Music Biz: Streaming Metrics Best Gauge of What’s Hot and What’s Not

As soon as we start trumpeting the metrics streaming services offer, the sooner the rest of the world will take music seriously

Music Measurments Lefsetz
Cheyne Gateley

Every week the antiquated record industry trumpets its sales figures and the even more ancient media industry repeats them. And to say they’re unimpressive is to say you took the family goat to prom.

Let’s look at Imagine Dragons.

They’re a top 10 act selling 25,000 records a week.

25k a week? That’s positively anemic in a country of 300 million. That’s like asking us to be impressed that you made $2.50 at the lemonade stand. In a county where movies debut in the double digit millions every week, it appears the music industry is a joke.

But it’s not.

Oh, you can point to the 1.25 million records Imagine Dragons has sold in nearly a year, but how impressive is that? There used to be a diamond award given for 10 million sales on a regular basis at the tail end of the last century.

Have people just given up listening to music?

No! It’s just that the industry keeps pointing people to lame metrics.

On Spotify, the supposedly rip-off system with no traction, Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” has been spun 122,988,750 times. Put that number in the paper, it’ll wow people! It’s almost unfathomable — it’s got too many commas for most people to be able to interpret. And the band has another track at over 50 million and two in the 30 million play range.

These numbers are spectacular!

This is not your daddy’s record business. Only it is. Everyone’s pointing to the wrong number, and the acts are complicit.

The press has declared Kanye West’s new album a stiff, but on Spotify the tracks have 2.5 million to 5 million plays. Now compared to “Blurred Lines,” with 64 million, that’s not much, but it certainly indicates traction. As for the other song of the summer? The radio edit of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” has got 74,122,609 spins and the album version has got another 26,335,533.

It’s not whether someone buys it but whether they play it. While Billboard keeps reformulating its chart, factoring in social media and a bunch of other crap, why not look to streaming services, which truly indicate popularity?

Same deal with YouTube, where “Radioactive” has 65 million plays. And that’s impressive, but people confl ate those numbers with television, with the MTV of yore, and they just don’t register that much anymore, especially with a new viral video on a regular basis, which may have nothing to do with music.

And you don’t see Calvin Harris’ name on a regular basis in mainstream media, but he’s got numerous tracks with double digit million spins on Spotify. “I Need Your Love” has got 56,435,679, “Sweet Nothing” has got 73,831,099. Maybe some insiders are gloating over his income — he was rated as the No. 1-earning deejay in Forbes — but to think that’s gotten mainstream penetration is to believe Forbes’ site has got the same following as TMZ. Then again, it was linkbait; they just did that report to garner virality.

But that’s all about manipulation. Right now, these Spotify numbers are real. And important. And as soon as we stop vilifying these streaming services and start trumpeting their metrics, the sooner the rest of the world will take music seriously, the sooner artists will realize that there’s a ton of money in music and it’s worth it to take the risk as opposed to play the game because you can go straight to your audience and people are hungry for something new and different.

P.S. Don’t denigrate Spotify, sign up! Get everybody you know to sign up! Then these numbers keep going up, up, up! And more money rains down on those who make the music, and isn’t that your main complaint, that you just can’t make enough cash? This is your salvation.

P.P.S. Yes, these are global play counts on Spotify, but it is a global business, and the more we tear down the artifi cial national barriers and embrace the true reality of music dissemination, the better it will be for everybody, especially the artists.

Read more Bob Lefsetz columns at Lefsetz.com