By, Bob Lefsetz
HITS ARE GETTING SMALLER
There’s an article by Anne Steele in today’s “Wall Street Journal” about the lack of new tracks in the hit parade.
“The Song of the Summer Could Be Harry Styles, Jack Harlow, or Even Something From 2020 – The popularity of older songs, due to nostalgic listeners or TikTok trends, makes the ubiquitous summer jam harder to break through”: https://on.wsj.com/3M8sUsO
No, you can’t read it for free, you get what you pay for, and there are two tiers of people in music, insiders and outsiders, and they’ve got two completely different viewpoints based on information. I’ll get to that below.
But as far as tracks taking longer to make it, and staying longer once they do, that’s been well-known for years in the music industry.
But it’s the statistics that caught my eye here.
2019’s most streamed act, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” garnered in excess of one billion streams.
“Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” was the biggest streaming track of 2020, with 920 million streams.
As for last year’s biggest smash, Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” it was streamed a grand total of 627 million times.
“In 2018, the top 200 songs were responsible for nearly one in 10 of all streams; in 2021, that metric fell to less than 1 in 20, according to Luminate. Last year, 95,000 songs hit one million streams, a 36% increase over 2018.”
Sure, there’s more money in hits, both in actual streaming payments and possibly the penumbra, i.e. touring, merch, sponsorships, etc. But music streaming is turning into television streaming, there’s so much product that nothing is as big as it used to be.
In other words, what the press tells you is ubiquitous is far from it, or at least has less impact than ever before.
But it gets even worse. Because the above are the raw streaming numbers, the chart numbers are manipulated, they include “sales.” But there are almost no sales. Sales might generate revenue, but they do not generate impact. It’d be like including DVD sales in a chart of what is the most popular movie… Almost all of the consumption is on television, streaming. So you get a skewed impression.
And the dirty little secret is some of the “biggest” acts in the business are not. You see they manipulate sales, with multiple versions of the same album and more to go to number one, and then their label spams the brain dead world of entertainment media, which repeats these numbers with no investigation whatsoever, giving a completely inaccurate view of what are the biggest acts out there, at least in terms of consumption, and that’s the world we now live in, actually it’s the world we always lived in, that which is listened to most delivers the most in return. Think of all the albums that went to number one the first week out and then straight into the dumper. There were no hit singles, the act might have even canceled its tour because of low demand.
But that’s what it’s like living in the disinformation society.
THERE IS NO FIXED PER TRACK PAYMENT ON STREAMING
Why this falsehood persists amongst the hoi polloi is completely confounding. It’s very simple. You divide the total amount of distributable income by the total number of streams. You end up with a rate per stream, and then you multiply by the number of streams a track gets. But the numbers are continually changing, the pool of income and the pool of streams, and therefore the rate per stream constantly changes, it’s temporary. (Of course there are different payments for on demand streaming and streaming radio, but let’s not confuse the issue.) So, if more people are subscribed to one service and listen more, the ultimate per track payment, which constantly fluctuates, could be low whereas a less popular service, one with fewer subscribers who listen less, might pay more. But if you think that’s where you want to be, that the less popular service is the one that should be championed, you’re just plain wrong. It’s essentially impossible to get the same number of streams on the less popular service with the less active subscribers.
It’s math, and musicians tend not to be good with it.
But it’s also evidence of today’s gotcha society, where someone must be at fault, there must be a bogeyman.
And the truth is Spotify has the most subscribers, and they are the most active. So that’s where you want to be. Because the aggregate is more important than the individual. I.e. a hundred streams at a penny are worth more than ten at a nickel.
But, once again, there is no per stream number, whatsoever. Sure, you can calculate it for a certain payment cycle, but it’s a factor of how many subscribers there were and what they were listening to.
Today there’s a lengthy story in the “Los Angeles Times” about how social media scares pregnant women with incorrect information:
“How Instagram and TikTok prey on pregnant women’s worst fears”: https://lat.ms/3t8oF9U
But it gets worse, the same people propagating this false information tell you not to trust mainstream media because it’s inherently biased and inaccurate. And the truth is the big three, the NYT, WSJ and WaPo, sometimes get it wrong. But they are light years more accurate than what you’re reading on social media. And if they get it wrong, intentionally, they’re liable to be sued.
So chances are what you believe is totally wrong, based on online spin/nonsense.
But those on the inside know the score.