Now, a song needs to stand out for its "vibe"

This Monday, after a week of posting mysterious images with simply Monday's date and the caption "modern nostalgia," pop punk band The Maine announced their new Modern Nostalgia tour. It's no ordinary album promotion routine; every night, the band will be playing the entirety of their two most recent albums, Lovely Little Lonely and American Candy, in order, back-to-back. In their Facebook post announcing the tour, they wrote "It always felt like these two albums were made to be listened to from front to back. We are excited to play them for you in just that way."

Excuse the trope of sounding like a fun-allergic fogey, but music used to be limited to the radio, vinyl singles or LPs, and concerts. Then it expanded to mixtapes with the advent of cassette tapes, and with the rise of MP3 files and the file-sharing game-changer Napster, things changed even more. What has changed the way we listen to music most recently, however, has been playlists.

As Marc Hogan writes in his piece "How Playlists are Curating the Future of Music," "As on-demand streaming services … have proliferated, each with vast and roughly similar music libraries, they're now working to differentiate themselves by how well they help listeners sift through all that choice." Services can use algorithms like Pandora, or go with the tried-and-true strategy of having experts, like radio DJs, select the cream of the crop. Or, in the way of Spotify, they can allow users to make public playlists. Artists, fans, and companies can all make a playlist that's as long as they want with any of the music in the app's vast library. Inclusion on a trending playlist can mean a huge boost for an artist - being on Spotify's "Summer Party" playlist, which has over 1 million followers, could get an artist over 1 million new fans. Their "Deep Focus" studying playlist has over 2 million. The "Global Top 50" has over 8 million.


"Computer algorithms or human curators? Editorial professionals or amateur compilers? Lesser-known upstarts or major-label stars? "The new radio," as some have gushed, or just the latest repackaging of old formats?" (Marc Hogan)


Press agencies are now reaching out not just to social media influencers to promote their artists, but to Spotify playlist creators to ask if their artists' music could be included on the latest trending playlist. Artists can make their own curations; Lorde's "Homemade Dynamite" has over 41,000 followers.

The switch towards playlist-driven listening as opposed to album-driven or radio-driven listening has changed how we listen to music. Now, a song needs to stand out for its "vibe" - it might get put on a workout playlist, or an acoustic afternoon playlist, or maybe a playlist made for making out with your crush for the first time. It doesn't have to be a single - it just has to be available on streaming services. Albums could potentially have every track be a slight variation of the last and it could be a roaring fan success (if not a critical one) because all those tracks end up on a trending playlist.

This all means that the people who choose what we're listening to, now that Spotify has 100 million listeners, are the app's playlist makers. Which are (usually) Spotify itself and a handful of users. We listen on the train, in school, while working, because our phones could broadcast FM radio but never do. Our go-to is increasingly playlists, and our demand is for "vibes."

So when a band like The Maine says that their two albums were meant to be listened to together, how much should we read into the statement? The group has certainly never disparaged the streaming model of music access. Their artist page on Spotify has not created any playlists. Still, it is a way - if only a step - to take back the way fans are listening to their music. The band felt that the albums were cohesive enough, and had enough messages in their entirety that couldn't be garnered from tracks alone, that they had to design an entire show where they personally showed their fans how to listen to the music.

To leave you with another question: who is right? Should "Bad Behavior" be listened to as the second track of Lovely Little Lonely, or the first track of Spotify user funnyabbie63's playlist of the same name? Could it be both? Who gets to decide?