Are We at the Dawn of A&R Data Wars?

Since the very beginning of music data analytics, a model that would accurately predict the trajectory of a music career has been something of a holy grail for music data professionals. That feat has yet to be achieved — that is, if such a model can be built at all. The future of an artist’s career is often determined by the self-fulfilling prophecy of success (i.e., the budget and the team) rather than their performance before the signing. Success is never predetermined — it’s a result of the right team working with the right artist. 

But even though the success can’t be predicted based on pre-existing data, A&R still became the single most data-driven position in the industry over the past years. The sheer volume of music produced means that every A&R needs some automated tool to filter through the vast ocean of newly released music. Whether it’s AI-driven solutions like Instrumental or Warner-owned Sodatone, conventional analytics dashboards like Soundcharts or Chartmetric, or in-house data analytics, every modern A&R department is grounded in analytics. That’s just how the game works in 2021.

However, the real question is: how much of a competitive advantage is data analytics to an A&R if the entire industry is ultimately looking at the same open-API-sourced dataset, processed by slightly different algorithms? 

Of course, different labels and distributors have different criteria for signing new talent, and A&Rs have to rely on their judgment rather than blindly following the data algorithms. However, the fact still stands — the best way to ensure that your company is signing the best acts available is to make it so that the artist appears on your A&R (data-)radar before it does on anyone else’s. The late 2010s were about all the key players racing to set up their analytic pipelines. The 2020s are going to be about fueling these pipelines with data that no one else has. 

Today, most A&R data development strategies revolve around getting access to the platform consumption datasets on top of public-API data to get a better view of artists’ performance. Throughout the first half of 2021, we can already find several notable data partnerships aiming to source the A&R departments with exclusive data. In January, Distrokid (home to some 2 million DIY artists) launched its “Upstream” feature, essentially offering unique artist consumption data to selected label partners in exchange for a signing fee.

Just a few weeks later, Universal announced its partnership deal with TikTok that reportedly goes far beyond previous music licensing agreements, with companies aiming to “collaborate on new initiatives involving digital marketing, A&R, user data and more.” And the way I see it, the chances are those are the first shots of the upcoming (or ongoing?) A&R data-wars. But who’s going to be the early leader in that race? And how will this unique data be sourced? 

Essentially, all existing artist data can be folded into three simple categories based on its source:

  1. Open-API & Crawled Data: This type of data is available to anyone with a Spotify API key and a python script. This category includes only high-level metrics such as following across platforms, Spotify monthly listeners, YouTube video views, etc.
  1. Streaming Consumption Data: This type of data is much more gated. It represents the sales reports provided by the streaming platforms to distributors (potentially also shared up the chain to the labels and artist’s teams). Different streaming platforms have different data-sharing policies in place, but generally speaking, this category includes more granular data such as stream counts, stream sources (i.e., playlists vs. library), listener location, etc.
  1. First-party Analytics: This type of data is shared by different streaming and social platforms directly with the artists and their team via first-party analytics — such as Spotify for Artists and YouTube Creator Studio. This category includes the most detailed data, such as the audience’s demographics, consumption engagement metrics (e.g., average view duration for music videos), and much, much more.
Structure of Artist Data Sources

That is if we’re talking about existing music data. Potentially, we can find more data sources outside of current music data pipelines. For example, imagine using text recognition and machine learning to be able to gather and crunch data on music-related memes. Or tracking public conversation on platforms like Reddit using natural language processing algorithms to analyze artist’s digital WOM sentiment. Furthermore, we might see existing signing databases such as ROSTR expand into the A&R space to offer more context on what happens behind the scenes of the artists’ careers. Today, though, most of these applications probably won’t be cost-effective, simply because there are easier wins out there. But as the competition for unique artist data intensifies, we might see some completely new data-mining initiatives spring up to source the A&R research teams.

Or, maybe, we’ll live to see a solution that would connect unsigned artists and labels directly. As an artist, you would log into the platform and connect your first-party analytic dashboards (from Spotify and Apple Music for Artists to YouTube Creator Studio and FB Analytics) to share the entire wealth of data on your career directly with A&R departments at labels and distributors. “No guarantees and no promises — but if your music is making waves, we’ll make sure industry people know about it” kind of thing.

Now, though, the most apparent data-sourcing solution would be to approach the subset of the industry hosting most of the unsigned artists out there: open distribution platforms of CDBaby, TuneCore, Distrokid, and alike. To talk about TuneCore — if there’s a single music company that had a bit of a headstart on the rest of the industry in this race for exclusive data, it’s Believe. The fact that Believe owns TuneCore (along with the data on 250k+ artists distributed through the platform) probably won’t come as news to anyone. But what’s interesting is that Believe has been sourcing its A&R with TuneCore data for years now, essentially getting a chance to polish out their data practices while the rest of the market was still figuring out data access. 

From that perspective, Believe’s data practices are a point of interest for the rest of the industry. Luckily for those of you who’d like to take a peek under the hood, there’s an article over at Believe’s blog (written by Music Tomorrow’s own Julie Knibbe) showcasing some of Believe’s A&Rs data habits. 

To conclude, for now, it’s still too early to tell how the A&R data game will develop in the next ten years or so. But what we can say for sure is that the artist data — especially the data that no one else has — is a thing of value. And that value is only going to go up as we move forward into the new decade. 

