"And we merrily merrily eatin' off these streams..."

- JAY Z, Family Feud

Last week TIDAL, a music streaming service owned by JAY Z, came under scrutiny and criticism for allegedly cooking numbers regarding how many times some of the songs on the platform were streamed. This came as a result of data analysis and research done by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology on behalf of Norwegian newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv (DN).

The allegations are that, based on data and TIDAL logs obtained by DN, TIDAL's streaming numbers were "massaged" to an extent that they apparently added millions of fake streams (to the reported logs for royalty collections) to existing user streaming logs. The alleged number, over 320 million streams are said to be fake on TIDAL's logs as it apparently cooked the streaming numbers of over 1,7 million TIDAL subscribers.

You can read the full report here.

Specifically, the fake streams are allegedly reported to have been focussed on two artists and two albums, namely, Beyoncé’s album, Lemonade, and Kanye West’s album, Life of Pablo. Both albums were initially exclusively released first on TIDAL before being made available on other music streaming platforms. If true, given that TIDAL have responded saying that the allegations are false, there is an incentive for TIDAL to manipulate streaming logs given how it is structured differently from other music streaming platforms.

"Everything's for sale..."
- JAY Z, Otis

TIDAL is likely not the only ones doing this.

As I write this, there are multitudes of services on the Internet that not only allow music artists to buy social media followers (to appear more popular and in turn charge brands more), but services that allow them to buy Spotify plays (in order for their songs to trend and get more legitimate plays, be featured in playlists etc.), buy YouTube views for music videos (so the video can trend on YouTube, get attention and get booked for gigs?), buy SoundCloud plays, and much much more. In essence, if the behavior is rewarded, someone is selling the service. And here's the interesting part, it's all possibly legal.

Have you ever asked yourself, how are we complaining daily that mobile data is so expensive and yet music videos across the continent are getting millions of views on YouTube within a few days of launching (I'm just asking 😊)?

I don't know what the solution is to this but I do suspect in the long term it isn't sustainable. Also, all I know is that for as long as the behavior is incentivized (i.e. the more plays you get, the more attention you get, the more gigs you get, the more money you earn, etc.) then this trend is likely to continue. To be fair, it is not a new trend. Before the days of the Internet, music artists and their record labels were sometimes known to buy physical copies of their own albums in order to climb up the charts and in turn get more (real) attention.

This is also not limited to the music industry only, in fact in the online publishing industry you get services that allow websites to buy website visits and pageviews in their thousands for as little as $5 (this is easy to spot however if you know what to look for, this is also why I believe the next frontier of digital media is subscriptions and not pageviews).

I don't know what the solution is, perhaps you've come across some solutions. Maybe I am looking at this the wrong way, maybe we shouldn't at all be looking at a solution and just accept that this is the "new normal". All I do know however is that it definetly disadvantages the independent artists and publishers that want to remain true to their art and prefer real feedback from their listeners and readers.

This article first appeared on 14 May 2018 in the iAfrikan Weekly Digest Newsletter, a Pan Afrikan weekly digest of the most important stories of the week which includes insights and analysis on the most topical story of the week. Subscribe here to the weekly digest and receive it every Monday.

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