In this edition of Industry Insider, ItsNoRequests' Austin Staubus discusses how racking up music streaming numbers is nothing more than an ego boost.

My name is Austin Staubus. I’m the Managing Director of little company in Burbank called ItsNoRequests with my partner John Wolf. We help artists and labels leverage user generated playlists on Spotify. We meet with artists and labels across a variety of genres (the only exception being interpretive dance) on a regular basis. 

The common pain point that artists and labels raise when they meet with us are their lack of plays, which they believe is an indicator of their success or failure. I’m here to dispel that myth and explain why engagement (not plays) is what’s important in today’s data driven landscape.

Listeners Follow the Herd

Don’t get me wrong, plays still have (some) value in 2018. Primarily, because you’re getting paid on them, especially if you’re placing your music on platforms like Spotify, Apple, and Amazon Music. Secondarily, because we’re animals (sophisticated ones) that follow a herd-like mentality. 

Let me explain. 

When we see that a song has a large number of plays we assume it’s good, and we click play to verify that assumption. It’s this classic herd mentality that has created an insatiable desire for plays because they feel good. The underlying assumption being that because your song has a large number of plays then listeners must care about your music. If they care about your music then they will come to your shows, buy your merchandise, and add your record to their personal playlist.

But that's not necessarily the case.

In today’s streaming landscape, converting listeners to fans is no easy task. Conversions (on the whole) are low. A prime example is Spotify darling Lauv, who’s featured in Spotify’s newly announced “RISE” program. Lauv has accumulated hundreds of millions of streams on their platform. However, it’s a widely held secret that he faced challenges converting those prime playlist positions into real fans who came to his shows. But why?

Streaming Does Not Necessarily Equal Engagement

Spotify and Apple Music appeal to the passive listener who wants to be told what they should listen to. Most users on these platforms drag and drop songs all day but couldn’t tell you that names of the artists in their playlist, which compounds the problem. Lauv, like many other notable artists and labels, face this problem on a daily basis, with few solutions being offered.

So, what do I mean by engagement?

By engagement I mean your saves, your completion rate (also known as skip rate), your replay rate, and whether or not users are searching for your record inside the platform. These factors (some of which are only available to Apple and Spotify) are much more important than how many “users” have listened to your song. 

What is the value of a play? 

Plays are largely a vanity metric. Editors and decision makers at Spotify have moved away from making decisions based on plays in favor of engagement. Why? Because engagement can’t be manufactured. Tastemakers like Mike Biggane and Austin Kramer take a holistic approach when playlisting, parsing the numbers closely to determine whether or not a release is going to grow legs and walk on its own.

We’re living in a world where engagement is king. Spotify and Apple’s playlists are the new radio. Gone are the days where records were supported because of who you know, what label you’re signed to, or how many steak dinners you took the program director to. Decisions are being made solely based on data, much to the chagrin of the old guard. 

The plays don’t matter anymore. They might look great. They might be fun to screenshot and share with your followers on Instagram. They might even get you a record deal. However, the streams won’t make you a hard ticket act, they won’t get you playlisted, and they won’t ensure long-term success in an industry that rides artists hard and puts them up wet.

Engagement, not plays, is what truly matters in 2018. 

The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of EDM.com

Austin Staubus is the Managing Director of ItsNoRequests, which helps artists, labels, and managers leverage highly engaged independent playlists on Spotify. For inquiries, comments, or questions contact Austin at austin@itsnorequests.com

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