[Ed. Charlie sez: Here’s more on the disturbing payola-by-another-name issue. NPR’s Laura Sydell first reported on the online payola issue with the “steering deal” in the Merlin-Pandora license and David Lowery raised directly to the Obama FCC in comments to the FCC on the payola issue]
The power of curated streaming playlists cannot be understated. With their capacity to break unknown artists on an international scale, the recording industry is using every means at their disposal to cast their influence over these lists and those creating them. Looking above and below the board raises questions as to whether the sleazier business practices of radio’s past are slithering their way into the world of streaming present.
As streaming services grow to scale, they steadily erode terrestrial radio’s monopoly on breaking artists. Diehard fans alongside a newer generation of listeners are increasingly discovering their music exclusively online. While terrestrial radio still commands a majority audience share, many suggest streaming services could very well become the preferred method for listening to new music.
This article appears in Happy Mag Issue 6. Grab your copy here.
Is a golden era of streaming passing us by in the blink of an eye?
As of 2017, market leader Spotify hosts playlists which are hitting into the millions of followers. Its Are & Blist boasts a 3.6 million plus subscribership, while RapCaviar enjoys more than 8 million. These seemingly harmless collections of tunes dwarf the reach, scale, and engagement of humble domestic radio. To provide an example of scale, as of 2015 leading Aussie broadcaster triple j was dealing in a figure of around 2 million listeners per week across five capital cities.
Such playlists operate as simply as you might expect. Something appears on a popular list and listeners add it to their own. From here, friends of these listeners follow suit and it’s at this point that an artist can explode.
Lorde provides an enduring example. In 2012, Ella Yelich-O’Connor was virtual unknown outside of Australia and New Zealand. Her debut single, Royals, was uploaded to Spotify in March 2013. It languished in relative obscurity before cropping up on tech billionaire [and dopamine pimp] Sean Parker’s Hipster International Spotify playlist on April 2nd. Six days later it was jumping into the Spotify charts. By June, Royals had been picked up by commercial radio in the US. The streaming sparked a buzz, momentum and attention which paved the way for the 16-year-old’s debut album and global chart-topper Pure Heroine.
Lorde’s story is impressive but not unique. There are hosts of interested parties seeking to emulate this path to lucrative success. And in the cut-throat world of music industry megabucks, not everybody is content playing above the board.