Hello, I hope y’all are doing well this week. I’m gonna be a bit personal cause yesterday was the three-year anniversary of me moving to New York City to pursue a career in journalism. To say the least it's been an interesting experience. This month also marks that over eight years since I started a Tumblr blog that got me started freelancing for places like Pitchfork, Noisey, and Spin while still in college. I say this cause some readers remember my teenage rambling and others just started reading today, and personally its nice to keep that in perspective some days.
With all of that said, this week's newsletter is a bit of a mess, but hopefully a fun one. If you got any comments, questions, or concerns send them to email@example.com. I try and answer every email, but I do have a habit of usually responding on Wednesday when I publish.
Diss Tracks Aren't on Playlists
Last night Pusha T released a diss song towards Drake called “The Story of Adidon” that was in response to Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle” that he released the Friday over Memorial Day weekend. Okay, so I’m not really going to talk about this beef—though damn it got real—instead, I want to focus on where this battle is taking place: Soundcloud.
I’ll admit a bit of personal bias because I do love Soundcloud as a music platform for a whole host of reasons I can go into another day. The reason that I very much love it right now is because of its immediacy. A small charm/annoyance of Drake's OVO Radio program on Apple Music is that it often wouldn't start on time. Much to the frustration of bloggers and fans, but how often do music fans huddle around seeking content that isn't tied to an album or single drop. Now Drake could flip on a Twitch Livestream and build a similar kind of fan connection, but the other side of that coin is just dropping a piss track on Friday afternoon and having his fans reorient their lives around this moment.
Then Pusha T followed suit on Tuesday. Now, these songs could’ve dropped on Apple Music or Spotify to the same effect, but of course, that didn’t happen. Pusha T by rapping over Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ” beat effectively nixed it ever arriving on an official streaming platform. That’s what I’ve found so interesting in the last few years since Drake left Soundcloud for Apple Music, beyond the money, but the casualness of his relationship to music and the platforms that released was suddenly formalized. Many rappers followed suit and it’s not shocking to find teenagers getting on the legal music streaming bandwagon before they think of uploading a mixtape to Datpiff.
But, then moments like this occur. Where instead of trying to optimize a song’s reach through a hard playlist push, the song is simply uploaded to SoundCloud and fans rush to the website to hear the latest missive from their favorite rapper. I know Soundcloud works with artists and wants to help grow those relationships, but the moments like these show that the power of music still for some rests in the hands of the artists that command these audiences to go find music and not in the streaming platforms. I know of course, Drake's new album will drop on all music streaming platforms, but I'll be checking his Soundcloud for the next chapter in this bit of drama.
The Bandcamp Boutique
Of course, there is no strict definition of music streaming I’m working with for this newsletter, but Bandcamp isn’t often mentioned in discussions of music streaming. The reason being that because it’s a platform that encourages individual downloads and sales that’s very much an iTunes, not Spotify approach to music consumption. That niche realistically means Bandcamp isn't fighting for the same slice of the musical pie as an Apple Music, Spotify, or YouTube.
Started in 2007 Bandcamp over the 2010s morphed into the default go to platform for truly independent music. Not only does one not need to go through a DSP, the way one engages with an artist music is far more direct. There is no passive Bandcamp listening for consumers, the company launched an editorial side, which is great and full disclosure I’ve written for, but beyond that it’s hard to just stumble upon music on the site or mobile app. They’re constantly working on improving recommendations, but the current design of the platform pushes for an engaged listener. Not only in terms of one who is ready to spend money on music, but is also ready dig to find new music.
What's started to become interest to me is that because of years of usage I've grown to expect certain artists to have Bandcamp pages. If someone is making bedroom pop or scrappy electronic music, then my first thought is Bandcamp, not Apple Music or Spotify. Last year when an act who built their fan base on Bandcamp graduated to a larger label and didn't release an album on Bandcamp I was slightly annoyed. Not cause my access to the music was any more obscured, but the association between platform and music was that strong.
Now in a way that was the promise of Apple Music with its exclusives, if you wanted to hear Drake you needed Apple Music. Not only is musical content limited to a platform, but that people like me would start to associate an artist with a platform and come to expect the two to go together.
That’s why recently I keep finding myself using Bandcamp and Soundcloud in similar ways. Both platforms essentially fill the gaps that are created by Apple Music and Spotify. Most music listeners might not feel a need to fill those gaps, but I'm a listener who does want to find music that falls into niches that might not make it onto bigger streaming platforms.
