An interesting side effect of music streaming is revealing the already thin connection between record sales and financial success, at least within the major label system. Most artists in that system are paid through their advance, then potentially through touring and other methods, if that wasn’t also lassoed with a questionable deal. Streaming only reinforces this fact. An artist who sold 50,000 copies of an album might still end up dropped after that initial album, but there could be some potentially valuable data in concrete album sales.
However what is the value in a million streams? That’s not million people who heard a band’s song. Nor is it mean there are now million potential fans of the artist. The number just means there were either million potential ad impressions or plays on a paid music streaming service. While not the most elegant phrase, it lays out more bluntly what’s at stake here. The obsession with total consumption stats on Spotify, YouTube, and Apple, whenever the company feel like releasing data skews how artists and fans approach platforms and confuses what could be good information with rather flat information.
If one were to look at a YouTube page or even a creator’s dashboard there are stats for: number of views, watch time duration, numbers of likes and dislikes, comments, shares, where views are coming, I could go on. Yet what frustrates me is that the only stat pushed by YouTube, then labels, and eventually down to fans is: play count—the most passive number on the screen. Though a couple of recent non-music announcements hint at a shift away from this crude view of numbers.
I wrote this is in a way to open up a dialogue about what is the purpose of streaming numbers in 2018. If most artists aren’t seeing meaningful cash from music streaming numbers then why should fans in return care? These platforms could present a more holistic view of fandom, but instead this is hidden behind artist only tools, which Spotify would love to sell back to labels, managers, and artists. Not only should none of those groups stand for that fleece, but neither should fans. A middleman, serving admen, shouldn’t shape the narrative of how an industry measures itself.