Apple Owes Drake a Bigger Check
Hi, I hope y’all are doing well this week. I recently took a buyout from my former employer Gizmodo Media Group, who was looking to downsize the overall company. That means I’m a freelancer writer again, which is kind of exciting but a mostly stressful endeavor. That doesn’t mean this newsletter will change, but personally I am on the market looking for work and I’m also interested in trying to maybe write a book. So, if any of y’all have any leads on either front I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyway, let’s talk about Apple Music and Drake.
We’re Streaming in Drake’s World
Drake’s Scorpion is on pace to be the most successful album of the streaming era. Within the first 24 hours of it being released Spotify said it was averaging 10 million plays an hour. Apple Music then announced it scored 170 million streams within it’s first 24 hours, boasting “The most streams in a single day, on any streaming service,” a sly shot at Spotify, who only amassed 132 million streams despite having 100 million more users. Then last Friday Digital Music News reported that according to sources Apple Music overtook Spotify in the United States. To quote Drake: “What a time to be alive.”
(I’ll admit as someone who does a weekly newsletter about music streaming it’s hard to not love a week full of so many numbers.)
Scorpion didn’t just beat the previous streaming records, but flatten them down to nothing. This isn’t an altogether new trend. Drake’s projects the last few years have offered a constantly shifting benchmark of that particular streaming era.
2016’s Views not only provided Drake with his biggest pop hits ("One Dance," "Controlla"), but was the most successful “exclusive” album of the year of “exclusive” albums with over 220 million streams on Apple Music its first week. The other trend Views helped establish was the value of OVO Radio on Beats 1. Though Tidal brought out more and longer term exclusive projects, OVO Radio with Drake made his exclusive content weekly, not yearly. A move that encourages prolonged subscriptions instead of subscribing and unsubscribing once an album officially is arrives. More Life his 2017 project was consciously called a “playlist” seemingly to imply it could be a shifting or ever changing collection of songs. That didn’t happen and instead it was just a fucking long album, but the novelty arrived as big (™) playlist culture was entering the mainstream. Spotify’s playlists were starting to be understood as the new radio and even some artists were starting to question the value of the album format in releasing music. Then 2017’s More Life was called a “playlist” while in reality was just a needlessly long album.
Scorpion following this path is just solidifying streaming entering the mainstream.
A trend that keeps showing up on the Billboard charts is that increasingly albums aren’t being sold, but simply are topping the charts through their streaming numbers. Thanks to Joe Coscarelli for pointing out this specific stat from Ben Sisario’s New York Times piece on Drake’s record-breaking opening week:
"Scorpion which broke streaming records around the world, easily opened at No. 1 with the equivalent of 723,000 sales in the United States — an amount that includes a whopping 746 million streams and 160,000 copies sold as a full album...Views opened with 245 million streams — a record at the time — and 852,000 sales as a complete album, yielding an equivalent of 1,039,000 sales for the week."
The money people used to pay for albums is no longer directly going to artists but rather monthly subscriptions. The more people stream and leave non-streaming methods of music consumption behind that means an increase in the number of streams and data being collected that previously wasn’t available. A decade ago, a song like “In My Feelings” might’ve been Scorpion's fourth single based on the initial buzz it’s gotten since the album dropped. But, in a streaming first world it’s on the path to being a no. 1 single only two weeks after being released. The era of the album may be close approaching, but it now functions as open market A&Ring.
Apple Music Sudden, But Not So Quiet, Rise
If streaming is arriving to a new era, then what company should be rather thrilled by this new ecosystem...Apple. Rather quietly Apple Music now has the most paying American music streamers according to Digital Music News; Fast Company reported Spotify still held the lead but the overall trend is in California fruit company's favor. Spotify’s entire user base, paying and non-paying, is certainly larger than Apple Music’s, but there’s another reason Apple may want to thank their favorite Canadian rapper.
On Monday for Slate I wrote about Apple Music nudging onto Spotify’s turf, but I spent some time giving credit to Drake:
"The relationship between Drake and Apple Music benefited both parties. Apple Music got first dibs on Drake’s record-breaking 2016 album Views, while the rapper is now the avatar for the paid music streaming era. An often overlooked part of Apple Music’s library is Beats 1 radio, which in the case of Drake, who has his own OVO Radio show named after his recording imprint, means his fans have a reason to hold onto their subscription even if no new album on the horizon. Artists like Bad Bunny, Pharrell, Deadmau5, Elton John, Charli XCX, and Frank Ocean all have their own Beats 1 shows, reaching dedicated fans who’d rather connect with their favorite musician than trust an algorithm for song recommendations."
