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Monday, May 29, 2023

Are Streaming Farms A Scam Or Scheme?

Streaming farms are fast becoming a global epidemic, the recent events in the American music industry with Atlantic records as the epicentre of the controversy left many in awe. It seems this issue has made its way to the Nigerian music industry no thanks to the Twitter brawl between Ruger and BNXN.


I ask, could this be a coincidence or just an aligning of events but we cannot deny the fact this unconfirmed rumour that has long been whispered in the shadows of the music industry has been finally brought to the limelight.

What are streaming farms?

According to businessday.ng, Streaming farms are like the black market of the music business; they are services designed to illegally increase the number of times a song is listened to through software Bots or the use of a large number of phones. 

They create listening bots that can stream songs up to 1,000 times per minute, which means that in just 10 minutes they may give a musician or band a count of more than 10,000 fake streams of their song. This greatly increases the number of times a song is streamed. 

Streaming farms are been used in the Nigerian music industry, it would be silly not to admit that at this point in history. There may be disputes about the facts or hardcore evidence to back this but the matter still bears fruits, no one is 100% organic.

This phenomenon became prevalent over the years because streaming saved the music industry. The revenues for the music industry in terms of physical sales peaked in the late 90s and by 2006 a slide in sales became evident. In 2021 streaming revenues contributed over 60% to the global streaming revenue and annual reports from record labels (major and minor) back this too, as a majority of their music stakes came from streaming.

According to a Rolling Stone article, artists could be losing around $300 million each year due to the high number of fake global streams. In reality, many labels use it to boost their artists’ streams and keep them hot on the market, while unknown artists use it to gain attention from big labels, leaving independent acts to suffer. Some big names in the music industry have been accused of using streaming farms to boost or inflate their numbers. 

French Montana was accused of faking Spotify streams in January 2020, which he denied. Through leaked phone calls, G-Eazy management was caught red-handed in 2021. Recently Atlantic records denied cooking the books for their artists after they were accused by some top shots and fans alike of using bots to boost the numbers of their artists. The comment sections of the music videos were the major giveaway for this to get the needed attention.

This act is a marketing strategy, not essentially to make money. It is used to promote artists in the industry, their albums, songs and type of music. These days a song is enough to sustain an album and this system can be gamed to the advantage of the parties concerned. This is why streaming farms can work as you cannot determine which songs are pushing an artist’s album to the top.

Nigerian music journalist, Joey Akan gives some insights on this in a series of tweets, “Apple Music Top 100 has become a marketing tool for Nigerian musician, not an independent curation of the country’s listening habits. Apart from bragging rights and screenshots, people rig streams to climbing up there for the public attention it brings to the record.”

“That marketing firm that offers you a range of streaming numbers for money or guarantees you the number 1 spot. What do you think they do? Move from house to house and ask people to politely click on your music? Or break the bank on ineffective ads? Everyone goes to the farmland.”

Streaming farms have always been in this space even though, it’s an underground market scene, it seems to be acknowledged by all in the music business. In a documentary conducted by the late Michael K Williams with the help of Vice TV, he looked into the underground market of streaming farms and how it affected the music industry on a global scale.

According to Michael K Williams, ‘‘These underground streaming farms are so embedded in today’s music business that the entire industry has been compromised, unknown artists are using them to get signed, labels are using them to keep artists hot and the fans are unknowingly supporting it all.” As I said earlier it’s a marketing strategy and fans are willing accomplices, as they support this act.

Even the most successful acts in the music industry are somehow entangled in this mess. Streaming farms operating systems share some similarities with early email marketing buzz, where email marketing companies would pay proposed subscribers in third-world countries to click on their newsletters so that they can show the powers that ‘be’ their great stats to make their records and revenues align.

Streaming farms in Nigeria are beginning to gain ground in the industry, streaming is starting to reflect the true patterns of our consumption. Getting to the number 1 song these days is not like it was a few years back, a lot of work is involved. In an article on pulse.ng, a manager of a major label stated in the article that streaming farms are like paid ads deployed to get more reach to boost a project.

In his words, “Streaming farms are basically like paid ads. The idea behind why artists and record labels use streaming farms is to get reach. You know your content is good enough and you need reach to get to the audience and get attention, and a surefire way to get this attention is through charts.” 

The primary motivation for artists and labels to deploy stream farms is to give themselves a better chance in an industry where numbers determine the narrative. He added that investors, just like fans, are more likely to pay attention to an artist whose songs are on the chart. “Show promoters and investors look at charts and this influences how an artist and even the label is perceived.” 

He further pointed out, “From a fan perspective, they don’t know who is using streaming farms. They just open the top 10 and check who’s on it. It’s only those within the industry that might have an idea that this person is using a streaming farm”. 

The prevalence of streaming farms is going to go up, it is just the price of advancement and they are not going anywhere and there is nothing anybody can do about it. Given how many labels and artists use it, it appears to be a case of either joining or losing out in such an ecosystem. When it comes to labels, they are frequently forced to dip their hand into the candy jar.

The only thing that can stop this, is if DSPs find a cogent way to flag these streaming platforms that are notorious for such which is not easy to do in this day and age of internet connectivity. We should realize that most artists do it, so there is no need for pretence. They are all gaming the system and it is working for them because at the end of the day the people that are benefiting from it are people that will normally benefit from healthy streams, it is what it is and they are using it as a part of their marketing budget. As Fireboy DML would say ‘Just know this and know peace.’

Streaming farms exist for several reasons, like the Nigerian music industry, it is majorly a marketing tactic to promote songs to a certain level and hope it will then pick organically later. Another reason is to put artists in the top music conversations to keep them relevant in the industry. 

The sole placement of blame on DSPs as the watchdog of this system is a bit harsh as there is so much to do to curb this gaming of the system. The real question is what is the price we are willing to pay for morality and the advancement of technology? It is the business of DSPs to get more people to stream music and trying to counteract that for the sake of preventing fake streams can be a task too much for them.

They have to make money and DSPs are doing a lot to curb this menace even though it seems to be a little. We should understand that the stronger a system, the more creative someone wants to bridge it gets. Streaming platforms are coming up with ways to compact this but streaming farms in turn are coming up with more creative ways to counter these measures like multiple IPs, multiple registrations of accounts, hacking real accounts and a host of others.

It should be noted that streaming farm operators are making a huge ton of money, though the running cost of streaming farms is quite expensive, you have to consider electricity, types of equipment, internet, subscription fees, discreet staff and payment of staff. Most artists especially in Nigeria are not aware of the great influence of streaming farms on their songs, as it is the labels that in most cases make these moves.

Streaming farms are going to be part of the music conversation in Nigeria for a very long time and it would be a force that can be used for both positive and negative outcomes. But come to think of it, is this not the entertainment world where all news is good news, I guess time would tell.

Solomon Obi
Solomon Obi
Solomon Obi is a writer and content creator. He loves sharing his innate thoughts on Nigerian pop culture. His hobbies include reading and movies. We all are on a voyage of discovery to unearth the never-ending infinite of knowledge.

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