Is it possible these producing churches do not expect or even desire other churches to consider deploying all of the songs released on these albums into their own worship services? A cursory look at the various resourcing websites reveals that they do go out of their way to release charts and tracks for most of the songs on these albums. Why, then, release some songs as singles and not others?
There may be many reasons why, and chief among them would be the evolution of digital music. The digital revolution has significantly impacted the distribution mechanisms for all music. The near disappearance of physical album releases, coinciding with the rise of streaming structures that reward smaller and more frequent releases from artists, has helped create an environment where the cohesive integrity of an “album” is viewed as either a luxury or an irrelevance. By means of example, in November 2016, Spotify re-launched its artist platform with completely updated analytics for artists and the ability to directly promote singles to editorial playlist curators. Additionally, Spotify began requiring artists to select a single song (and only one) when launching an album. The message was clear: Playlists are king. Similar processes became common across the majority of streaming platforms in the following years. That the music we sing in our churches seems to have followed this trend may not be surprising, but it is noteworthy.
These realizations can lead to more questions about the relationship between the promotion of and the adoption of these songs, not to mention the economics of the industrial processes that lie behind them, an area which is being explored by other researchers at the moment. One underexplored effect of the rise of singles over albums is the content restraint of the format. If you release a hymnal, you have potentially hundreds of pages upon which to place songs of varying tone and theme. If you release a 75-minute album, there is space to take worshippers on a journey that includes not only the kinds of songs they may want to sing but also the kinds of songs they may need to sing. If, however, the sustainability of a group or artist is based upon the mass-appeal and adoption of individually released songs, how might that process influence the content of those songs?
We’ll end by returning to where we began, acknowledging that few are likely to go to Spotify and perform the hypothetical search suggested at the beginning of this article. Instead, people are more likely to click on one of the many curated playlists (or let the algorithms take care of the process for them). In such cases, the songs served up are probably not deep-cut album tracks or obscurities but the kinds of songs singled out by artist and label representatives as worthy of attention. Though they won’t necessarily know who singled them out, nor how or why they did so, these unseen hands will continue to impact the songs they hear and thus the songs we sing.
Very soon, our team will begin to release some of the results of our qualitative survey of worship leaders which centers upon their own understanding of these complexities. For updates, sign up for our mailing list at worshipleaderresearch.com or follow us on various social media platforms under “Worship Leader Research.”