Hip-Hop’s Flop: The Biggest Genre in Streaming Can’t Sell Tickets

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“Do you know how many people subscribe to my Spotify page?????” Nicki Minaj tweeted, just two days before canceling her North American tour.

The answer is 12 million. Minaj’s fourth studio album, Queen, dropped earlier this month, reaching No. 1 on iTunes in 86 countries and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, earning more than 128 million streams. In addition to her Spotify followers, Minaj boasts over 90 million Instagram followers and 20 million Twitter followers, but this sizable reach couldn’t make up for what she considers to be Spotify’s lack of promotion.

In the 24 hours after Drake’s double album, Scorpion, dropped in June, it racked up over 132 million streams on the platform and broke the U.S. one-week streaming record in just three days. All 25 of its tracks charted in the Billboard Hot 100 — a chart which takes into account paid subscription, ad-supported, and programmed streams — with seven tracks in the top 10.

“Spotify put Drake’s face on every playlist,” Minaj said in another tweet, claiming Queen didn’t receive the same treatment as punishment because she premiered it on Apple Music’s Queen Radio show 10 minutes before its actual release. “My label [Republic Records] didn’t want to defend me for fear of Spotify trying to teach Ariana [Grande] a ‘lesson’ too!”

Speaking to Variety, a representative for Spotify claims the platform supported Queen with “a Times Square billboard, a host of the largest playlists, New Music Friday and the new music release shelf.”

According to Billboard, the Hot 100 adjusted its models this year to account for new methods of music consumption. “Streaming remains the most dominant factor on the chart, followed by radio airplay and digital sales in descending order of significance,” the company explains. Similarly for the Billboard 200 chart, they equate 1,250 paid subscription audio streams to one traditional album unit sold.

Nielsen Music data shows that, in the first half of 2018, one of every three songs streamed in the United States was from the Hip-Hop/R&B genre. Of Minaj’s 185,000 equivalent album units sold in the first week, streaming accounted for 97,000 of them.

With hundreds of millions of streams occuring on album release dates and Billboard accounting so heavily for streaming in its industry-defining charts, it would make sense that the top players in streaming would also be the top players in touring. But Drake’s record-breaking Scorpion album did not earn him a record-breaking tour — unless the record is for most dates rescheduled.

“In order to deliver the high standard tour experience our fans expect and deserve, we have made the necessary decision to slightly adjust the beginning of the … tour schedule,” Drake’s official tour postponement statement read.

This slight adjustment pushed the start of the tour from July to August. The Canadian leg’s inaugural date in Toronto on August 20 (originally scheduled for August 10) was again postponed — this time indefinitely — “due to circumstances beyond our control,” concert promoter Live Nation claimed the morning of the show. Toronto is Drake’s hometown.

Drake’s hip-hop industry rival, Pusha T, also canceled two handfuls of his 2018 Daytona Tour, eight in the first wave and three in the second. The rapper issued no explanation, leaving rumors that he too couldn’t sell tickets unchecked.

A week after Pusha T released his Daytona album in June of this year, he dropped a music video for the lead single “If You Know You Know” exclusively on Spotify. This new industry trend of extended releases, where singles get continuous promotion in the form of content over a length of time to prolong their shelf life, helps deter the inevitable drop-off in popularity after release day.

Record labels and their artists are crafting more and more techniques like these to bolster streaming numbers, ignoring the fact that streaming numbers are not translating into ticket sales. The 20 million streams to date of “If You Know You Know” held no power at the box office. Physical or digital copies of albums are being bundled in with merchandise and ticket purchases in an attempt to sneak albums up the charts by saddling fans with multiple copies, but the connection between streaming and touring is still missing.

There are anomalies in the music world, like Bruno Mars, the seventh most streamed artist on Spotify, and Taylor Swift, the tenth, who boast two of the highest-grossing tours of the year. But notably, neither of them are in the Hip-Hop/R&B genre.

Minaj’s North American tour with Future was canceled not even two weeks after her Queen album dropped. Live Nation claims the cancelation was due to Minaj’s desire to “reevaluate elements of production” and “contribute more time to rehearsal,” echoing Drake’s statements that fans deserve to get their money’s worth in production value. But with all the planning that goes into a tour, it’s hard to believe in either artist’s case that it would be postponed or canceled for any reason other than poor sales.

As Minaj noted, Spotify’s own promotion can make or break an album release. Spotify has also come under fire for its abysmal payouts, with CNBC calculating that the platform pays music rights holders $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream. The artist only sees a fraction of those pennies when record labels act as the middleman.

With little money to be made in streaming, artists then must make up for it in live performances, the big money coming from touring. The original model that tours promoted music sales has been flipped: music must promote tours. But until the disconnect between streaming and ticket sales is fixed and the Hip-Hop/R&B genre leaders on Spotify can fill venues with their dedicated streamers, expect to see more tour cancellations.

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