On its surface this is just a story about how Twitter is full of bots and fake accounts that may potentially be steal people’s digital identities. Personally I found the identity theft part to be a red herring for simply a story about how a decade obsession with likes, shares, RTs, etc is mostly a sham. A lie that we all implicitly know but explicitly never address head on.
Various industries are examined in how they’ve adopted social media currencies without considering the possibilities their new metric might just be bullshit. The piece’s subtext places a lens on all parts of post-social media society to point out once there is a metric or system to be gamed, people will go to great lengths to do exactly that. The music industry is not immune to such number obsession, but this piece nailed just how we’re still in the earliest days of contextualizing how these platforms morphed our world.
The new outlets for music consumption and fandom– YouTube, Pandora, Worldstar, DatPiff, Twitter– aren’t just faulty barometers because of how inherently gameable they are, but because they’re all free to users. Their numbers measure attention, not investment. Views and plays and followers won’t tell us how many of an artists’ impressions came from curious visitors who hated the song and immediately closed the window. Or, alternately, how many came from hyper-loyal fans who will play a song a hundred times on repeat and unknowingly turn a niche cult artist into a YouTube sensation.
This is a large piece to quote from Andrew Nosnitsky’s 2012 Pitchfork column, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit to constantly paraphrasing this exact thought many times writing this newsletter. Earlier this year I wrote about just how ridiculous it is that streaming numbers are contextualized to equate to album sales even though the two do not relate to each other in any meaningful way. Nosnitsky captures how attempts to find new ways to quantify success continues to feel further disconnected to the actual creators of the music.
That can even be seen this week with Drake’s Scorpion effectively receiving the biggest collective streaming push by any album ever. The numbers are impressive, but as Nosnitsky points out in his piece what exactly do they signify? Is it Drake’s fandom or Spotify’s own marketing powers? The unanswered question from Nosnitsky is what are the best ways to measure fan engagement? Is it record sales, ticket sales, number of views? Perhaps a combo of all of the above, but I guess it’s my job to ask and observe what follows next.
I’d be remiss not mentioning this amazing piece by Liz Pelly last year that rebuked Spotifian vision of music consumption. Pelly’s critiques are put at Spotify’s feet, but I’d compliment the piece and say much of this could’ve been written about radio in the 1930s, which was a similar inflection point in the music industry. The article’s strength is not only unpacking the ideas behind this business model, but constantly asking how is the one benefiting from a post-ownership music model. Much of tech writing often can ignore those affected at the bottom, but Pelly’s work on music streaming always start with creators not those signing the checks.