Congratulations are in order for Drake, who on Thursday became the first artist to ever reach 10 billion streams on Apple Music. The milestone is – per the proud, multi-platform announcement from the music-streaming service as well as coverage of it on various news outlets – a Big Deal.
— Apple Music (@AppleMusic) July 19, 2018
Or is it? The other shining records that Drake has broken since the release of Scorpion include: highest number of single-day streams on Apple Music, highest number of single-day streams on Spotify and most streams per hour on Spotify. That’s not to mention dethroning himself from Number One on Billboard‘s charts (twice), scoring the highest number of total Number Ones of any rapper, becoming the male artist with the most-ever Number Ones in digital song sales and pushing an unprecedented seven songs into the Hot 100’s top 10 simultaneously. Again, that’s only with Scorpion. (Take a breath.)
All of these virtual trophies speak to Drake’s musical prowess, to be sure. But the accomplishments belong less to the rapper himself and much more to streaming services his album is listened to on, which have exploded in popularity at unparalleled speed and thrown all the traditional metrics of “success” in the music industry into unfettered chaos. Billboard‘s decades-old charts, for instance, now have to factor in streams against CD sales and digital downloads at a somewhat arbitrary rate; as of this summer, those charts weigh the success of songs differently depending on whether they were streamed for free or via a paid streaming subscription.
As for the millions and billions in streaming counts that are constantly being announced as new records: Under streaming’s business model, listeners don’t pay to hear individual songs or albums, so there’s no cost – as there would have been in the era of CD sales and digital downloads – to pick up an additional record after listening to something else. It’s a “yeah I’ll give this a listen, why not?” model that Spotify in particular capitalized on when it partnered with Drake for a platform-wide takeover a few weeks ago, pushing Scorpion to almost every single one of its 170 million users. The album, which boasts an outsized 25 tracks, was an album tailor-made for the era of streaming, which rewards sheer quantity over quality.
Streaming services are a very young distribution format in the broader scheme of music consumption, making it easy for “records” to constantly be set and broken and re-broken. While Spotify has been around for a decade now, the service didn’t rise into the heart of the mainstream until a few years ago, and Apple Music launched in the summer of 2015; as a format, streaming only started surpassing digital music sales in the U.S. as the music industry’s revenue-driver in 2016, per Nielsen’s yearly reports. In sum: Drake may be the biggest artist of modern times, but streaming’s continued growth means it won’t take long before his records are broken once more.