Written by Dmitry Pastukhov for Music Tomorrow

What the genre distribution of viral songs tells us about TikTok, globalization and cultural influence

The lofi girl that became part of Pop Culture

Analysis by Julie Knibbe – Research and findings led by Parth Sinha and Pavel Telica

Music is a major cultural aspect of society. The inter-relationship between music, technology, society and culture has been researched for many decades. Looking at music charts and which genres break into the mainstream tells us a lot about cultural shifts within our communities. Rock & Roll in the 50s reflected change in the US at a time of rebellious spirit and civil rights movements. Now, technology probably has more influence on our culture and music consumption than local politics.

In this piece, we wanted to research and understand which new trends are influencing music consumption today. We analyzed genres among both global and local charts to picture current dynamics within the music industry. A side note about methodology: we chose to focus on Spotify and TikTok as we identified them as the two most influential platforms in terms of relevance, activity and trendsetting, as well as overall volume of active listeners.  Many thanks to Chartmetric for granting us access to these datasets.

Will TikTok bring more diversity to the global charts?

Our first finding comes as no surprise. Pop, Rap & Hip-Hop and Dance (encompassing electronic, disco, house and EDM) still rule Spotify’s global charts. Those three main genres are driving the trends independently of the platform or the geographic region. 

However, a few hit songs from other genres also have a substantial presence. The Latin & Reggaeton, Lo-Fi Beats, R&B, and Indie Pop genres are getting increasingly popular, notably thanks to the popularity and functionality of these genres within the TikTok content environment. 

Top 2020 TikTok genres
Top TikTok genres of 2020

We are indeed moving past carefully curated social media narratives. TikTok is taking us deep into thoughtless hypnotism, highlighting moments of audiovisual eloquence that only live in the vibe of a moment. Music that has the most potential to soundtrack such moments is not restricted to the most popular genres. TikTok’s influence on the global charts could be setting a precedent for more widespread distribution of top genres in the future – even though Pop, Rap/Hip Hop and Dance are still the most popular genres on TikTok. 

A note about TikTok trends consolidation: Despite TikTok’s undeniable influence, that vibe of a moment doesn’t last long for a given song. Looking at how long tracks usually stay in the TikTok and Spotify charts confirms that turnover is higher on TikTok than on Spotify. Music trends start from TikTok and then transition to Spotify, which grounds fandom and listenership. 

Spotify Global Viral Top 50 by total number of weeks spent on the chart
All time Global TikTok Hits by total number of weeks spent on the chart

Some countries have a lot more global taste influence than others

Looking at the distribution of songs per country within the charts, songs by artists from the USA and the UK make up for over 30% of the viral charts, meaning that they (still) have the strongest propensity to influence and set global music trends. 

Spotify Global Viral Top 50 by Artist Country
All time TikTok Global Hits by Artist Country 

Let’s dive deeper into top genres by regions:

Spotify USA Viral Top 50
Spotify UK Viral Top 50

The USA and the UK represent the most important and active markets in terms of viral genre engagement and global music trend-setting through both TikTok and Spotify. 

Their local viral charts demonstrate the same trends observed globally, suggesting how much those countries weigh in setting trends both locally and internationally. Most songs trending on TikTok in the US are also on other countries’ Spotify Viral 50 lists.


Spotify Brazil Viral Top 50
Spotify Indonesia Viral Top 50
Spotify India Viral Top 50

On the other hand, apart from K-pop and a few (Latin) exceptions, local genres from other countries usually don’t break their traditional frontiers and global artists trust their viral charts. For example, although India Top 50 mainly includes Film and Desi Hip Hop, Pop is the leading genre in the viral chart, featuring more songs from American artists than local ones. 

Despite the strong presence of idiosyncratic local genres in big hubs such as Brazil, India and Indonesia, patterns that are set in the UK and the US practically set the global trend scene (for not only genres but also hit songs) and translate into the Top Charts of any region. To sum up, despite the prevalence of local genres, trends and virality are heavily influenced by international artists from a handful of countries. 

Both tech platforms and music marketers shape the trends. How they structure their businesses influences what makes it to the top, more specifically – how they develop their localization strategies affects trends in music consumption. With these few findings, we’ve only scratched the surface. We’ll keep an eye on these patterns and how they evolve over time. Stay tuned!

About the researchers

Parth Sinha is part of the Music Programming Team at Bytedance. You can observe his love for music and data in his data-driven approach towards improving listener journeys at Bytedance. While graduating from SEA London, Parth joined the Doctor Gosso Collective, an independent label & artist service, and is now an active member. He is a curious discoverer of Music Data and Digital Strategies while being a keen observer of streaming and recommendation systems. He is passionate about Jazz & Hip Hop; hence, he has begun his preliminary review blog called the Jazz Hip Hop Dispensary.

Pavel Telica is an economics graduate from the Imperial College Business School, London. He is a jazz musician and co-founder of the Doctor Gosso Collective (with now over 2 Million streams on their catalog), and a writer at the online music review blog Jazz Hip Hop Dispensary. He’s passionate about identifying trends in the music industry, as well as working as a music composer and producer. 

“The job will never be finished”: diving into music rights data and royalty systems with Phil Barry from Blokur

Phil Barry interview Julie Knibbe

I recently published a piece about music rights data and the challenges of delivering timely royalty payments to artists on Cherie Hu’s Water & Music publication. I wanted to share a bit of the background research I conducted to write this piece. Here’s an exclusive interview I did with Phil Barry, Founder at Blokur. We discussed how his company addresses one of the toughest issues of the publishing industry regarding royalty payments: data management. If you’re not familiar with these music copyright data issues, I advise that you read the Water & Music piece first for an introduction to these wonders 🙂

Before founding Blokur, Phil produced and co-wrote music for artists signed to BMG, Universal, Warner and EMI; performed in front of millions; founded an indie label and led the development of several innovative music business models and experiences for Radiohead singer Thom Yorke; as well as pioneered the implementation of blockchain and smart contracts for creative rights and royalties with the grammy-winning artist Imogen Heap.

