Opinion Article / Let's Talk About Stream Trolling
WORDS BY JACOB CORNELL
If you search the phrase “stream trolling” just about anywhere on the internet, you’ll find annoying compilations of video game streams and obnoxious bass-boosted songs intentionally meant to be bad. That is not what I’m talking about today. “Stream trolling” in the music world is a fairly new term coined by online music critic Anthony Fantano. Stream trolling, in this sense, refers to stretching out a music project (such as an album or mixtape) by filling it with extra tracks, usually of questionable quality, to extend the run time and elicit more streams from listeners. The more tracks on a project, the more streams from fans and critics alike – and the more money the artist makes from streaming their music. Stream trolling is not adding three or four throwaway songs to an otherwise solid EP to make it into a full album—it’s taking an otherwise solid music project of standard length and adding, for example, ten songs and an extra hour of unnecessary content.
I’m not saying this is a common practice by any means. The practice of stream trolling has become more obvious within the last 2-3 years, due to the industry becoming more accepting of streaming services as a means of music distribution. The practice of stream trolling has only presented itself within the rap community recently, most notably on Atlanta rap trio Migos’ brand new album, Culture II. Culture II was released at the end of last month, to very mixed, (mostly indifferent) reviews as a follow up to last year’s smash success. On the topic of the Culture II, Meaghan Garvey for Pitchfork wrote “Where Culture was an event, its follow-up feels more like an occurrence, the quality of its songs handicapped by an album that plays like a long and formless grab bag.” The reason behind this is the unnecessary length of the album. While Culture had a fairly standard 13-track, 58-minute runtime, Culture II weighed in at a hefty 24 tracks with 106 minutes of runtime.
Am I saying that Migos released this album with all of these bloated, unnecessary tracks on it only to make more money from streams? Absolutely not. Stream trolling isn’t a singular reason to release an entire project, but it’s a structural difference to the way a project is handled for release and perceived as a whole. I don’t think they intentionally released an album hoping to get an extra 10 streams out of each fan, but the current pay model for these streaming services doesn’t exactly discourage this business model. Most streaming services pay artists (although a reportedly miniscule amount) per stream. Even if an artist is only making fractions of pennies off of each unique stream, an extra 10 streams from every interested listener adds up. It’s the music equivalent of a clickbait YouTube video or all those annoying “listicle” websites the internet has thankfully been leaving behind the last few years.
Stream trolling isn’t just something Migos is guilty of, it’s becoming more normal every day in the rap community. Last year Drake released More Life, the 22 track song 82 minute runtime “playlist” follow up to his 2016 20 track album, Views. While some publications just called the project what it was, a mixtape, there was a lot of discussion within the critic world as to why the project was released and marketed as a “playlist.” While the “playlist” had a few standout songs, (mainly just the singles) More Life felt more like a B-sides release to accompany the commercial “meh” that was Views than a project that held water on its own. Again, do I think Drake released More Life as a way to troll for extra song streams? Not entirely, but its 22-song track list filled with mostly forgettable songs is anything but discouraged by the music industry’s current streaming payment model.
According to superstar producer, rapper, and household song intro tag, Mike WiLL Made-It, Rae Sremmurd’s next project released will actually be a “triple disk” record, confirmed later on twitter by Swae Lee of the rap duo himself. I’m not even going to begin to count the number of songs Berkley rapper and Extremely Rare Based God Lil B has released, but between his 10 studio albums, 49 mixtapes, and one EP, he’s released a significant number of tracks. This business model, while certainly giving artists a leg up on an industry designed to take advantage of them, is leaving fans with watered-down music releases as a result. Rather than taking simply gaming the system by released bloated albums or mixtapes, let’s just work on reforming the industry to more account for the musical behemoth that is streaming. Stream trolling is a business model that isn’t going to go away any time and soon and will present itself more and more in the coming years. If we want to continue to have thoughtful music projects released from our favorite artists, both fans and critics alike need to be more proactive in calling it out when they see it.