Grammy nominations for 2017 show streaming is the real winner

All of the nominees relied on streaming platforms in one way or another this year

The general conversation surrounding this year's Grammy nominations is a similar one to that of year's gone-by - who deserves what accolade, who was unfairly snubbed, etc.

But the real discussion should be centered on the enormous influence streaming has had on this year's nominees.

Billboard began incorporating streaming data two years ago. The new formula includes data from 1,500 Nielsen SoundScan streaming sources in addition to "track equivalent albums," a formula for counting 10 total song downloads as an album sale.

For example, Album of The Year nominee Drake's album 'VIEWS' debuted with album purchases of 852,000 units and another 188,000 equivalent album units (EAUs) for a total of 1.04 million (album equivalent) units.

To stream or not to stream?

Of the five albums nominated for Album of the Year, all nominees adopted different approaches when it came to streaming. Two artists gave streaming platforms exclusive premiere rights - Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' could only be purchased physically or streamed on TIDAL, while Drake's 'VIEWS' was a initially an Apple Music-exclusive.

By contrast, Justin Bieber's 'Purpose' could be streamed across platforms, while Sturgill Simpson's album A Sailor's Guide To Earth was streamed on NPR.com a week before its initial release.

Adele's '25' was kept off of all streaming platforms for seven months, following a similar move she made upon her sophomore album '21''s release.

“I know that streaming music is the future, but it’s not the only way to consume music,” she continued in the interview. “I can’t pledge allegiance to something that I don’t know how I feel about yet.”

Her fan-base are recognised as more traditional consumers of music because of the age demographic, i.e. they are more inclined to buy a physical record as opposed to streaming it. Adele's gamble paid off, with the album being certified Diamond in 10 months.

With Beyoncé, it's a different kettle of fish. Her album campaign was hype-driven and youth-orientated, with a HBO special for her visual album and her own emoji. A 'surprise' drop also ensured a buzz on social media.

But by limiting the album's availability, she alienated fans - TIDAL is, famously, one of the least popular streaming models among users. Adele's '25' sold 3 million copies in one week - 'Lemonade' sold under 500,000 copies.

Started from the bottom ...

On the contrary, Drake owes the success of VIEWS almost entirely to streaming. Initially an Apple-exclusive, he broke the record (previously held by Beyoncé) for most streams in a week on Apple Music. The album has since been streamed over three billion times on Spotify.

'One Dance' is the most streamed song of all time, with 982.3 million streams at the time of writing. The Canadian rapper is now Spotify's most-streamed artist.

Drake is an example of how streaming doesn't complement physical sales - rather it can far exceed them. Streaming ensured Drake maintained the number one song globally, because while album and track purchases initially put VIEWS atop the chart, streams were a major factor in giving the album the third-longest run at No. 1 for a hip-hop album.

Streaming was initially overshadowed by sales of VIEWSbut that didn't last long. At the services tracked by Nielsen Music  --  Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube, among others, but not Pandora  --  streams from Views accounted for just 15.7% of EAUs in week one. After purchases dropped 79.5% in week two, streaming represented 37.3% of EAUs.

But streaming took over in week three when, for the first time, streaming equivalent units (streams/1,500) of 124,000 exceeded purchases (albums + tracks/10) of 115,000 units. Streaming went on to drive the majority of consumption for the rest of VIEWS nine-week run and outweighed purchases

How streaming models are creating fake hits

Because of the inclusion of streaming data, Billboard has been criticised for creating 'artificial hits'.

Take Beyoncé's 'Don't Hurt Yourself' - nominated for Best Rock Performance, peaked at number 28 on the Hot 100, and quickly fell off the charts. The song landed a nomination despite the fact that most people consumed it was by purchasing the album or by streaming it through TIDAL.

The underdog

Chance The Rapper made history this year, becoming the only artist Grammy-nominated artist with a streaming-only album.

'Colouring Book' - the rapper's third mixtape - was another Apple Music-exclusive release, and has been nominated ion seven categories, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap. It reached No. 8 on Billboard’s charts and was credited as the first streaming-exclusive album to ever do so with over 57 million streams its first week, equating to 38,000 units sold.

What next?

The focus remains on streaming and vinyl to save the industry. In the first half of 2016, album sales fell 13.6 percent and track sales dropped 23.9% from 2015, according to Nielsen Music. Only because of the 58.7% gain in streams did music consumption post a gain.

Beyond commercial prospects, the Recording Academy's eligibility rules will undoubtedly have to be adjusted.

Chance has previously said he does not consider 'Colouring Book' to be an album, but a mixtape. An introduction of a new category specifically for freely distributed online formats will open doors for new artists - the way they have for him.

As previously mentioned, the Academy will also have to look at how fairly representative the charts are when it comes to a song's success commercially and critically, as exclusive deals drive up streams.