Julie Knibbe from Music Tomorrow: Can you tell us what Blokur is about? 

Phil Barry from Blokur: In a nutshell, we work on improving music rights data. From the publishing perspective, we work on the data that goes into royalty systems and make it as accurate as possible, so that people who are making decisions about who to pay can make sure that they’re paying the right person. We make it as complete as possible and reduce gaps or errors as much as we can. Then, on the way out, we make sure that the correct money has been paid to the right holders so that there’s no usage that has failed to be detected by other parts of the system. 

If you are a music user, like a TV company or a film company or something like that, you can use Blokur to identify who owns the song, so that you can go and get your license and send a license request for them. We also help bigger music users like digital platforms to perform their responsibilities efficiently and cheaply to get people paid when the music is used on their platform. 

JK: Feeding accurate metadata about works and recordings to royalty systems is critical to get paid. Unique identifiers like ISWCs (International Standard Musical Work Code) are supposed to help reconcile what gets in. On your blog, you mention that “only about 30% of the songs in publisher databases have an ISWC.” How do you explain this?

PB: What that means is that even though these identifiers are meant to be unique, they’re not. You might have lots of ISWCs that are by mistake assigned to more than one work. It should theoretically not be possible, but it does happen. 

At Blokur, we don’t use the [ISWC] identifier as the definitive answer. It’s just one piece of metadata that might help you to identify the song, along with other pieces of information like the title, alternative titles, songwriters and their alternative names, publishers’ internal IDs, etc. We build a web of relationships surrounding the song, and we use all of that context to identify what is a unique song, or what is a match. In the end, I’m not sure that the idea of a single true definitive identifier practically could exist.

JK: How do you define data authorities? For example, if you receive conflicting information about the same work, how do you decide who has the final say? 

PB: We use a hierarchy of data authority. It basically means that the closer you are to the information you describe, the more weight you will get. So if you are talking about yourself, you would have the highest score. If you were talking about somebody else, you would have a lower score. 

Most problems are not deliberate. They are due to the difficulty of record-keeping, keeping things up to date. If you can automatically resolve data management issues, you solve most of the problems. Real genuine copyright disputes – in a legal sense – don’t happen so often. 

JK: Do you have an idea of how often real disputes happen?

PB: I don’t have actual statistics, but let’s say I’ve never seen one. It’s always a data management problem. 

JK: How do you work with publishers to resolve these data management issues? 

PB: Before Blokur, lots of companies didn’t have a conflict resolution mechanism at all. Some do, but they use email or the phone to reach out to CMOS. It’s very slow. The idea is that Blokur is more efficient even when publishers have to get involved and do the conflict resolution work. Our system updates many places in one go, so you don’t have to go repeatedly, check your data in this or that country, and update everything. 

JK: I bet that before using such conflict resolution tools, most publishers were not even aware of most conflicts. 

PB: Exactly. 

JK: Given your relationship with publishers, what insights are the most critical for them that you can provide? 

PB: On the copyright side, we combine usage with conflict information to say: here is a really valuable song with a problem. This piece of music has a billion views, and you didn’t get paid for it, because somebody failed to match the usage to your composition. So, there’s money missing for you to claim. Once you have such data, there are all kinds of interesting things you can learn. Maybe the titles are not right, or the writer is not linked properly. We are able to do it because we have the data from so many different sources. If you register with one name and someone else with another, then you both know both names. Everyone gets the benefit of this application. 

JK: You’re working on resolving conflicts about copyrights. We’ve seen that most problems stem from data management issues, so much so that you can automate resolution. So what’s a good level of accuracy? What do you think is the best you could achieve? 

PB: Good question. If everything was perfect and we perfectly did our job, there would be no conflicts left… but this will never happen because the data is not static. Even if it were true today, it would change in the future. The job will never be finished. We measure things like, for all of the songs in digital charts, for example, for how many do we have complete information? How many of them are conflicting? We want those things to be as high as possible. We start and focus on those because they are the songs that are earning the most money overall. 

JK: You’re already tracking digital charts to estimate consumption and value to focus your efforts. Do you plan to take it a step further? 

PB: Yes, for example, we work on TikTok. We look at the music that’s used on TikTok, how many videos are created for each song, and report that back. So it’s not just based on charts, but on what is actually the usage of this song? We calculate the market share based on the number of videos created for each track (or total streams if you would like to go one step deeper) and the publisher’s share in each of the underlying songs.

We also work on other use cases like YouTube. We can help where there weren’t successful matches by the standard process with content ID. We were able to identify usage of music on YouTube that wasn’t identified before. In the end, we want to do more of that because the more details we have, the more valuable it is to publishers.

JK: Can you share more about your roadmap? What are your next steps? 

PB: Blokur has until now been focused on a key foundational building block, which is the right database. The more complete the database is for our publishers, the more coverage we have of all of the errors and problems, the more valuable it is to them. The core has been about scaling all of that up. Music copyright data is complicated in unexpected ways in terms of maintaining the publishing chain along with lists of contracts.

We’re now more focused on issues relating to usage, like what I mentioned about TikTok and Youtube. We are building that up in terms of scalability and user experience to be more efficient. 

