Over the weekend, while scrolling through Twitter, I came across the following tweet:
For years, artists and record labels have repeatedly cooked their books by buying back their own albums, juicing stream counts and manipulating streaming service playlists. While this behavior is dishonest and unscrupulous, the benefit to the artist or label is obvious—an increase in sales or streams means a higher charting position, which means more awareness and publicity, which means actual sales and streams, which, ultimately, means more revenue.
On the fan side, however, this shady tactic has only one real positive consequence—added pride in fandom. In an effort to help out one artist—in this case, Nicki Minaj—fans are actually hurting every other artist whose music is available on the same streaming service.
Allow me to explain...
All the major streaming companies (Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, etc...) distribute artist royalties based on pro rata share, which is a system designed to dish out royalty payments based on the popularity of a piece of music. Without getting into the nitty-gritty details—and in an effort to keep things simple—let's say a streaming service generates $100 in total revenue in one month. If over that period of time one song accounts for 5% of the total number of plays across the entire service, that artist (or their label) would earn $5.
It's one thing if a song naturally gains traction or goes viral thanks to a meme, but when a song is boosted by fake plays—which is exactly what the @NM4updates Twitter account was encouraging its followers to do—a pro rata share becomes harmful to every other artist whose music is available for stream.
If every Nicki fan followed the above instructions and streamed "No Frauds" as the tweet suggests, "all night long while sleeping with the volume at its lowest," this increase in fake plays would directly lower royalty payments made to rights holders who are generating real plays, since the uptick in streams would tip the payment scale in favor of the most popular song.
In response to hip-hop site Rap Dose sharing their tweet on Sunday, @NM4updates offered the classic "but every fan base does this" defense, to which I would say, just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it right. Try using that excuse the next time you get pulled over by a police officer for blowing a stop sign.
For "fans" who are already participating in this ugly practice, please know that, with the exception of the Drakes of the world, most major label artists are already getting screwed over by their record label when it comes to royalty payments. Of course, Spotify cannot say this out loud because the labels are in business with them to make money, but it's the music industry's reality in 2017. As for indie artists, they're lucky if a royalty check helps to pay their monthly cell phone bill.
While it's true that most artists will generate the bulk of their revenue through touring and merchandise sales, it's important to remember that trying to help one artist win makes every other artist a loser.