Chance the Rapper beats everybody at selling music without literally selling his music.
The Chicago hip-hop artist on Sunday night won three major Grammy awards, including best new artist and best rap album (beating out megastars Drake and Kanye West in the latter category). But if your instinct was to check out his “Coloring Book” on iTunes, you hit a dead end.
Why? Chance only streams his music. That means no paid downloads or CDs. His music is available solely on streaming services like Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple Music, often for free.
Chance the Rapper’s Grammy wins weren’t just his first — they were the first for any streaming-only artist. It’s the latest upshot of consumers shifting to streaming from the digital downloads typified by Apple’s iTunes and CD sales before that. Streaming subscriptions are already the primary way recordings generate sales now. With his awards Sunday, Chance the Rapper underscored how big a streaming-only star can get.
If the concept boggles your mind a little, you’re not alone. Former President Barack Obama once took Chance the Rapper aside at the White House to advise him to start selling his music.
Chance has Nielsen scratching its head about what to expect now that he’s been elevated to Grammy-winning artist. Typically with big music awards, music marketers, labels, distribution companies and managers pull their hair out to make sure enough “stock” is available to meet sales demand from a “Grammy bump,” according to Dave Bakula, a senior vice president of analytics at Nielsen Entertainment.
Sometimes the bump is more like a rocket launch. In 2012, Adele sold 730,000 units of her album “21” in the week after her Grammy wins that year.
“For Chance…that sales element isn’t even part of the conversation,” Bakula said.
Instead of recordings, Chance makes his money from touring and selling merchandise. “After I made my second mixtape and gave it away online, my plan was to sign with a label and figure out my music from there,” he told Vanity Fair in a Q&A before the awards. “But after meeting with the three major labels, I realized my strength was being able to offer my best work to people without any limit on it.”