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Stream Farms: Should Ratings be the Only Relevant Metric Used in the Music Industry?

Stream Farms: Should Ratings be the Only Relevant Metric Used in the Music Industry?

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Success means a lot of things to different artistes, and can be marked at different stages, as an indicator of the progression of an artiste’s career…

By Sybil Fekurumoh

As social media spaces are becoming accustomed to celebrity altercations and pitting up stars against one another, during the past week, the petty war on worlds between Nigerian artistes, Bnxn and Ruger, took a different turn, as their squabbles transitioned into artistes accusing one another of using streaming farms to boost the number of streams on their songs and increasing their revenue from royalties.

Streaming farms are considered the black market of the music industry. Automated listening bots are used to inflate the number of streams on a particular record or track. The bots, through a central operating system, use multiple devices such as phones, laptops, or tabs to play a song repeatedly over an extended period, increasing the popularity of the song on these streaming platforms.

Using streaming farms is expensive, and they are mainly used by big names and brands to boost engagements, or by artistes looking to be signed by bigger record labels. A little price to pay for fame. Streaming farms are relatively new in Nigeria’s music scene but have been used extensively by international artistes and record labels to boost ratings and top charts for years. For instance, Atlantic Records was recently accused of using bots to increase engagement on Lil Uzi Vert, Don Toliver, and other rappers’ videos.

Wisekid, an up-and-coming Nigerian artiste, took streaming fraud a step further by impersonating the more popular superstar, Wizkid, in 2021. Wisekid released an album, Lasgidi Made, but replicated Wizkid’s Made in Lagos album on Apple and Amazon by changing the song titles to that of Made in Lagos. Wisekid tricked the algorithm by rearranging the tracklisting and allegedly made N30 million monthly, from the time the album was uploaded in October 2020, to when the album was taken down.

Streaming farms are illegal, and several streaming platforms actively seek out means to get rid of bots as well as penalise accounts that use them. They create an imbalance in the music industry where artistes with legitimate fanbases and listeners lose out on revenue distribution as the larger percentages go to artistes who use bots. An obvious way to detect streaming bots is when the number of subscribers on streaming or video-sharing platforms does not correlate with the number of engagements a track has received.

(Read also: Wizkid Coasts around His Comfort Zone on More Love, Less Ego Album)

The entertainment industry, particularly the music one, is saturated, with plenty of musicians – both the talented and the not-so-talented – vying for the spotlight. How popular a celebrity or brand is, greatly translates to its level of success.  In show business, ratings seem to be everything, and amassing popularity by the numbers can be massively capitalised for gains. Building a brand name and image in this largely saturated industry requires time, skill, and patience, which has to be sustained to keep the celebrity or brand name continuously relevant.

In the past, record sales were the main quantifier for success for a musician, and chart presence and sold-out concerts were just as important. But today, with digital technology the wide usage of the Internet, and access to more information, the way people can communicate and interact with their favourite celebrities have been revolutionalised. Part of building that public image in a largely digital-enabled society entails not just finding an audience but amassing audiences by the numbers. This means that in addition to record sales, chart presence, and sold-out concerts, streaming numbers, YouTube subscribers and views, number of followers on Twitter and Instagram, a trending song on TikTok, Twitter trends, and others, become relevant as well.

Every now and then on the Internet, there is a ranking for artistes with the most followers on social media, or the artistes with the number one hit track or album on streaming platforms like Apple Music, Deezer, and Spotify. It is a status symbol that is much relished, and no doubt, numbers give a musician bragging right. It could also be uplifting for an artiste’s career, as it opens better opportunities to being signed to bigger record labels, receiving endorsements, and receiving brand ambassadorial deals. This would naturally increase the extent of the artiste’s popularity, and their success would earn them more curious listeners.

Nigerian musician and producer, CKay, who is now widely celebrated, is one artiste whose popularity was largely facilitated by the Internet. While CKay’s talent and abilities as an artiste are undeniable, with his incredible voice, youthful charm, and reserved charisma, his success today is largely due to the success of his hit song, “Love Nwantiti” going viral on the Internet. In 2021, “Love Nwantiti,” which was recorded two years prior, became a viral song on the social media platform, TikTok, after DJ Yo – a DJ from Mauritius, remixed the original song and made it a sound on TikTok.

“Love Nwantiti,” for a time, became the most Shazamed song in the world, the number one song on YouTube’s Global Chart, number three on the UK singles chart, and on the Billboard 100 chart, among many other highlights. In January 2022, his song was certified Gold in the US. CKay’s success was a largely organic process, but it is not unassuming to say that a lot of artistes are trying, or have tried, to replicate this template by going viral on the Internet or having large followership.

Artistes devise tactics to make their songs trend, whether organically or through rather questionable means. On the largely positive side, they could create a dance routine to accompany a song, create an online challenge, do a giveaway, use marketing ads such as YouTube ad placements, or have influencers and marketers promote their songs. On the flip side, they could create propaganda or create controversy, use stream farms, and buy likes or comments that give positive reviews.

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Usually, there are unfavourable outcomes. A few months ago, Nigerian social media spaces went chaotic as the rising star, Berri Tiga, and comedian/skit-maker, Carter Efe, clashed over ownership of the song, “Machala,” after the song became an instant hit track, with Tiga claiming to have written the song, and Efe, who was already a popular Instagram influencer, was featured to promote the song to a large audience.

(Read also: Celebrity Giveaway Culture in Nigeria: Goodwill or Branding Tactic?)

Success means a lot of things to different artistes, and can be marked at different stages, as an indicator of the progression of an artiste’s career. Ultimately, numbers are important, however, numbers should not be the only determinant of good music or for weighing a successful artiste.  Amassing a large number of followers, while relevant, is only a small piece of the puzzle, and being able to engage with those followers or audiences is another bargain.

Recently, American rapper, Saweetie, was hauled on social media for allegedly having low sales for her new EP, The Single Life, despite having 13 million followers on Instagram. This means that artistes need not just followers, but active ones who enthusiastically consume their products. That is, aside from consuming the music, the fanbase can purchase other products like brand merch, and so on.

Although, there is a tendency for a fanbase to become engrossed with an artiste that it creates an unhealthy stan culture that tends to become problematic. The music industry, as with show business, may also be cutthroat that it is easy to ignore the moral and ethical implications of certain actions, such as with the use of streaming farms, paid ads, and the likes, but there are definitely qualitative benefits to growing a brand organically that is likely to be more appreciated and ethically correct.

 

Sybil Fekurumoh is a creative writer who writes for Afrocritik. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @toqueensaber.

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