04/01/2017 06:25 GMT | Updated 04/01/2018 05:12 GMT

How More Artists Are Connecting With Fans With Playlists And Mixtapes

It is a well-known fact that the way we listen to music has changed dramatically in recent years.

It can probably be traced back to the rise of the MP3 file, which on one hand meant greater flexibility in carrying your music around with you (also down to the birth of the MP3 player and, of course, the iPod) but pivotally, it allowed music to be shared much more freely.

What followed was a slump in record sales as the physical format slowly died out. However, the music executives quickly cottoned on to the idea of the online music store, allowing users to purchase their music but this still didn't eradicate the rate of illegal downloading. It became the norm that, as consumers, we demanded to know why we should pay for something that most people get for nothing.

Online streaming sites are the compromise between record companies and music consumers - they are effectively saying "here is all the music you want - play it as much as you want for a reasonable monthly fee'. Spotify have ruled this market for a while, Apple are catching up and it is largely due to these streaming platforms that the craze for playlists has come full-circle. Spotify has, for a long-time curated playlists by genre, mood as well as giving the user flexibility in making their own from the Spotify library.

In the 90s, people loved making 'mix tapes' on cassettes and it involved recording a mixture of songs onto tape that could be grouped together by a theme chosen by the maker, then passed on to friends. The mix tape is extremely personal because some thought has gone into the process behind it. The person you gave it to would receive some sort of message in listening to it. A tape featuring Eric Clapton's 'The Way You Look Tonight', Mariah Carey's 'Without You' and The Beatles' 'All You Need Is Love' screams 'I Love You!' more so than if you climbed onto the top of your house and screamed it from the rooftops.

In today's digital age, it makes perfect sense that the mix tape phenomenon is returning. During the last decade, EDM went international and dominates the airwaves. As a result , a long list of 'superstar' DJs have emerged including Calvin Harris and David Guetta. The act of choosing records to play in response to the mood of a crowd is now more relevant as an art form than ever.

The Magician, a popular house DJ and producer, has become an internet sensation by posting monthly 'tapes' on SoundCloud and building his fan base through the tracks he chooses. His tapes collate the hottest Deep House and Nu-Disco records and have led to collaborations with big names, the latest being Years and Years. The sound of the bands featured in his sets become linked to his own brand.

Similarly, electro-pop singer/songwriter Little Boots filled the gap between the release of her debut Handsand her follow-up Nocturnes by DJing around the world. To satisfy fan demand for new material, she would tie in her tapes with new cuts from her upcoming album - her single 'Shake' appeared on her SHAKEUNTILYOURHEARTBREAKS tape while 'Every Night I Say A Prayer' was incorporated into her INTOTHEFUTURE set. During this period, she built upon her existing brand to become a sort of connoisseur of Dance music that made her brand appeal to new audiences and came to define the Nocturnes era.

Across the internet and social media, we are inundated with 'Top 10' lists, a good example in music being Digital Spy's 'Top Ten Tracks You Need To Hear'. With mix tapes and playlists being the most share-friendly that they have ever been, it is likely to be an artist's priority to get into these lists for the exposure and viral reaction. In an industry in which profits are dwindling, at least from physical sales (although, interestingly, vinyl reached a 25 year high in 2016) , the exposure that inclusion in a list/playlist/mix tape brings is a great way to make up for any losses by driving music fans towards content on Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, SoundCloud or whatever.

Maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to make a bunch of people want to buy the actual album.

This article originally appeared on the Twenty Something blog, written by @iammartinward.