Streaming stars shine the brightest at Hot 97’s Summer Jam

There is something humbling about massive music festivals with state-of-the-art technology being paralyzed by Mother Nature.

48.6 percent of Spotify’s listeners skip a song before it finishes.

Sunday’s downpour in New Jersey forced Hot 97 to postpone its Summer Jam concert at Metlife Stadium by three hours — till 9:30 that night — while completely wiping out the entire preshow opening concert of lesser-known artists outside the stadium. Performers such as Curren$y, Dave East, and Chance the Rapper were to be highlights of that earlier show, and each artist got their start by streaming their own music.

At this year’s 23rd annual Summer Jam, DJ Khaled‘s Snapchat catchphrases and songs from Soundcloud got bigger crowd reactions than a Kanye West song and a Rick Ross surprise appearance. The stars forged by streaming took over the event in more ways than one.

Capturing the crowd

At a concert that featured Kanye West, hip-hop legend Fat Joe, Rick Ross, and a litany of other experienced hitmakers, it was a 23-year-old R&B singer from Louisville, Kentucky, named Bryson Tiller who held the crowd in the palm of his hand. When Tiller wailed “things got too complicated for me” from his song Exchange off his 2015 debut album Trap Soul, I only knew he sang those words because the deafening crowd noise became a chorus of his lyrics. The same reaction was elicited by his Top 15 Billboard Hot 100 single Don’t, which he released on his Soundcloud in May 2015, months before it went to radio. By the end of summer, the song had accumulated more than 35 million streams and scored him a record deal with RCA.

“A year ago, I was doing normal shit, like going to Target, getting shit for my daughter,” Tiller told the anxious crowd awaiting the next song. After stating he “found these beats on Soundclick” — referring to the online community for music producers and artists — Don’t starts and Tiller’s voice gets swallowed by the crowd singing along to every word. While legendary acts such as Fat Joe and Remy Ma got similarly raucous responses, the crowd reaction always faded into more spectating after the nostalgia wore off.

Apple Music’s missed opportunity

Hot 97’s Apple Music sponsorship was evident everywhere from banners, to a Summer Jam playlist exclusively on Apple Music, to a few video vignettes of artists, such as DJ Khaled, speaking on the importance of Summer Jam. Even a few people I spoke with on line for food stated they primarily subscribed to Apple Music.

For all of Apple’s ubiquity, it missed a golden opportunity to upend streaming service rival Tidal in a space Jay Z’s company has dominated with no equal: live event streaming. Hot 97 signed a multiyear agreement with FilmOn TV — and not Apple — for the live-streaming company to the be the exclusive streaming provider of Summer Jam. Those watching via the live-stream took to Twitter to voice gripes with the stream’s constant buffering and completely shutting off. The fans even called for Hot 97 to let Tidal handle the live-stream like it did last year to much success.

There were also a few jarring moments: Seeing Kanye West perform The Life of Pablo songs, not only at an Apple Music-sponsored event, but at times in front of the Apple Music banner, was an odd visual after he swore to never put the album on Apple Music, before eventually relenting. At one point, DJ Khaled vociferously demanded his Apple Music video vignette stop playing so he could start his set after he waited four hours to perform.

Speaking of DJ Khaled…

DJ Khaled Is A Human Playlist Generator

Go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, and you will see two things that sum up streaming music’s effect on listening habits: excess and indecision. A 2014 report revealed a startling 48.6 percent of Spotify’s listeners skip a song before it finishes, with 35.8 percent skipping a song within the first 30 seconds.

DJ Khaled’s show-stealing set was the perfect embodiment of this insatiable desire with instant gratification. With a three-hour rain delay — plus a 30 minute delay due to a fight breaking out in the crowd — Khaled brought out 10 surprise guests in less than 20 minutes, including Rick Ross, dance hall legend Mavado, R&B sensation Ty Dolla $ign, and others.

The crowd did not have a chance to inhale air for too long before exhaling into a surprise squeal for the next guest. When DJ Khaled’s mic volume was lower than he liked, he demanded “turn my mic up, sound man. Don’t ever play yourself.”  “Don’t ever play yourself,” one of Khaled’s many Snapchat catchphrases, was one Summer Jam attendees recited along with him, like lyrics to their favorite song.

In the end, Hot 97’s Summer Jam was an emblem of the shift in music consumption, albeit an at-times haphazardly constructed emblem. Even with all of the complications from the sky, the fight, and artists complaining on social media about their sets being cut, Summer Jam flowed relatively smoothly on a stream of incredible artists.

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