Is there no need for an album anymore? Or does the album need to be reinvented?
People used to buy albums more because they had to for the few songs they wanted rather than to actually hear every song. To artists, every song on the album is important and of course they want people to hear each one. However, with today's ability to pick and choose songs to add to playlists, artists need to take into account how listeners consume music.
I'm not saying the album is dead. It's just nearly dead. Releasing singles used to be a way to promote and entice poeple to buy an entire album. But now people can just place their favorite singles among an array of their favorite songs within playlists. Most people choose to pick and choose songs, while some fans will still buy entire albums of their favorite artists.
As an example, look at Starbursts. The original Starbursts came in packs of Red, Pink, Yellow, and Orange (yes, I go by colors, not flavors). They noticed that a common consumption habit was that many people only liked the Red and Pink Starbursts. Their answer? Repackage into a new "FaveREDs" Pack that sold only variations of Red and Pink flavors! Startburst created a pack that made people want to purchase the entire thing rather than pick and choose their favorites.
People are going to choose the Red and Pink Starbursts from your album.
So what can artists do to adapt to music consumption habits?
Ever heard "The customer is always right?"
There are a few points that artists can focus on to take into account how people consume music today to better serve their consumption habits. Some focus on adapting to picking and choosing singles while others focus on changing the album.
Push playlists that include your music
Using the Starburst example, users create custom playlists that include all of the Red and Pink Starbursts. Thier favorite songs go into a playlist.
Ideally, as an artist, you want to provide an album as a package that includes only Red and Pink Starbursts, but this can be very difficult and usually isn't the case to fans. To users, their playlists include music from all different artists. Playlisting is an important consumption habit of music fans today. They create and follow playlists that include the best of the best.
Taking this habit into account, focus on getting added to playlists and getting those playlists as many spins as possible. Keep track of data that tells you which of your songs are more popular and getting added to more playlists. Then push these songs and push the playlists that you are included in. Get your music to playlist creators that have a lot of followers. Playlists are the "FaveRED" packs of music.
Focus on pushing singles rather than entire albums
This essentially gives the people what they want. Great songs taken individually. If you know that fans will ultimately pick and choose their favorite songs, it might be in your best interest to push your music in the same fashion. Focus on pushing and releasing each single at a time.
Reinvent the album
If you are trying to push an album, you need to give people a reason to buy or stream your entire album as times have changed. The album can be much more than just a container for tracks. A container can be divided. How do you create your album in a way so that it can't be divided and so that if fans don't consume the entire album, they will be missing out? Focus on the album as the product and not just a collection of products to pick and choose from.
What can you give fans that will encourage the consumption of an entire album?
The Foo Fighters newest album, Sonic Highways, is a great example of creating an album as a package. They designed an album as a tribute to the history of American Music. They wrote and recorded each song in a different city in America as an inspiration from that city's musical history. Each song was written and recorded in 6 days before moving on to the next city. They also created a TV show on HBO that documented the whole experience. This made their entire album the product and gave it a story rather than just including a bunch of songs put together. The album as a whole is the piece of art. Of course, the average musicians probably doesn't have the resources for this type of large scale production, but it's a great example to get your mind thinking.
The Foo Fighters made their album into a story.
Offer exclusives with the album & uitilize modern technology
A few singles used to be enough of a reason for someone to purcahse the entire album. Streaming and playlists did away with that.
With the advances in today's technology, you have the ability to use it to your advantage and provide an unlimited range of artistic value with your album.
Is there a way to modernize the idea of needing to purchase an entire album to get a few things the fans want? I personally think that this strategy is the riskiest as it goes back to the old idea of forcing someone to buy an entire package just to get few things they want, but it can be successful from a business stand point if done right.
Ever buy a package of assorted candy or chocolates? There's always a few things in there that no one wants, but people buy them to get the things they do want.
Some examples could be to provide exclusive videos, bonus tracks or even entire interactive experience that come only with the purchase of the album.
There are new companies such as Slyde that are helping artists to release albums as dynamic and interactive experiences to be more in line with modern technology.
Create your own "FaveRED" pack
The final point to focus on, which is the most difficult, but will be the most successful, is to create an amazing album so that people want to listen to every song. Really put in the work and test your songs to see fan's reactions. Only include amazing songs with amazing fan reaction. This gets more difficult because even if every song is amazing, there will always be some songs that people enjoy more than others.
The Orange and Yellow Starbursts are still good. But the Red and Pink are just better.
Lesson: adapt to changes in consumption habits
At the end of the day, the important lesson to learn is that you can't force people to consume a product the way you want them to. You need to adapt to their habits.