With Teeth: Is it time for Spotify’s play counts to be made public?

Note: this post originally appeared in my comment section over on Music Ally.

It’s been interesting reading Grizzly Bear’s thoughts on Spotify over this weekend. One comment that particularly caught my eye was this one:

“Not saying that Spotify doesn’t spread the word, but at least radio and venues look at YouTube counts. With Spotify, its nothing”

I can’t speak for the USA, but certainly here in the UK its long been an open secret that Radio 1 – the kingmaker of stations as regards most campaigns aspiring to big sales – looked at YouTube plays almost exclusively as an indicator of buzz. In recent times, that has changed slightly and the open secret now is that R1 looks at Next Big Sound’s publicly available data to measure how a band is faring in terms of plays, fan growth etc. That’s deeply flawed (for too many reasons to go into now), but at least better than just looking at YouTube.

But here’s the problem: Spotify’s play counts are not public. For balance, neither are they on most other streaming services. As a consequence then, none feature on Next Big Sound’s charts, where YouTube and Vevo play counts tally up on the graph. So, as an indicator of buzz around an artist, they’re entirely absent.

Spotify does have this data, and for people like myself it is certainly an important metric for my clients. The data is also now fed to the OCC, where a streaming chart is finally available to reflect mass trends. However at those early stages where you have a new single and you want to prove to radio (or promoters) that it is getting a load of plays, they do not feature.

There’s also a further twist to this: Soundcloud is one of the services that publicly displays play counts. Furthermore, they also report plays into services like Next Big Sound. So, like YouTube and Vevo, they are very much part of the argument for demonstrating buzz. Unlike those two though, they do not pay artists per-stream.

Consider this scenario: you have a new artist and you’re keen to demonstrate how much people are getting into his/her new single. Do you place the track on Spotify, or do you host it on YouTube or Soundcloud (or even all three)? Strategically, if you’ve any aspiration at radio, you’d skip Spotify. Why? Because if you give the track to Spotify and get millions of plays, they’d be all but invisible to radio, promoters and others because that data is private.

(It should be said that this argument is not so much a comment on Spotify as it is on the myopic way in which radio stations and other parties review stats around an artist. I do understand though that it is hard to judge all artists on a level playing field, so whilst I don’t like it – and have frequently turned the air blue complaining about it – I do sympathise to some extent.)

So – is it time for Spotify to make play counts public? My view is certainly a resounding “yes”. Doubtless doing so will bring with it a new round of griping about payments, but let’s be honest: these “I am an indie artist and this is what Spotify paid me” articles are getting more and more frequent now. That cat is out of the bag. So can we please get this data up for all to see? It would being a huge shift in perception as to the value of Spotify – and ensure that in future, artists have another platform to consider when looking to convince Radio 1 (or indeed other large stations) to support their latest release.


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