JK: The industry overall has been fantasizing about getting a centralized source of truth about rights data. I think people now have accepted that such data will never be perfect. However, which changes do you wish to see in terms of royalties and data? 

PB: In reality, I think it’s better if we aim towards an ecosystem where data can be shared efficiently, so that it is possible to take the best bits from the best places and combine it together. The value is not really in the raw data itself. It’s in the way that it’s matched and the insights you gain from it. If we open the borders between the different organizations, tell them what the data is and allow us to compare… It will be a big step

One other point is, I don’t think immediate payments is necessarily the goal to aim for. If you could get paid the same month, that would be already fantastic. That’s what most people in the world manage with their jobs. From the musician’s point of view, they don’t want to be spending their time thinking about money. What they want is to have the predictability of the money coming every month or every two weeks. That solves the problem for them, instead of getting paid one year a lot, then nothing the next year.

That’s the difficulty in my own experience as a musician. Sometimes I would open a royalty statement, and I would be like, “wow, I never knew I was going to get paid this much for this”. And then the next time it would say zero, and I’d be like, “what does it really mean?”. It’s this kind of unpredictability. That’s partly because you’re getting paid in these long time periods. Recently I’ve been paid money from something from 2010! Music publishers might even pay you once a year now, so once every month will be a lot better. 

There is competition for music publishers to offer better service, but I don’t think they have to pay you the same day for it to make an impact. You know, you’re a product person. Overall, it’s about the value for the customer, not the feature. The value is being able to predict when I’m going to pay the rent, whether I’m going to be able to get a mortgage, whether I’m going to be able to do those things, not the feature of being paid every day. 

JK: Before wrapping up, I wanted to talk about recording data. Do you think that recording and publishing data should be coming to one place?

The digital world and streaming in particular made it essential for publishers to know about the recordings of their songs. It’s such a lot of volume, and it’s all about tracking all these different recordings. A big part of the work is about matching between the composition and the recording. However, it doesn’t mean that if you’re doing lots of matching, that you’ll end up solving all the problems. 

Blokus is a publishing data platform. There are millions and millions of recordings in the database that are linked to the works. It’s linked to the work, rather than separately as a recording. So the data actually is coming to be in one place. I think that the data has to be in one place for it to be efficient. I don’t necessarily think that means that there will be one database for both parts of the industry, but at least publishing needs to have recording data alongside it. No doubt about that. 

We have had recently more inquiries from companies to have both sides, because they want to have a clear idea of what they could control independently. That gives more freedom in terms of licensing for novel applications of music. If you could say, I’ve got a million pieces of music in my database, but there’s a hundred thousand I control myself entirely (recordings and composition), and that’s enough for me to get started with some initiative. So, yeah, let see what happens! 

A new way to think about SEO in the music industry

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear something about SEO optimization in the music industry? The chances are: nothing too positive. Through the past years, we’ve seen a string of “life-hacks” emerge around this music SEO space, most of them falling short of ethical music promotion. With stories like Sony Music releasing a compilation titled “Some Christmas Music” just to tap into the smart speaker traffic for queries like “Alexa, play some Christmas music”, all of us have to take the SEO in the music industry with a grain of salt. 

However, the question still stands: is it possible for artists and music professionals to approach naming their songs and projects in a way that make them more visible on search across all the various social platforms and DSPs? Well, let’s try to figure it out. 

What is SEO — and how does it apply to the music industry?

Let’s start with the basics. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, generally refers to the process of changing the contents and structure of a website to increase its visibility on platforms like Google or, ehm, Bing, I guess? Today, SEO is a key component of marketing strategies for thousands of start-ups and media publications. However, when it comes to music, SEO is still more of an afterthought than a proper strategic decision. 

(Google) SEO for Artists


To try and capitalize on organic traffic, a company would usually create separate website pages and optimize them for relevant keywords related to their business activity. However, that’s hardly a path that artists can take — I mean, even if you do create a page on your website targeting keywords like “best new music” to try and plug your music there, you’ll be competing with the likes of Pitchfork, NPR, and Metacritic. Simply put, you can find better things to spend your time and effort on. 

Yet, there’s one page on Google that every artist out there can (and should) own — the first page of results for the name of your project. That first page of Google becomes sort of a business card, featuring all of their social and streaming links as well as the latest press stories mentioning the artist. It is a very important touchpoint, a place where a potential fan might deepen his connection with the artist — so owning that first page is imperative for any artist out there.

The good thing is that getting there is quite easy, even for artists who are just starting out. Essentially, there’s just a single (but still very important) step you’ll need to take to own your brand traffic on Google — pick a unique name for your project. I can’t stress this enough. Sure, naming your band something like “Girls” can be a valid creative choice, but trust me, your life will be so much easier if you at least throw an adjective into the mix: 

First page of Google Search of the US rock band “Girls” cluttered with off-brand content

The downside of your “first page of Google” business card is that you won’t have direct control over all of the contents of that page. While artists and their teams generally have editing access to things like their wiki pages and knowledge panels, high domain authority media publications mentioning your artist will also feature prominently on the first page of search results. This press coverage is obviously much harder to control — so it’s also a question of getting the press to tell the artist’s story the right way. However, let’s not get into the intricacies of music PR just yet — besides, Google is not the only place where audiences search for music. 

Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok — all of those platforms have their search engines, used by millions of music fans every single day to look for artists, playlists, and songs. But while all of those platforms are the most important spaces for music, it is also much, much harder to approach those spaces with the SEO perspective. 

