Chances are Streaming is the new Sale

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Chance the Rapper’s latest album Coloring Book debuted on the Billboard 200 charts at number 8 after selling 38,000 copies in its first week. Now while those kind of numbers do not come close to touching those of Drake’s newest release Views (850,000 copies in its first week and as of now, 6 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard charts), they aren’t bad for a rapper selling his first actual album. There’s just one thing about Chance’s album that makes it different than any other top-ten albums to ever show up on the Billboard charts.

You cannot buy it.

So how does an album that cannot be bought manage to sell 38,000 copies in its first week? Under new rules that I cannot explain because I don’t fully understand, 1,500 streams of an album online are now equivalent to the sale of one 10-song unit. Along with equivalent sales figures, these stream-only albums are also now eligible to win Grammys.

While 38,000 copies doesn’t seem like much, after all, Taylor Swift can still “sell” a million + albums in one week and for comparison, Michael Jackson’s Thriller has sold over 65 million copies since its release in 1982, the relative success and record-breaking debut for Coloring Book is not an anomaly – it’s the first of a trend that will continue to grow. Even Drake’s aforementioned album, now double platinum, derives a large portion of its sales from streaming services.

When Apple introduced  iTunes in 2001 one, they forever changed the face of music. Physical copies of albums, CDs and the ubiquity of accompanying record stores plummeted while online sales grew exponentially. Within 5 years, Apple had sold 1 billion song downloads. Yet, before long even iTunes began to lag behind due to streaming apps and sites such as 8tracks, Songza and Spotify.
Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, etc have again changed the way we purchase and consume media. First the $0.99 songs from iTunes, now the subscription-based trifecta of Apple, Spotify and Tidal allow their users to listen to nearly every album ever for small(ish) monthly fee. Exclusive albums pull new subscribers in. Even fewer albums are “bought,” Why buy one for $10-$15 when you can have millions at your fingertips at any time?

The streams-as-sales numbers not unlike how the success of Toy Story and other animated films that are now pumped out at a greater and greater rate lead to the Academy Awards recognizing these films in their own category.

While albums won’t be hitting Thriller-like numbers sales numbers, single songs themselves. Major Lazer’s Lean On has more than 775 million streams on Spotify and the top three songs from Justin Bieber’s latest album Purpose have combined for just under 2 billion streams. That’s on Spotify alone. That doesn’t include video plays on YouTube, Apple Music streams, etc. etc. etc. With all of these platforms you can now you can mix and match any number of artists and song to create your own album and playlists that you can listen from anywhere on any device.

So it’s so surprise that because of this chance we’ve now seen a few yearly music festivals like Coachella and Osheaga grow by the thousands. Now every city has its own music festival with posters showing the 100s of artists one can see all through the course of a hectic hard-to-recall weekend. Some artists forego tours of their own and due festival shows only throughout the summer. It’s why they forego album sales. Streaming works, you can reach the masses with just one song, be part of a collaboration with every other artist on the show’s poster.

The concerts we go to see now mimic how we consume music. What used to be monstrous tours of huge artists has morphed into big weekend shows where you can see every artist from that Spotify playlist you made for one price. It’s hard to discount the similarities of the two, and this will continue to grow and evolve.

The huge music tours still exist. For now. They a The growth of streaming and the expectancy of variety it brings will once again change music all over again.

Chance the Rappers debut at 8 on the Billboard charts is the highest all-time for a stream-only album. While it seems early to do so, I am going to go ahead and say it, stream is the new sale. Festivals are the new tour.

Festivals are the new tour.

So what’s next?


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