Streaming services pay labels and artists according to the number of times people play their tracks. Because of this, a 3-minute ditty gets the same (paltry) amount of money as a 30-minute movement of a Mahler symphony.
But the record labels have figured this out, and are changing the definition of the “track” to adapt to this new market.
Case in point, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s album Evening Star. I went to listen to it last night on Apple Music, and the second side of the original album, An Index of Metals, was broken up into six tracks:
Here’s the original track listing from Wikipedia:
This isn’t new; I’ve been seeing it for a few years. Another example is Max Richter’s eight-hour Sleep. I bought this album on the iTunes Store when it was released. It contains 32 tracks. Here’s the first two tracks of the original release:
Here’s the same tracks on Apple Music:
To be fair, you can’t argue with the fact that labels and artists have come up with a workaround for an unjust system, but their solution lacks finesse. In the case of An Index of Metals, each “track” is from two and a half to more than seven minutes; in the case of Sleep, tracks seem to be as short as possible, with many of them less than two minutes long.
Surely no record label would do that with, say, a Mahler symphony, right? Well, good old Deutsch Grammophon seems to have adopted this model for a lot of their releases. Here’s one example. This release, one of the longer recordings of the work, at one hour and 45 minutes, is divided into 26 tracks. Here’s the first movement:
While this makes the label and artits a bit more of a pittance, it is a real annoyance for listeners who try to find their way in this morass of financially motivated cuts, and also for those who add this music to their libraries and want to play it later.
Again, I understand why they are doing this, but these labels – especially major labels – have the power to bring about change by negotiating with streaming services. It seems to me that there should be different payments per track according to their length. For example, less than 10 minutes would be paid a base rate, 10 – 20 minutes would be paid twice that, and 30 minutes or more would be paid three times the base rate. Yes, there are tracks that are as long as a CD, so maybe there should be more tiers, but splitting up the music, and confusing users, is not the solution to this problem.