The Realities and Myth of Streaming Numbers

How many of them faking streams, getting their plays from machine?

Those are the imperial words of J’Cole.

If there is anything that the music industry has proven, it’s the fact that numbers do lie. In the Nigerian music industry, there is always unhealthy competition, for starbases of artists, there is always a never ending debate of “who is bigger”, “who has a stronger fan base”, “which album was bigger “, etc. In most cases, streaming numbers /sales are used to settle such debates, the artiste/album with the bigger numbers is perceived to have made more success. When an artiste releases a song or an album that is doing poorly numbers-wise, rival fan bases and stan of other artistes sees that poorly performing song as a strong point for banter. Most of the time, social media savvy artistes let these bants and stans get to them and in a bid to prove a point or counter the bant, they artificially inflate their streaming numbers.

As explained by Julia Gomberg

“Fake stream is the fraudulent attempts to generate streams and manipulate a platform into paying an artist for song plays that weren’t actually listened to by real listeners and fans, AKA “artificial streams.”

You may also hear this activity referred to as “abnormal streaming activity,” “streaming manipulation,” or “store-end fraud.”

Rolling Stone sources estimate that approximately three to four percent of all global streams are illegitimate, which would account for $300 million in lost revenue every year. Research shows that as an artiste is paid by DSPs per stream, fraudsters and fraudulent artistes are paid by the DSPs who fail to identify inflated and inorganic numbers. Which in turn leads to a loss of revenue.

Major acts and labels have been accused of fraudulently generating artificial streams, international acts like Cardi B, Kid Laroi, French Montana have been accused of such, Benjamin Enfield has also accused Atlantic records of inflating streams. Also, Nigerian act like Davido is always a prime target for such accusations.

A source from Twitter told this writer that Davido has repeatedly used YouTube Ads which is said to be a ways to illegally increase the number of views a video has on YouTube. He says “See that his song Fem, am not saying Davido is not a big artiste but see all those numbers, 1 million views in 7 hours, that can not be real, see his song with Chris Brown and Young Thug (Shopping Spree), it did 2 million views in less than 48 hours, for months now it’s still stuck on 5 million streams”

You may argue, there is nothing wrong in using ads.

But, you see, while Ads may seem like an avenue for promotion, research shows that Ads were never made for the music industry but for businesses and companies, but labels and artistes found out that it could be a way of increasing views for a music video without committing any crime.

Google Says “To create a video ad, your video content must be hosted on YouTube. This means views of your video ads will increase your video’s view counts on YouTube (on the video’s Watch page and within your Google account reporting)”.

African Giant, Burna Boy has also been accused of such moves as it was said the video for his Twice As Tall single, featuring Chris Martin “Monsters You Made”, gained up to 1.3 million views on YouTube in less than 2 hours almost 5 months after its release. This is quite suspicious because New music videos (even from A-list acts like Burna) on YouTube rarely hit a million in less than a day, for a 5-month-old video to gain over 1.3 million views in less than 2 hours raises eyebrows.

The empress Yemi Alade is also a major target for such accusations. My source tells me mama Africa’s YouTube numbers don’t level up to her numbers on other platforms, In his words, “Yemi Alade can have 50 million views for a song on YouTube but that same song would not have 5million streams on Apple or Spotify”.

While most digital streaming platforms have some form of fraud detection, there isn’t enough incentive to eliminate the problem entirely”

How do artistes go about manipulating streams?

Symphonics blog says that artistes buy streams from an illegal third party and fake them with illegal bots and streaming farms. Streaming farms are bots or real low-paid workers artificially inflating the number of listens of a song. While streaming farms inflate the number of listens on a song, Sam Carr also explained for PPC protect blog that: if a song gets enough plays then it can sometimes make it into popular trending playlists and get organic plays. Playlist plugging services that pitch to artistes also employ streaming farms.