On Google, you’re optimizing a rich text website page, full of metatags and titles, links and references to other pages. You have all sorts of tools at your disposal providing you insights on keyword traffic. You have other high-ranking content to draw inspiration from. On music platforms, the property you’re optimizing is a song (and sometimes a video or a playlist), and in the best-case scenario, you have just a few lines of text to work with.

But can these few lines still make a difference? Let’s try and figure it out. 

Song SEO: Can the name of the track make a difference? 

Before we get into it: naming in music is often more of an artistic decision than it is a business one. However, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to consider it from a purely marketing perspective.

The first step to any optimization is to pick out the relevant keywords you’d want to aim for. But how do you employ that approach in music, where there’s no way to tell how popular is a certain word or phrase in terms of search volumes? Millions of people are using the search bars on Spotify every single day — but there’s no platform in music that provides access to the data around that search volume. Well, if we can’t get the data at the source, we can look at some of the top-ranking content — or, if we put it in music industry terms, music charts. 

To try and figure out if this type of SEO mindset can be applied to the naming in the music industry, we’ve decided to take a look at two very distinct platforms for music. First is the celestial jukebox of Spotify, which can serve as a proxy for any major DSP in music. Second is the Instagram music feature, allowing some 1.15 bn users to tap into a vast library of licensed music to pick out soundtracks for their Stories posts. 

Of course, there’s a lot of independent factors influencing the popularity of a given song, but the reasoning goes that if we completely isolate all other factors and focus purely on the naming, it should give us a pretty good idea of what “keywords” are most common on platform-specific charts, and highlight how the difference between those platforms impacts the semantic composition of the charts.

Let’s start with Spotify. Observing keywords within the charts can give us an insight into some of the naming trends that marketers could leverage. To try and get an idea of what are the most used keywords in music, we’ve gathered the data on all tracks that ever made it onto Spotify daily charts, going back to 2014 — providing us with a sample of over 6,500 song titles to work with. Here’s what we found:

Tag cloud of most occurring keywords across Spotify charts (2014-2021). Source: KWORB

Or, if we visualize the frequencies on the graph:

Top 50 most occurring keywords on Spotify charts, by frequency (2014-2021). Source: KWORB

Love songs, huh? I mean it probably won’t come as news to you that there’s a lot of songs on the charts with the term “love” in their name. However, this dataset is still very important, as it allows us to establish a reference point. As we’ve mentioned before, Spotify can serve as a proxy for any major music DSP out there — and so the list you see above can be treated as a sample of the general song naming convention in the music industry. 

By grounding the analysis with that initial dataset, we can then cross-reference it with more platform-specific Instagram Stories charts — to try and build a list of keywords that are popular on Instagram, but NOT on Spotify. That should give us a good idea of whether or not there are Instagram-specific search patterns that can be leveraged to get more exposure for music, and, ultimately, build a list of keywords that will (on average) increase the song’s visibility on the platform.

Instagram Stories Music

As you probably know, Instagram introduced their music sticker feature back in 2018, allowing users in selected markets to add soundtracks to their stories. With Instagram’s general status as one of the most important social platforms for music, Instagram stories are a massive opportunity for artists. Besides, a song featured in a story post is going to reach not just that person, but all of their active followers — which means that a song that performs well on Instagram Stories is likely to reach a massive audience, and have a good chance to spillover onto streaming platforms.

To establish a list of most frequently used words on Instagram stories, we’ve accessed data on the most-used songs on Instagram in March 2021 (across English-speaking markets), amounting to over 1000 unique song titles.

Top 25 words by marginal frequency on Instagram charts vs. Spotify charts. Source: Soundcharts, KWORB

Straight away, we can detect at least three distinct groups of keywords that are more common on Instagram Stories charts vs Spotify charts:

  1. Nature & Weather, characterized by keywords like “sunshine”, “ocean”, “island”, and “summer”
  2. Life Occurrences, characterized by keywords like “birthday”, “work”, “ride” and “party”
  3. General Positive Terms, characterized by keywords like “good”, “happy”, “pretty”, “beautiful”, “lovely”, etc.

So, what does it tell us about how people engage with Instagram’s search engine, as well as the search intent behind their queries? First and foremost we have to keep the use case in mind. 

In a way, any Instagram story overlaid with music can be viewed as a micro-sync deal. The purpose of music is not to stand on its own, but to complement and elevate the underlying visual content. In other words, when people search for music to add to their story, they are looking for a soundtrack for their life — or, rather, a soundtrack for the part of their lives they share on Instagram.

So, if we follow this logic, we can map some of the keyword topics we’ve established to a specific type of content popular on Instagram stories: 

  1. People sharing shots of nature: sunsets, sunny weather, seascapes, etc (Nature & Weather)
  2. People sharing their life events and routines: gatherings, parties, road trips, working environments, etc. (Life Occurrences)

And then, of course, you’d rarely want to share a video of a mediocre sunset. Instead, you’d want to share a sunset that’s “lovely” or “beautiful” — which can help explain the clear dominance of such positive keywords on Instagram Stories charts. 

Another important thing to mention is that while our dataset for Spotify included all songs that made it onto charts in the span of the last 7 years, our Instagram charts data covers only March of 2021 — and so particular keywords we’ve found are likely influenced by the early-spring season we’re in right now. However, the same underlying themes of Nature will probably be present in the fall or winter — yet the particular keywords like “sunshine” might be substituted for something along the lines of “leaves” or “snow”. Regardless of the exact keywords, the topics identified are likely to feature prominently on Instagram Stories — and so including related keywords into your songs’ titles will likely increase their visibility on the platform. 

