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Rolling Stone Connects the Dots on Streams for Sale

To the surprise of almost no one in the music business, turns out there’s corruption in the streaming world…

By Paul Marszalek

In the weeks since bemoaning the state of Alternative Radio, there’s been a theme in many of the conversations I’ve had with friends on the label side: streaming.

There’s frustration that at many majors, A&R has become little more than a quick-buck chase for artists that show up on the streaming chart radar. But there is also a lot of face-palming about radio programmers’ addiction to streaming numbers.

In the case of the former, it makes sense — it’s something of a new version of scouting for artists that were selling singles and albums in one region of the country or another back in the day. But radio’s fascination with the numbers is a bit stranger, because some programmers seem to think that streaming data makes for a direct substitute for research.

“Circle back when you hit a million streams” is a new, common retort to a pitch for airplay. One label vet told me that the blind faith some are putting into streaming numbers borders on the embarrassing.

“This guy is so naïve,” he said, referencing a major market programmer who has bought in to the idea that streams are a pure form of audience interest. “If it’s streams he wants, all I need is a little budget and I’ll get him any number he needs.”

Following stories in recent years of Spotify creating a roster of fake artists and keeping the revenue, and some Eastern European dudes creating bots to continuously play 30-second long songs, and the fact that the labels actually own pieces of Spotify, you’d think programmers would be a little wary.

Apparently not.

Perhaps Rolling Stone will get their attention. In an article called “Inside the Black Market Where Artists Can Pay for Millions of Streams,” Writer Elias Leight reports on what many of us knew — or at least suspected.

The music business has featured corruption for more than half a century. Bad actors have just updated their game for the times.

It’s a must-read.

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