Pre-Grammys, album forms are fluid, streaming grows

Ahead of the 2017 Grammys, the form of an album continues to change and streaming services continue to dominate music. Beyoncé has received the most Grammy nominations with nine.

Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment
Beyoncé appears in 'Lemonade.'

In today’s music world, the definition of an album is continuing to morph and streaming services are increasing in popularity. And industry leaders embracing these shifts hope to be recognized at the Grammys, which air Feb. 12. 

Beyoncé, who leads with nine Grammy nods, provided one of the industry’s most-talked-about recent works with “Lemonade,” an album that included an HBO film. Some reviewers saw the movie as an essential accompaniment. After the film aired, the album was made available on Tidal, the streaming service that Beyoncé co-owns with her husband, Jay Z. The visual album concept was also seen with rapper Frank Ocean’s work “Endless,” a 45-minute video that included 18 songs and was streamed through Apple Music.

Ken Zambello, who teaches vocal ensembles and the history of rock music at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, is reminded of the MTV era when the presentation of music was similarly reinvented. He sees the visual element as a way for artists to further express their message to listeners. “When an artist started putting lyrics on albums and giving the listener more information, I think it sort of helped the whole popularity of what they’re doing...,” Professor Zambello says. “To me, this is just the 21st-century version.”

As for where fans found Beyoncé and Mr. Ocean’s work, streaming services continued to attract new listeners. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that during the first half of 2016, revenue from streaming grew 57.4 percent, lifting revenue growth for the music industry as a whole. Services like Spotify, Apple Music, and others fight to appear on listeners’ playlists and often score exclusives with artists, as when rapper Drake’s work “Views” was briefly exclusive to Apple Music. 

Zambello says music companies need to catch up if they haven’t already. “Major record companies that have not jumped on board coordinating that [release on streaming services], they’ll start to lose influence,” he says.

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