One thing I have to admit is that this article is just scratching the surface of the song SEO. The same research logic can be applied to different platforms, from TikTok to Twitch Soundtracks and beyond — and since today we focused solely on music charts, so far we’ve only explored the tip of the music industry iceberg. 

Yet, there’s one thing we can say for sure. While there’s no one-size-fits-all advice we can provide, the fact is that song naming can be approached with the SEO mindset — and I’m not talking about releasing a song titled “Among Us” (or whatever the next biggest video game on the internet is going to be) to try and piggyback off the search interest for that brand. Instead, song SEO can be adopted in a meaningful, non-intrusive way, and integrated with the overall artist strategy to make sure that the song has the best chances of occupying its destined space on the market.

With the introduction of features like Spotify lyrics search, artists and their teams can afford to put less emphasis on things like showcasing the most memorable line in the song’s title, and engage with new strategies and tactics when it comes to naming. Sometimes, it might be a question of switching an adjective in the song’s name to increase the chances of such search-mediated, organic discovery — but one thing you have to remember is that the music industry is a multi-faceted environment made up of dozens of different platforms. Each of those platforms offers a unique consumption context, and unique search patterns to go along with it. Instead of spreading yourself thin and trying to be everywhere at once, a wiser strategy might be to single out a specific space to make sure that the song really shines once it gets there. 

So, here’s a set of questions you should ask yourself if you want to try and optimize the song title for search:

  1. What is your target platform?
  1. What is going to make up the social zeitgeist when the song comes out?
  1. How will that social context affect the search intent on your target platform?
  1. How will people express their search intent in keywords?
  1. How can those keywords be seamlessly integrated into the song’s title?

Written by Dmitry Pastukhov for Music Tomorrow

Music Rights and NFTs: What should we (realistically) expect?

For the purposes of this article, we will assume that you already have a basic understanding of what NFTs are. If not, we recommend you check out Verge’s NFTs, explained first, and come back to this article once you’re familiar with the basics. 

Since artists like 3LAU, Grimes, and Deadmau5 auctioned off digital music, merchandise, tickets, and experiences worth millions of dollars, NFTs — the digital tokens authenticated using blockchain technology — have become the single hottest topic in the music business. 

Deadmau5/Mad Dog Jones' NFT
Check out Deadmau5 and Mad Dog Jones’ NFT collectible on Niftygateway

Right now, most buyers are crypto-savvy investors, and most NFT offerings can be described as simple digital collectibles. However, there’s an undeniable potential for NFTs in music to become so, so much more. It’s easy to imagine that as the market matures, more music-first audiences will enter the space — and if the NFT offers turn from digital memorabilia into real financial assets supported by music copyrights, we might be looking at a radically new way for artists to fund their careers and establish the value of their art. This NFT-powered future seems like a breath of fresh air for a lot of people in the post-streaming, post-COVID industry — but is it at all realistic? Let’s find out. 

So, what is the actual promise of NFTs (and blockchain in general) when it comes to the music business? Outside of making stacks on stacks on stacks (just kidding, don’t expect that), NFT technology enables artists to easily and quickly transfer ownership of an asset — whether it’s a piece of digital art or your entire publishing catalogue. In theory, NFT can make every single music copyright instantly tradable and transferable.


The potential benefits of the wide adoption of NFTs in the music business are numerous — to name just a few:

  • Increasing licensing efficiency: making licensing easier, facilitating the exchange of music rights and creating a public record of ownership that can be used to resolve overlapping royalty claims.
  • New forms of investment: opening the music rights market to the general public. With the help of NFTs, artists can allow their fans to invest in their copyrights directly. There’s a good reason labels and publishers are a part of the artist’s careers — and the point is not to bypass them completely, but to enable other sources of investments.
  • New ways to monetize music: Most NFTs marketplaces automatically pay out royalties to the creators whenever the NFTs are bought and sold. Hence, artists can earn a bit of royalty every time their digital art piece is flipped.

However, in the real world the complexities of music licensing and royalty processing mean that this dream of an “open market for music rights” can’t come true — at least not just yet.

In most cases, music rights are not readily transferable

Imagine you want to put your copyrights on this open, NFT-powered market. Well, first you’ll need to make sure you actually own them. In most cases, artists transfer parts of their music rights to their partners across the industry — to labels, publishers, producers, songwriters, and so on. To establish another, NFT-powered contract transferring those rights, artists would have to acquire permission from all of the parties who already own a piece of the pie. They will need permission from their label or publisher, with an agreement in place to determine how those royalties are collected and paid. 

Right now, most distributors and labels are simply not equipped to deal with that — nor are the publishers or collecting societies. That is why thus far NFT sales have only involved newly produced music, owned solely by the artists. An NFT auction for the previous catalog, where rights are already divvied up between several parties, is simply not possible, at least yet. 

The NFT marketplaces are still underdeveloped 

Besides, it’s not only the music industry. The NFT platforms are not ready either. Right now, there is no authentication to verify that the creator of a token actually is the owner of the underlying copyright — technically speaking, nothing prevents me from trying to sell a token for the entire Drake’s catalogue, even though I don’t own any of it. 

