Op-Ed: Spotify United States Top 50 – By Bob Lefsetz

A funny thing happened on the way to streaming… Acts became bigger than their singles. The truth is if you're popular today, people want more of your music. And if it's good, they'll continue to play it. Even if it didn't all come from the same LP. Look at Drake, famous for dropping new tracks all the time. But the truth is his audience is listening.

Furthermore, radio is out of the loop. At best it's a place you get started. Kind of like the FM of yore.

For evidence let me point to the big winner, the Weeknd.

It's all about "Can't Feel My Face," right?

Wrong. The Weeknd has six tracks in Spotify's United States Top 50. That brings us right back to 1964, when the Beatles dominated the radio chart. Only today, you get paid when people listen. That's right, Capitol sold "Meet The Beatles" and the band only got paid once. Today, the Weeknd is cleaning up, as fans are streaming his tracks over and over again. The Weeknd dominates listening patterns in a way we either haven't seen or haven't been able to measure in eons. He's the biggest star in music listening. If anything, the hype has been too small. This guy is GIGANTIC!

As is Justin Bieber. He's only got two tracks in the Top 50, but "What Do You Mean" is sitting at number one. You lead with the track, without a hit you're nowhere. That's what got everybody interested in the Weeknd's album.

But you know who else is every bit as big as the hype? Lyor Cohen's Fetty Wap. It may have taken a long time for "Trap Queen" to break through, but listeners can't get enough of Fetty, he's not a one hit wonder on Spotify, Fetty has FIVE tracks in the Top 50!

And then there's Drake. The supposed downfall of Serena Williams. The Canadian has SIX tracks in the Top 50.

Ed Sheeran has three, although one is with the Weeknd, "Dark Times," you should listen to it, it's so far from Top Forty fodder you'll find yourself reconsidering your hatred of pop music. "Dark Times" is closer to underground FM than iHeart.

Not that every act has multiple tracks in the Top 50.

But what we've learned is if you've got the goods, the audience wants more than the single. You're only handcuffed by your ability to create great tracks. We've got listeners galore.

And then you wonder why everyone's bitching about Spotify payments…

The truth is acts like the Weeknd, Drake and Ed Sheeran are dominating listening. Don't argue with data, Nate Silver said no one had run for President this late and won but the press keeps telling Biden to jump in. The same way the press keeps trumpeting the low Spotify payment story. You don't hear any of these acts bitching about their Spotify payments, nor their cowriters. Max Martin is all over the Weeknd album…do you see him in the press complaining he can't make enough money? OF COURSE NOT!

The rich are getting richer and the marginal are being squeezed to the periphery.

Everything you know is wrong. Everything you've based your precepts on is kaput.

Once everything is available for one low price, or via a freemium tier, it turns out listeners want more than the hit. Look back, in the old days you had to wait for your favorite to come on the radio. And needless to say, ACTS DIDN'T GET PAID FOR RADIO PLAY! Most people never purchased the single, never mind the album. But once the act's repertoire has been unlocked online, people not only want the hit, they want so much more!

And sure, right now payments are relatively low, but they're only gonna grow as more people subscribe. And then the winners are gonna get paid ad infinitum, as long as you're listening, they're making money. With no shipping and no billing and no preorders, none of the junk clogging up the system in the past.

Drake puts out a steady stream of music. Bieber doesn't wait until he has an album to put out a track. The Weeknd started off without a label, giving away his music for free. They're harnessing the new system while idiots like Keith Richards are missing what's going on.

In the old days, it was all about the first week number. To get press and reorders. But today press means ever less. And physical retail is essentially irrelevant. The only criterion is whether people listen. And by that standard Keith Richards's new album is an abject failure. Many of the tracks on "Crosseyed Heart" don't even have 100,000 listens. The Weeknd has multiple tracks with TRIPLE DIGIT MILLION LISTENS! Keith's got 17,242 followers on Spotify. The Weeknd has 1,768,752. As for the demo… Let me remind you, it's oldsters with deep pockets who can pay for Spotify. As for physical…where are you gonna find it? As for digital, Keith's album is number 11 at the iTunes Store, but we've got no idea how many people are actually listening to it, never mind that sales of albums at the iTunes Store are anemic.

So it all comes down to listens. Which are not about the first week but the long term. If Keith Richards's album is in the iTunes Top 50 six months from now I'll eat my hat, but Major Lazer's "Lean On" is still number 7 on Spotify and it came out MARCH 2ND! Proving if you make it, you've got a long listening life, a long time to make money. It's not like the old days where when a record fell off the chart its financial life was history.

As for Major Lazer… Diplo is also represented at number 13, with Bieber and Skrillex. Turns out the public is not stupid. They know it's the same guy. Or maybe they don't, maybe they just know a hit when they hear it.

And it's always been about hits. Cream did not break big until "Sunshine Of Your Love" crossed over to Top 40. You may love the niche act, and that's fine, but when they complain they're broke the truth is not that many people are listening to them. And if not that many people "buy" a product it makes little money, it fails in the marketplace. Windows Phone is pretty good, although stiff in the marketplace, are you complaining that Microsoft has been treated unfairly, railing against app makers who won't write for the platform?

Of course not.

This is the reality.

Repeating once again…

1. It's about listens, everything else is irrelevant.

2. It starts with the hit.

3. If you've got a hit, people will check out more. If it too is good, they'll play it, irrelevant of whether radio or any other gatekeeper has anointed it and is exposing it.

4. Longevity counts. That's how you make money in the new world. A rocket ship to the moon is not a good financial plan. Used to be, you could move tonnage/sell product for a week or two and who cared what happened thereafter. But now there's little upfront bump and if you can't sustain… You're Keith Richards and Tom Petty and every other has-been who gets old media ramped up and then fails in the marketplace.

5. Old media is dumb and beholden to the marketers who are also antiques in many cases. Just because they write about it, that does not mean anybody cares. You don't get paid for press, you get paid for listens.

6. With enough listens you end up with sponsorship and live/touring opportunities. It's not what feels successful, but what IS successful. You point to your listens and the game begins. Then again, if you've got the listens the advertisers and promoters will be beating down your door, they understand numbers, they know more about the new paradigm than the labels, never mind the acts.

7. You're a winner or a loser. You're on the chart or you're not. Complaining is worthless. Everyone can't be a doctor and everyone can't be Mark Zuckerberg. Stop bitching when you can't make it in music and do something else.

8. Good is not good enough. The Spotify Top 50 is laden with hooks. And that's why they call them hooks, BECAUSE THEY HOOK THE LISTENER! This ain't gonna change, if you're making music today it must hook the listener instantly, otherwise people push the button and move on. If you can't make me pay attention in five seconds, I'm outta here. Don't shoot the messenger, face reality.

9. Bigger acts are coming. You can go to the record store and feel left out, no one can buy everything. Same deal at the iTunes Store. But on streaming services everything is available. And once the charts become more well known, people are gonna click over to find out what's going on. And what is happening will become even more successful. In an era of chaos, we gravitate to the winners. The oldsters complain, but the youngsters know this is the game.

You're not limited. The single is just a starting point. People want more if you're great. Very few are.

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