Let's Talk About Streaming
So I was milling around on Instagram the other day and I came across a post. It was a video with R&B artist Ashanti, talking about her label and the music world on a business show. But the part that caught my ear was when they started talking about streaming and how it has changed music.
And just when I had the thought of finally writing about streaming, the news of YouTube revamping their Premium services to include music drops! What timing!
I have had this particular article in my mind for a while, for over a year to be specific. I think I told this story before but I'll say it again just for a trip down medium-term memory lane. I was chilling with my sister and cousin, watching The BRIT Awards, and because they're 10 Years older than me, there was a generational gap when talking about music. The conversation bled into streaming and it was a good back & forth.
I wouldn't say that I am a die hard fan of streaming. Fundamentally, it is perfect for a person like me. I can pay £7 a month for all the music I could ever want. It's Limewire & Napster but legal! Beautiful!
But even though streaming has been around for a while now, I think the music business as a whole, especially those responsible for charting & certifying music are behind on accounting for streaming and what it represents in the music industry. Let me explain.
I have never really been a charts person. For most of my formative years I saw the charts and went "Meh" at all the pop music that was being force fed on the radio & TV. But to be real with you, I just wanted to be a contrarian. Now, I don't look at (or should I say, respect) the charts explicitly because of streaming. Why? Because I believe that streaming is a fleeting thing. You can replace the word "streaming" with "Radio Airplay" if you want. Both of these methods are potential symbols of bias. Take the recent story with Tidal & how they inflated numbers for their exclusives. Who is to say that Apple hasn't done this before? I'm not proclaiming anything, but I am saying if one streaming site can (reportedly) do this with exclusives, why can't another? It is a slippery slope.
Streaming gives opportunity for bias, radio has an element of bias. For those that have seen "The Get Down", (it should be all of you...) remember the scene where Jackie was grovelling to a radio host, trying to get Mylene's track on the radio?
With that said, a positive for streaming is that it has removed that element of gate-keeping. If you got a track and you think it's fire, put it on SoundCloud and let the people decide for themselves. That's a positive for all streaming. I don't have to listen to chart music, I have my own playlist.
Streaming also gives a sense of autonomy for the listener. But on the flip-side, for the artist, the fact that streaming is so accessible means less money. This has forced artists to put more effort in terms of touring. If you really want to make money, every Album release must be accompanied with a tour. Whether you consider that a positive or a negative, is up to you.
Billboard recently switched up their weighting for streaming numbers as it pertains to their Hot 100 & Billboard 200. I mentioned before that streaming is a fleeting act, allow me to expand on that. It makes sense to class a hard copy album sale as one album sale right? Let me ask you this. What do you class as one album sale as it pertains to streaming? Say, we have a 15 track album for example. If I play one track 15 times, does that count as one album sale to you? Can you see how subjective this can be? Billboard has a two tiered system. Giving more weight to programmed platforms like Pandora than on-demand streaming platforms like Spotify. They have also given specific numbers for paid subscription streams and ad-supported streams equating to one album unit. (1,250 & 3,750 respectively) I am not going to act like whether that is on point or not but those numbers (and all the other numbers on the press release) probably won't be final numbers.
Streaming is an ever growing market. More and more people hop onto it by the day. Have you noticed how every artist keeps breaking records when their album drops? Get used to that. Chart companies such as Billboard or the Official Charts Company will keep having to take streams into account. They see it as fleeting too. Ever-present, yes. But also fleeting. Certification companies will also have to do this. Remember when Jay-Z went "Fake Platinum"? A Platinum plaque in the 90's isn't a Platinum plaque in 2018, that is just how it is.
And referring back to Ashanti, this has given artists the incentive to continually release music, keep pumping out tracks, the listener will consider you relevant. What she didn't talk about, however, is account for how artists are over-stuffing their albums with unnecessary tracks, simply just to get the numbers. If you have 30 tracks compared to 15, a person will listen to the entire album and boom, you just got yourself double the amount of streams than the artist who did 15 tracks. Why do you think Rae Sremmurd did that triple album? Creative juices flowing? Hell no!
One word. Numbers.
Like I said at the start, I love streaming, it gives me the ability to listen to the latest and greatest in a couple of taps and if I really like the album, I'll can cop a hard copy. Its a great buffer that people didn't get in past decades. I won't have to spend hard cash to listen to an album I haven't listened to yet. But when it comes to charts and certification, I personally can't pay attention to them. It is my opinion that streaming has cheapened these achievements that used to be a statistical benchmark and something worth celebrating. For artists, it's giving them incentive to churn out work that may not be up to par, but numbers must be made and this world we're in is very fast. You don't want to get left behind. But is that even possible in this social media society?
Streaming has negatives & positives. And those negatives & positives can be flipped depending on who you are. It's a great conversation to have from a subjective view.