YouTube and Audiomack seem like the easiest platforms for Nigerian artistes to manipulate numbers. A certain Nigerian album has over 200 million streams on Audiomack but has not surpassed 50 million streams on Spotify and is not more than 100 million on Apple Music, an argument could be made that Audiomack is more popular in Nigeria and Spotify launched in Nigeria in February, But the massive difference in Numbers raises a few eyebrows. Audiomack also seems like it can easily be manipulated, all over social, “PAY FOR PLAY” ads are scattered all over the internet, 1000 Audiomack streams goes for 1500 naira, the higher the plays, the higher the price.

The question is how do we spot fake streams (YouTube)

For YouTube, just look at the likes, when a song has 10 million views and 50,000 likes, or when a song does 2 million views in 3 days and after 5 or 6 months it still has more or less 5 million views, those views are not real, look at Tiwa savage’s song with Naira Marley – Ole, it did over 1 million views in 2 days, 10 months down the line, it has not reached 3 million views. you know those views were not real, also, when a song amazingly jumps from 1 million streams to 5 million streams in 2 hours, those streams are not real”

While these methods are unverified they may not be incorrect. analyses that “If you use bots, you have many streams but hardly any saves on a song. Normally the saves are about 6-10% of the streams. With botted tracks it’s 3% or less”. Let’s take Boomplay for example, going by this analysis, for every song on Boomplay, 6% of the streams of every song come from downloads (either for free or VIP).

Monthly Listeners on Spotify can also be used to spot if an artiste is artificially inflating streams. “The ratio between streams and number of listeners of a song should be between 40-60%.” So you have about twice as many streams as listeners. Bots often play a song only once, if streams and listeners are virtually identical, this is suspicious. Few listeners are just as noticeable, this indicates that the song is played in a continuous loop.

Playlists are often where the fraud happens the most, while playlisting is not a bad thing, playlist plugging services employ bots and streaming farms. This is why sometimes, A playlist may have thousands of followers but the creator’s following is incredibly poor. These playlist plugging services ensure your plays only for compensation. This is called “PAY FOR PLAY”, most artistes however do not know that these playlist services employ illegal means to acquire plays.

So what is really the problem, why do artistes dump their integrity for fake plays and numbers?

They just want to prove points, see we know who is the biggest among them, and the funny thing is the biggest among them does it organically, see when you fake numbers we know, you can not say you are the biggest and you depend on YouTube ads for your songs”. This means it’s an Ego/Validation thing.

Industry giants are always moved to prove a point, even when there is no need to do so. While one act may be genuinely and organically hitting massive numbers, the other act either influenced by his stans or ego makes moves to ensure he is not the butt of the jokes by rival starbases.

How about upcoming artists, why do they indulge in this fraudulent practice?

This writer came to a conclusion, in a bid to prove who is making more progress, or look lucrative to record labels/label services, Playlist inclusion, and press coverage, these acts make moves to generate illegitimate numbers.

Can the problem be solved?

This writer doesn’t believe so, ego and unhealthy competition will always be a thing in the music industry, as long as it is, then numbers will continue to be manipulated, “it is what it is”. But what streaming fraud proves is that any artiste that indulges in it is not as big as he/she claims to be, truth is, numbers would not be a problem if you were as big as you claimed to be. Faking numbers would not sell-out shows for you.

Most recently one of Nigeria’s A list act who claimed his most recent album hit 1.3 billion streams could not sell out a 20k capacity arena, reports said he was 8k short of filling it up.

This writer thinks that the only reasonable solution to this problem is the digital streaming platform up their game and as Sam Carr suggested, a proper detection algorithm should be put in place along with stricter punishments for defaulters which include labels, artistes, and every player involved.

That said, can streaming numbers be used as a standard measurement for success in the music industry? Definitely not.

Like Excel Joab’s proverbial government, “The numbers will be lying”

Written by: Philemon

Digital Junkie

Digital Junkie

I am married to two wives. Music & Tech. I love them all. **Yikes

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