That’s why both apps on my phone the more I open them the more essential they feel to me. Bandcamp and Soundcloud both hold so much music exclusive music I can't access elsewhere that I couldn't imagine getting rid of either app at this point. Last year I kept harping on the fact that these services needed to be different and with the recent launch of YouTube Music that all but feels reaffirmed. Simply offering access to same material everyone else offers isn’t enough and Bandcamp, and a lesser extended Soundcloud, offer unique libraries that as a listener I can’t ignore and find elsewhere.
Now, I’d be remiss if I just wrote all these words and didn’t mention Tidal, whose entire premise a couple of years ago was exclusive music content. Last week’s I’ll admit I fell down a rather deep rabbit hole writing about Tidal. For that reason, I got a couple of notes last week I wanted to address. The first one was on the comparison of the streaming number of Rihanna’s Anti, where I said:
Rihanna’s released Anti on January 27th through a largely forgotten deal with Samsung where a million albums were given away, then it was available on Tidal for download and streaming. When the album was release Spin reported that the album was streamed 13 million times within the first 14 hours. However the New York Times that weekend reported that Tidal said “the album was streamed 5.6 million times on its service.”
A reporter with the Times mentioned to me that the Times when doing stories about these kinds of numbers and chart matter is only referring to the United States numbers. That means the conflict of numbers here reflects United States vs. Global stream count, not as I implied two entirely different stats for the same time frame. I reached out to Tidal for clarity on what exactly they meant by “album streams” cause I’ll still be frank that 13 million streams of Anti within 14 hours, even globally feel high. Still waiting for that response.
One other note pointed out to me by a reader is that when I wrote:
By the end of the week according to the New York Times reported that Tidal claimed the album was downloaded 484,833 times within the first few days. The jump of Tidal users from Jan 27 to Jan 28 was a little over 150,000. Certainly an impressive boost, but at no point in Anti opening week on Tidal did the service ever surpass over 400,000 unique users on a single day. If it never hit that milestone then potentially how could it sell 400,000 albums within only a 14 hour window? Yeah, I don’t really know either.
He pointed out that on the day of release it was possible to download Anti without signing into the service by going to Rihanna's own Tidal webpage. That certainly would help explain how potentially the album could’ve secured this number of downloads without ever hitting 400,000 daily active users.
Now, where I remained a bit confused is that the Samsung deal Rihanna did offer a million free downloads of her album along with a 60-day Tidal trial and Tidal said all of those downloads were redeemed. Yet, according to Dagens Næringsliv's report Tidal never approached that mean user despite they got a million people hooked up with a free trial.
If you actually used the Samsung deal and could explain that to me I’d appreciate it. Or maybe it you were one of the people that downloaded the album? No rush of course, I'm sure Tidal isn't going out of the news anytime soon.
6 Links 2 Read
Down the Tube: Lyor's Press Tour - Hits Daily Double
I originally wrote a long spiel about a particular Lyor Cohen interview I found particularly grating. Luckily Hits took care of me needing to write with this lovely summary of Cohen's recent YouTube promo run: "We’re living in an age of liars. And as YouTube, at last, begins to roll out the new iteration of its subscription service, it does so with one of the premier liars in our industry’s history, Head of Music Lyor Cohen, leading the charge."
What an opener.
I'll add to this the far too few, but always interesting dives into 2010s r&b trends. I know I don’t talk meta-level about music genres here, but this one feels relevant in also how the divide between radio and streaming success is still playing out in 2018.
If you were still at all interested in the investigative reporting that’s going on with Tidal, please check out this Buzzfeed News interview with Markus Tobiassen, who is diligently reporting on this topic.
It’s should be no surprise to longtime readers that I love the site Chartmetric and the data they collect on music streaming. This analysis into figuring out just how many people actually listen to the Spotify playlist is something I’ll probably return back on later this summer.
BTS, the world’s biggest boy band, just scored the first no. 1 album in the United States for a Kpop act. It’s also the second-highest sales debut all year and even sold 100,000 copies in its first week. Wild, wild times. Usually, I don’t include straight Billboard chart information, but this particular top charter felt notable enough to include here. Fan bases can be still be trained to buy albums, who knew!
I could mention the Hit Parade podcast every time it releases and maybe I just will. On this episode, Chris Molanphy explores the impact of music videos on the music charts, which is of course an interesting history of not only videos' impact on music, but on how the economic impact of music videos shifted over the last few decades from a tool for single promotion to the actual product that labels wanted to be consumed in the streaming era.