Then, to make things even more problematic, while the blockchain database under the hood of NFTs is permanent, any content attached to the NFT has to be hosted on an ordinary website — which means that if anything were to happen to it, the NFT would become completely worthless. I mean, blockchain would still confirm that you own the NFT, but what’s the point if the NFT itself is attached to a 404 page? And that is not such an unlikely scenario: according to the CheckMyNFT project, some of the most valuable music NFTs were failing to load consistently just a few days after they were auctioned off.

NFTs owners have to collect royalties by themselves

Here’s how the royalty dividends for the NFT-mediated investor would work today. The day after an NFT purchase, the newly-born copyright holder will have to contact a relevant collection society or a distributor. To recognize them as the rightful owner, the middlemen will require proof of ownership, i.e. an IP agreement with the autor(s) of the composition re-assigning appropriate copyrights.

Here’s how Canadian electronic music producer Jacques Greene who has auctioned the publishing rights to a new single via an NFT, describes the process of transferring the rights: LuckyMe holds the master, I still hold the artist/performer side, and now, Trevor McFedries owns the publishing. In the document that was transferred to him at the end of the auction, I retained permission rights, so the song can’t be used in a Raytheon or US military commercial tomorrow. It is up to the token holder to register as a publisher, and it’s not my job to chase down whoever owns this token. Once they’re registered, then they can get residuals on streams, and if it gets synced or used on a TV show or something like that, they will get the publishing cut.”


Okay, so I was emailed this PDF stating that I own some of the publishing copyright — but what can I do with it? How do I find the right collection society? Would I need to register my own publishing company to get paid? Be sure that those thoughts would be racing through the head of any music NFT investor.

The point is, NFT buyers have to understand how music licensing works and what they need to do to get set up and start collecting royalties. This creates a massive entry barrier for any potential music fan turned micro-investor. First, they will need to figure out the ins and outs of crypto-trading with its gas fees, minting, cold/warm/hot storage, and all that. Then, they’ll need to figure out how the music copyrights actually work.

The structure of the music rights, especially on the publishing side, can be confusing even for the seasoned music pros, let alone an average music fan. To make the system work, someone will have to educate the potential buyers on the intricacies of music licensing, or set up a separate process to validate NFT-mediated copyrights. So, for the foreseeable future collecting the actual royalties following an NFT purchase won’t be easily accessible to fans — as this Twitter thread clearly shows, the process of buying music copyright NFTs is anything but solid and tractionless.

A possible way forward can already be found in companies like Bluebox, aiming to make music rights accessible to fans by building a complete royalty chain from licensing to royalty allocation on top of an NFT marketplace. However, such an approach might also limit the NFT’s liquidity by restricting the market to a single platform, which can undermine the final value of the tokens themselves. 

At the end of the day, NFTs are just a tool — a tool that helps people transfer ownership of an asset and determine ownership agreements between different parties. The barriers that a potential token buyer will face when it comes to purchasing master or publishing rights are the same as any industry player would’ve faced. The challenges of NFT-powered copyright exchange are not about the underlying technology — instead, they are about how the systems of music rights management and royalty collection/distribution are set up across the board. 

Want to learn more? Check out Vanessa Magos’ live audio interview later today on NFTs, artist management and new tech for indie artists on Water & Music.

Written by Julie Knibbe, edited by Dmitry Pastukhov

TikTok Analytics: How engaging is your music on TikTok?

ElyOtto SugarCrash

Following up on our recent article about how music professionals read into artist engagement rates, we wanted to focus on TikTok and its particularities. The social app is now essential for many young artists to promote their music. However, measuring fan engagement and success for artists on TikTok – or any other UGC (user-generated content) platform – differs from other traditional social media platforms. We not only measure how fans engage with their favorite artists but also measure to what extent their music gets used in fan-produced videos.

Whether you are already a legend like Queen, or producing music in your bedroom like ElyOtto, your songs can become TikTok phenomena. To understand how engaging is your music on TikTok, you can look at two main metrics:

  • Total number of TikTok videos created featuring your music

This number will tell you how many users created videos with your sounds, therefore telling you how many people actively engaged with your music. It’s a number indicating your reach: the more the better. While megastar like Megan Thee Stallion or Drake quickly reached billions, TikTok’s global Top 50 highlights songs with video counts ranging from 200K to 5M.

  • Top Song Share 

Here’s how you calculate it:

Top Song Share = 

Number of videos created with your top song on TikTok / Total number of videos created with your music 

This share indicates whether you have a one hit wonder that got viral, or produce music that regularly engages users to create videos. There is nothing wrong with any of the two. This percentage will tell you in which category you tend to fall.

Top song share > 90%: One (viral) hit wonder

ElyOtto, 17, produces music in his bedroom in Canada. He has been posting it on SoundCloud for the last three years and more recently, he started sharing about his process on TikTok:

His hyperpop song Sugarcrash! became a trend this year in early January, counting over 5M videos created up to this date.

Sugarcrash! videos account for more than 95% of videos created on TikTok featuring ElyOtto’s music, therefore demonstrating how his top song outshines by far the rest of his catalog. There is plenty of time for him to build up on this trend and further his catalog.

Top song share < 60%: Established among creators

Imagine Dragons or The Weeknd are good examples of overall established artists, but also among TikTok creators. For example, the song “Believer” accounts for about 36% of the total 8.6M videos created using Imagine Dragons’ catalog. 

Emerging artist Flo Milli gets a total of 1.7M videos created featuring her music. Among those, her title “May I” has a count of 981K videos, establishing her top song share at 57%, an indicator that is promising regarding her ability to create music appealing to TikTok users.

However, getting music featured on videos doesn’t necessarily mean that your artist has an active audience on TikTok.

