they reach an audience in the way the artist intended.

Swift’s ideas about streaming services promoting full album listening, revealed in Music Week, should be taken up, and chart companies could also surely find a way to weight the streams of those who listen to an entire record. But the biz also needs to have the courage to keep working albums so they find an audience, even after they exit the Top 20. Streaming remains a great vehicle for discovery, and there's no reason why it can't work for albums every bit as well as it does for individual tracks.

Otherwise, we might as well install a revolving door at the top of the album chart and have done with it...

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