When does a music stream really matter?


Artists, managers, labels – and sometimes even fans – have an obsession with the charts. Being # 1 isn’t enough anymore, you actually have to break a record to be relevant, and that’s when things get out of hand. First we had projects where CDs or downloads were bundled with merchandise, concert tickets, or even newspapers (thanks, Prince), but that was the old music business. Today we have fake feed farms, paid playlist locations, and streaming manipulation sites. Sometimes it’s easy to say what’s fair and even legal in these cases, but what do you do with the overzealous fans?

Inflation of flows

Take for example “Dynamite” by K-Pop group BTS, a song that topped the Spotify charts at launch with 12.6 million streams, the most important first day for a track on the service in 2020. Not only that, the song’s video reached over 101 million views in its first 24 hours on YouTube, a record for this platform. . Good for BTS – they’re massively popular.

Yet when you looked at today’s Spotify charts, the song was only credited with just under 7.8 million streams instead of the 12.6 million “unfiltered” tracks the group claims. . So what is going on?

BTS fans are perhaps the most rabid an artist or group has ever had, and they’re coordinating, too. They rallied the troops with the explicit idea in mind not only of having “Dynamite” reach # 1 on multiple streaming services, but also at record levels. This meant that some users would listen to or watch the song over and over again throughout the first day, which explains its huge numbers. Couldn’t that be considered cheating?

May be. It’s one thing for management or a label to manipulate the numbers for gain or fame, but it’s quite another when everything is organized through a de facto online fan club.

There is a solution for this

It turns out that Spotify has a system in place to detect “gaming inflation”. The service reportedly capped the number of plays a user can contribute to a song’s position on the charts over a 24-hour period. This algorithm is also no secret to end users. you will see on SpotifyCharts.com where it states that the charts “are generated using a formula that protects against any artificial inflation of the positions of the charts”.

Certainly asking your fans to stream your song over and over again is far better than using a robot farm to artificially listen to your music for the sole purpose of increasing your royalties. You could even argue that the idea isn’t all that different from fans buying multiple records from physical record stores in the 60s, or calling their local station to ask for their favorite song over and over again in the heyday of. the radio. Today, this is done on a global scale.

That said, some services (like Spotify) seem to prevent this from happening while most others either ignore it or don’t care much about it initially. The way I look at it is a real hit can only be seen by taking a spotting scope. If a song remains popular over a significant period of time (months instead of weeks), then it has some legitimate popularity. If it comes and goes quickly despite the high number of feeds, you might start to question the totals.

But they have an army of fans

The BTS can however be a special case. The BTS Army is fiercely loyal and more active than most fans of any other artist. According to Brandwatch, the military has perhaps 48 million people, has its own set of Twitter hashtags, and mentions the group over a million times a day! And just because the band is from Korea doesn’t mean most of their fans are mostly Asian. The military is actually the strongest in the United States, with 17% of its social traffic coming from there.

Still, the controversy over what amounts to an official stream remains complicated. Every time we think we’ve got the problem under control, a new twist emerges. No doubt the BTS army will continue to keep us on our toes.

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