I got well-reasoned feedback about giving too much credit to Beats 1/Drake and not enough to the vast iPhone market for why Apple Music’s rapid growth. That’s fair. I was trying to figure out that even if the iPhone is the reason for growth, why is Apple Music’s engagement so greater than Spotify. Could it be that Drake bought a dedicated audience of music fans to the platform—how many nights is he gonna sell out this year, or maybe even Apple Music’s more rigid approach to music stream is what is helping here. Spotify encourages uses to press play and not worry about what song will come next, where Apple Music wants you to know curators, listen to Beats 1, and check out new albums. Apple Music is a record store, Spotify is the radio.
A thought I heard last month in regard to this question is that potentially Spotify hooked former Pandora users, who comparatively are relatively casual music fans. While, Apple Music is continuing to pick off people that lived in the iTunes world and are ready to consume the music they already know they want and not simply listen to an artist radio selection. I hold no data or internal chatter to confirm that thought, but it does align with how the services present themselves to the world.
Heightened paying engagement is going to be ever more the talk of the town as Billboard is now officially weighing paid streams more than non-paid streams. A move that lowers the value of a stream for millions of non-paying Spotify users. I doubt many artists are going to up-end their marketing plan over this, but it shows a further lean to Apple Music’s approach in music streaming.
Apple should be so happy with their Drake partnership. The streaming service that arrived late at the party, constantly copies the competition, and always felt a bit annoying is still finding success. Earliest this year Daniel Ek said there is space for competition in the streaming space, but I wonder how many unlimited music app the marketplace wants?
6 Links 2 Read
Soon you may pay Apple by the month for video, music, and news - Fast Company
Services! In five years when Amazon, Google, and Apple are all offering content deals where you get TV, music, news, etc in one single package!. Part of me is nervous about this future we’re barrelling eve faster towards. A subscription-based world where all content is monitored and tracked to give better ads and create new content. Doesn’t sound all that different from today, now that I say it out loud.
Aggressive Content Bundling Might Be Spotify's Only Chance of Competing With Apple, Amazon - Billboard
Now who is the company that isn’t quite prepared for a giant tech entertainment bundle contest...Cherie Hu reports that Spotify is actually interested in doing more original video content, but I wrote about this back in January and my gut feeling remains the same: “Spotify and to a greater extent Apple Music continue to create MTV generation video content for a generation that never even knew MTV played videos.”
Millions of Followers? Yes, But Some Top Spotify Playlists Fall Short on Engagement - Billboard
I’m endlessly fascinated by the ways that the music industry, and society writ-large, need to get better at grappling with social media numbers. Streaming platform numbers I guess should also go in that same bucket. Hu followed up on a Chartmetric piece that looked at playlist engagement and looked at what playlists over and underperform on Spotify. Turns out mint isn’t really all that important of a playlist, which echoes talks I’ve had with EDM managers about what playlists are and aren’t important. Follower count can never tell the full story.
How Smart Speakers Are Changing the Way We Listen to Music - Pitchfork
This is from last month, but I didn’t get to include it in last week’s newsletter. Eric Harvey took a dive into the history of voice assistants and what exactly what role they hold in the world of music. Pitchfork now writing about voice assistance and their space in the music world is a good barometer for how the industry start to adapt to these 24/7 surveillance boxes in our homes.
Twitter is sweeping out fake accounts like never before, putting user growth at risk - Washington Post
I included this story because I love stories about fake social media accounts and platforms playing catch-up to an always rampant problem. This story is great for all those reasons but the amusing detail of the piece was over concern that this report may hurt Twitter’s stock. Even though the company stressed these accounts were being counted and didn’t affect overall user numbers. Of course, on Monday their stock falls by at one point nearly 10%. Good job everyone.
Ice Poseidon’s Lucrative, Stressful Life as a Live Streamer - The New Yorker
This 100% doesn’t have anything to do with music. It’s just a wild story about a noxious livestreamer, who was banned from Twitch and then moved to YouTube. My only real music connection is that I think as some artists start to more aggressively monetize their time and fan interaction, there are def going to be some weird lessons of just how much people want to connect into the lives of creators.