If you were active on any social media platforms last month you likely saw the bands you’ve been following celebrate the number of Spotify streams they had in 2019. Just as Myspace plays and Facebook likes were once important metrics used in the industry to determine the success of an artist, the number of plays on a streaming service is now the new standard of how popularity and fan size will be evaluated. But along with these changes in music statistics we must also consider the lessons of the past in how such statistics have been deceitfully manipulated. For there is a dark side to the validity of music streams in 2019 and the very real power held by those who can successfully master their mysteries.
Our first taste of the merit of music streaming comes with this week’s surprising top of the Billboard Charts, a local hip hop artist from New York (laughably) named A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. While gaining 83 Million streams is an impressive feat for an artist, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie became #1 on the Billboard charts despite selling a measly 823 albums:
A Bronx rapper has snagged the top spot on the US Billboard 200 chart after selling just 823 albums — and posting 83 million on-demand streams.
Industry tracker Billboard, whose chart ranks the most popular albums of the week in the United States, said Monday that A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s album “Hoodie SZN” climbed to the top with the equivalent of 58,000 sales for the week ending January 10.
That multi-metric sum includes streams and downloads of individual songs along with sales of the full 20-song album — but according to Billboard, streams powered the ascent, while the sales set a record-low for an album that reached number one.
The figures lay bare the ever-widening gap between the rapidly growing business of streaming and that of lethargic album sales.
To put into perspective how ridiculous this is, consider this: The debut album from Abazagorath, a niche black metal band from the totally-not-grim United States of America, sold 1,000 copies in just the first week alone. Mayhem’s critically eviscerated Grand Declaration of War sold over 100,000 copies and Abigail William’s In the Shadow of A Thousand Suns sold over 20,000 CDs in 2008 – over 10 years AFTER symphonic black metal was “a thing”. So basically, this rapper sold virtually nothing but still conquered the same Billboard Charts that were once ruled by boy bands who sold 7 million copies in the first day.
Billboard’s strange new metric for charting albums aside, it looks like the final nail has been driven into the coffin of physical album sales. If an artist the industry deems “popular” can sell less than 1,000 copies, any hope of turning much of a profit selling CDs/records/cassettes is probably a lost cause. But still, extreme metal and hard rock have their dedicated traditionalists (and hipster newcomers) and I’m sure bands and labels will be able to move their stock if they press 100-300 copies.
But just how honest are these streams? It’s difficult to tell, as many streams and plays are often bought, sold, and otherwise faked. The Threatin story we covered last week was only the tip of the iceberg, for a better tell, look at the ongoing controversy surrounding YouTube plays:
Martin Vassilev makes a good living selling fake views on YouTube videos. Working from home in Ottawa, Ontario, he has sold about 15 million views so far this year, putting him on track to bring in more than $200,000, records show.
Vassilev, 32, does not provide the views himself. His website, 500Views.com, connects customers with services that offer views, likes and dislikes generated by computers, not humans. When a supplier cannot fulfill an order, Vassilev — like a modern switchboard operator — quickly connects with another.
“I can deliver an unlimited amount of views to a video,” Vassilev said. “They’ve tried to stop it for so many years, but they can’t stop it. There’s always a way around.”
Multiple musicians bought views to appear more popular: YouTube views factor into metrics from the ratings company Nielsen and song charts including Billboard’s Hot 100.
Streaming services like Spotify and YouTube have since employed a number of countermeasures to counteract the fake view counts. For example, if you’re getting thousands of plays one month that abruptly drop off the next, an alert will flag the powers-that-be to such suspicious behavior. Thus, if you really are thinking of dropping a few grand on your toilet-grind solo album, be advised that you run the risk of getting your account deleted permanently. Which would be pretty metal, I guess?
But what if the manipulation is coming from the inside? Before you write this one off as a conspiracy theory, pay attention to what we’ve learned from the recent scandal involving Jay-Z’s streaming service TIDAL, which is one of the most popular streaming services in Norway:
Norwegian financial newspaper Dagens Næringsliv said it had obtained an internal TIDAL company hard drive which proved the streaming platform’s play-counts for two major albums from 2016 – Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo – had been artificially inflated.
DN reported: ‘Beyoncé’s and Kanye West’s listener numbers on TIDAL have been manipulated to the tune of several hundred million false plays… which has generated massive royalty payouts at the expense of other artists.’
Today (January 14) brings big news: Dagens Næringsliv has revealed that Norway’s National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (Økokrim) has begun an investigation into potential ‘fake streams’ at TIDAL.
Økokrim’s Chief Public Prosecutor, Elisabeth Harbo-Lervik, confirmed that Norwegian authorities launched this ongoing investigation – aiming to prove or disprove the suspicion of streaming volume manipulation within TIDAL – in the fall/autumn of 2018
In an age where the majority of popular music is composed by a small collective of composers, it appears there is a plethora of shady Wall St. style practices plaguing the music industry. With frantic shifts in technology and music mediums, there often isn’t time for people to stop and ask the right questions. Who’s regulating these streaming services? Who is running them and what kind of power do they have? As we learn more and more about Google’s frequent manipulation of search engine results we must consider the very real possibility that the techs of these streaming platforms have the same amount of power and, quite possibly, the same lack of business ethic.
Western Civilization has entered an unprecedented new age in which no institution can be trusted and where the world around us is oversaturated with illusion. Thus we MUST proceed with caution as we migrate from the physical to the streaming realm of music. There is no telling what’s *really* happening behind the scenes, and great is our struggle against the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, and the evil spirits in the heavens.