By: Eriomala John
A couple of days ago, BNXN (fka Buju) and Ruger, were at the center of one of the more memorable TwitterNG moments of the year. Holding nothing back — and in a manner that showed that their earlier pre-Headies spat was but a fluke — these two launched epic tirades at each other.
BNXN, in particular, subtly accused his Jonzing World-signed counterpart of faking his streaming numbers and using streaming farms. A wild accusation, right? Or so it seemed. Only when corroborations of the use of streaming farms begin to pour in from artists, journalists, music executives, and general industry insiders alike, did it appear to be as significant of an issue. Everyone from Joey Akan to Iyanya, and Foza Fawehinmi, had their two cents dropped on this Music Industry menace. However, the nature of the timeline is such that one could have missed most of these; or that even when one stayed up-to-date, there was a lack of much-needed context.
In the article below, we shall be taking a look into the world of false statistics in our music, reasons, misconceptions, and viable options to address these issues.
Much like the various newly created genres with an ‘Afro’ affix (think Ckay’s Emo Afro and Rema’s Afro Rave), Afro-Agric, or more accurately, ‘Stream Farming’, is not Nigerian in origin. The act, which refers primarily to the inflation of numbers on Digital Service Providers such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, iTunes, YouTube Music, etc., began in the American Music industry. It involves the use of shady playlisting, bot streams, hacking into accounts, pay-to-stream complexes, and a few other methods. A recent example that comes to mind is rapper, French Montana, who was exposed on the late Michael K. Williams-hosted show, Viceland Black Market for allegedly using hacked Spotify accounts to boost the numbers on his January 2022 single, Writing on the Wall.
In Nigeria, several instances of bewildering numbers and chart positions, have in the past hinted at this possibility. For reference, there was the Mayorkun Eleko incident of 2016 in which he garnered over a million YouTube views in less than 10 days. That was literally his first single, and yet, he was able to pull such an insane amount of views. In the same vein, there have been multiple occurrences of songs suddenly accruing large numbers, or climbing to positions on the DSP Charts in a manner that only suggests one thing; fraud. So, why do artists do this?
Artificial Growth and Audio-Synthesis
In the words of Cardi B, “They do anything for clout”. Something about being able to post a screenshot of their Number 1 spot on the Apple Music Charts, or millions of views accumulated on a YouTube video, seems to drive artists towards achieving this by any means. It’s made worse by the fact that even the biggest of the lot, like Davido and Burna Boy, can’t seem to escape the ‘ego trip’ of reposting screenshots. As such, many resort to underground channels to get the needed boost; evidenced by the sudden disappearance of their songs or projects from the charts altogether, or the absence of other DSP charts.
Also, there is the record label factor. Asides from the above-mentioned reason, there are also a few that can be traced directly back to record labels. First, there’s the need to create the illusion of ‘blowing’. Rather than wait for an organic climb to the top, some labels would rather fake the numbers. Oftentimes, this is with the knowledge of the artists themselves but sometimes, as in the case of those signed to foreign subsidiaries, it’s without their knowledge. The drawback of this is that these artists end up making little to no streaming revenue and then feel slighted by their labels; oblivious to the inner workings.
Furthermore, there’s also a PR angle. For many music listeners, Charts and Playlists have taken the role that Radio weekly countdown shows and TV shows used to play. New music is introduced via these playlists or breeze through the Top 100 or Top 50 charts, as in the case of Spotify. As such, by shady playlisting or stream falsification, which enables the songs to appear more visible, new listeners are introduced. It also helps that in some cases the songs being pushed are of good quality.
Not All Bad Apples…
While it’s easy to bunch the majority under this umbrella, context reveals manipulation to not always be the case. For one, there’s the question of “Who is really streaming?”. According to Statista, as of 2021, YouTube users in Nigeria were a mere 5.9 Million. When you compare this to the volume of views accrued by videos like Rema’s Calm Down (252 million) or Burna Boy’s Last Last (123 million) for instance, you might be tempted to raise a few eyebrows. However, if you consider the multiple certifications those records have gotten in countries like France, the Netherlands, Portugal, the UK, etc. which have a larger share on said platform, it becomes understandable.
It’s the same with a platform like Audiomack which has a large Nigerian population due to its non-premium nature. On there, it’s common to find Nigerian artists with millions of streams. That’s why an artist like Seyi Vibez, with an album (Billion Dollar Baby) less than a month old, can achieve 100 million streams despite his B to C-list status. In some cases, it’s the combination of good publicity moves and a quality product. Take Blaqbonez’s Back in Uni video for instance which racked up a little over 3 million YouTube views in just 2 days. Ordinarily, that might have led to a lot of eyebrow raises. However, knowing how much buzz preceded the drop, and just how good of a video it was, doubts immediately begin to vanish.
Finally, there’s the influence of star power. Certain artists command a sizable market share that simply can’t be denied. For example, there’s no way one of the Big 3 drops a song and it won’t make it to the top 10 of the DSP charts. It’s the same for several other acts in both the new school and the old guard. That’s not to say they aren’t also guilty of stream manipulation to stay on these charts (think along the lines of Omah Lay’s Damn Remix). On the contrary, it just shows the level of influence they wield. This also extends to features and songs/projects they show support for online.
Weeding and Pruning
Truth be told, this menace might not be coming to an end anytime soon. The American music industry, on which ours is modeled, doesn’t seem interested in curtailing this. How much more we?
Regardless, there’s still a need for redress. First off, the focus should be shifted toward an indigenous chart body. In our quest for foreign validation, and due to the appeal of the US and European markets, our artists tend to treat Billboard like the affirmation of success; be it the Bubbling Under Hot 100, World Albums Chart, or the Hot 100 itself. However, let’s be honest, not up to 20% of the industry would end up on these charts. Even worse, they do not account for other aspects like Nigerian radio and television or give insight into each genre. Luckily for us, the TurnTables Charts exist. The TurnTable Charts is a Nigerian aggregation platform with charts like the TurnTable Nigeria Top 100, Nigeria Top 50 Albums, Artiste Top 100, Top Streaming Songs, Top Radio Songs, Top TV Songs, Producers Top 100, etc. Via partnerships with record labels like Chocolate City and Mavins, several radio stations, Radiomonitor, Boomplay, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Audiomack, and YouTube, they serve to accurately represent music statistics in Nigeria. Also, in partnership with We Talk Sound, they created the Recording Certification of Nigeria, which awards certifications and plaques; an innovation that could well encourage artists at all tiers.
Furthermore, DSPs need to monitor charts and playlists with more scrutiny and ensure that all who default are either delisted or exposed. As difficult as this sounds, it’s pretty doable seeing as Apple Music has taken such steps in recent times despite potential fallouts.
Finally, Nigerian fans might have to consider purchasing music. The problem? We barely even pay for premium streaming services; not even Netflix! In fact, our weak purchasing power is responsible for artists holding a series of tours outside the country, and yet being unable to do state-to-state shows. Perhaps, one day our fortunes would improve and artists would no longer have to employ the services of streaming bots somewhere on that side of the Atlantic. Perhaps. Until then, we can only endure Afro-Agric.