Albums on Shuffle: The New Norm or Insane?
Is is really that bad to put an album on shuffle, especially on the first listen, or is that just crazy?
Adele says no to album shuffles, so it's final. Or is it? Something like this shouldn't be a massive craze to people, but the idea of putting albums on shuffle still stuns people.
With streaming platforms at our disposal, from Spotify to Apple Music, listening to music has never been easier. So much so, our individual listening experiences have also changed. Making playlists and putting them on shuffle has become all too easy and essentially the new norm. But should this norm be translated to full bodies of work? Recently, following the release of her new album ‘30’, Adele had requested to Spotify for them to remove the shuffle feature on new albums. Her reasoning behind this was to show people that with artists, their art “tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended”, with tracklists not being ordered in a particular way for “no reason”. This raises the question – is shuffling albums in the first listen really as insane as it sounds?
That's just crazy!
When an artist creates an album and releases it for the world to listen, it is not done so lightly. Artists can take years to produce a body of work, which can be a window to their lives or their current thoughts and vulnerabilities. Other times, it can reveal an elevation or transformation of production that the artist wants to present to the world. In other words, an artist creates an album with meaning and purpose behind it. To simply put the album on shuffle, especially in the first listen, would be ludicrous. You don’t allow yourself to fully grasp the intention behind the art and the message the artist is trying to convey. An album is not made lightly. Therefore, to listen to an album the way the artist intends for it to be listened to is something they are owed at the very least. This would be the rational thought.
It's Not That Deep...
However, one thing is ignored here; the listener ultimately decides what is best for them and their listening experience. With receiving music being changed due to streaming, so does how we listen to music, especially with the popularity of playlists and it being so easy. Songs that we like eventually end up on a playlist, which could allude to the fact that many only listen to an album to gather what would fit in a playlist for them to improve their personal listening experience. Once an individual downloads and chooses to stream an album, they can decide for themselves how they play it. The fact that listeners are even playing their chosen albums is respect enough to the artists who have provided the art. Listeners have free-reign to do what they want with music once they purchase it for themselves. Contesting for the reception of art in the artist’s perspective only matters if the listener is listening to the album for that reason. Many genuinely listen just to find good songs, or they check out for features with their own favourite artists. Inherently, that is not an issue, at least one for people to lose their minds over.
Other things to consider...
To add on, does this matter become more of a concern when we talk about mixtapes or albums that clearly do not follow a concept? Mixtapes are traditionally produced differently to albums, therefore the thinking process of a mixtape compared to an album is not necessarily the same. What artists may concern themselves with for an album may not be one in a mixtape. Countless artists, particularly rappers, even confirm this type of thinking when they create a mixtape versus when they release an album. As for non-concept albums, they are asking for the shuffle button when there is nothing alluded to engage the listener into realising the purpose of the album. When you have an album that is over 20 songs (maybe over 30 if you follow a Chris Brown template), it would be tedious for someone to listen to the album entirely from start to finish. You may even find that some skim through songs to decide which songs they like, further dismissing the order of the album entirely simply to find good songs. Listeners cannot be solely at fault for this phenomenon; when you have artists and management behind them who only look to run up numbers, you only water down the meaning of your art; this leaves listeners with no choice but to pick out what interests their ears.
A story or a concept is not at all required for an album to be good (find me a chronological story told in Michael Jackson’s Thriller to convince me otherwise). There are so many other qualities that an album can be appreciated in, such as the quality of sound and production and the content of the lyrics. If a listener can find the beauty in qualities like these then should it really matter in what order they listen in? Although, they may miss features like transitions from one song to another, which act like a bridge to connecting songs together, giving the order all the more reason to follow.
To finish off...
The reality is - order is there for a reason. An artist takes time to perfect their craft, and an album is the ultimate representation of where their efforts and preparation has taken them. To even simplify, an album is in a specific order because they wanted it that way. It’s sorted out that way FOR A REASON. But, to those who couldn’t care less, they have all the more reason not to – it is their choice and they are entitled to it. So ultimately, it’s either respecting the artist's craft or exercising your autonomy. As long as the artist is supported and given their flowers for their art, this issue of shuffling shouldn’t be the end of the world.