How engaging is your artist on TikTok? 

Is your artist a TikTok influencer? Definition of engagement rates vary from one analytics platform to another. Some will divide post engagements (likes+comments+shares) by followers, and others by video views. Both approaches make sense. If you do compare rates on several platforms, just be careful that you are looking at the same number.

Overall, TikTok fans are more engaged than on Instagram or Youtube. According to Hypeauditor, the average engagement rate (per video views) on TikTok in 2020 is 17.5%, a rate much higher than Instagram. Usually, engagement rates decrease as follower bases grow. On TikTok, it does happen but to a lesser extent: 

  • 1,000 to 5,000 followers – 21.10%
  • 5,000 to 20,000 followers – 18.40%
  • 20,000 to 100,000 followers – 15.64%
  • 100,000 to 500,000 followers – 15.53%
  • 500,000 to 1,000,000 followers – 17.02%
  • 1,000,000 to +∞ followers – 17.28%

Here, we’ll look at engagement rates per followers to compare them more easily with other platforms:

TikTok Engagement Rate = (Likes + Comments + Shares) / Followers * 100%

Megastar Megan Thee Stallion demonstrates a 20.9% TikTok engagement rate “despite” her 7.4M follower count, versus 5.5% on Instagram and 2.3% on Youtube. Emerging artist Flo Milli reaches 23.6%, versus 8.8% on Instagram and 13% on Youtube. The immersive video experience of TikTok is to factor in to explain such a difference with other platforms. 

Despite the hype around this platform, TikTok is not necessarily the one platform for your artist to get in touch with their fans. It all depends on the story your artist wants to tell and the type of social media content he or she feels at ease creating. Whether or not your artist is active on it, you should distribute your music there and pay attention to what is happening. Trending TikTok songs come from current stars as well as emerging artists and come quite often to a surprise!

How Jaycee’s #OneSongOneDream came true

Success story written by Julie Knibbe and Marie Cebrian

Jaycee is a very prolific DIY Australian musician. He recently finished his world record-breaking project #OneSongOneDream where from July 1st 2019 to January 1st 2020 he released a new song and music video every week for six months straight. Such commitment and growth got him under the TuneCore radar, which now actively supports his career. His work and authenticity paid off as he became a rising TikTok star (now close to 750K followers). He quickly reached more than 1M views on his latest hit “Who Are You“: “I need a beat where people can dance to it {…} And now I need your help to make it viral”

In this piece, we’ll dig more deeply into factors that contributed to his success story.

Consistency

The below graph from Soundcharts shows consistent growth across networks over the past year, demonstrating how his brand is getting established as his reputation grows:

His content is authentic, Jaycee makes his story very accessible. You can check out his “Lie to You” storytelling video. His community is growing as fast as he delivers content. He released 26 tracks, along with a video clip for each one of them in less than a year. He makes a case for a “test and learn approach”: rather than spending months refining the same track, he just releases the state of his work for a given week and see what resonates best with his audience, increasing his odds of success.

Authenticity

Focusing on Spotify, his fan base is growing consistently, with a few bumps following his songs being featured in editorial playlists (Local Hype and New Music Friday AU & NZ).

On TikTok, he shares his daily inspirations, successes, failures, pranks, challenges with his community with a lot of humour, and he is now reaching 760K followers. He recently shared how he had the idea of his latest single “Dehydrated” in the bathroom, and now pranks his friends by throwing water at them, challenging his community to do the same using his challenge hashtag #dehydratedprank.

Influencer support

Check out Jaycee’ Tiktok charts position in Australia:

Noticing his work, just as perceived momentum has its own multiplier effects, TikTok showcased him as one of their Australian success story. He becampe part of a recent Tiktok campaign called “It starts on TikTok”.

His TikTok success got him noticed and he now has several songs plugged on Nova radio (Australia). 

Those 3 factors, consistency, authenticity and promotional support put Jaycee on the spotlight. This first wave of community and then platform support is sparking even more interest, creating a virtuous circle for him. No doubt he’ll manage to catch even more attention later on during his career.

Don’t get lost in translation: How to interpret artists’ engagement rates

A guide by Marie Cebrian & Julie Knibbe

Whenever you share content on a platform, whether it’s music on a streaming service or a video in an Instagram story, your success will depend on how engaging your content is. The way people react towards what you present impacts your content strategy. So-called “Engagement metrics” are instrumental in measuring how well you are doing. In the music business, gathering an engaged community is critical, as content consumption directly impacts revenues on a national and global scale. 

It’s important to define what engagement metrics are about – it’s easy to get confused on the way! An engagement metric will always be defined as a percentage. Contrary to absolute follower numbers, they provide more insights regarding how your audience behaves. For example, among all listeners of a radio you get played on, how many of them shazamed your song? Was it 0.1%, 1%, 10%? The ratio tells you how much people want to learn more about your song.

For most digital marketing activities (social media, SEO, advertising, etc.), engagement means that users will go where you want them to go: listen to your new release, read an article, watch a live stream, buy a concert ticket, etc. While looking at your engagement metrics, how can you know if the number/percentage you see is good, “can-be-better”, or just bad?

Here are a few examples of engagement metrics you must be familiar with:

  • radio impressions / shazam
  • notable followers / total followers
  • likes and comments / post
  • listeners / followers 
  • playlist additions / new listeners

Building and growing an audience is a continuous life cycle. We represented it as a snail – as an artist, you start with a very engaged small community and develop your project step by step by reaching out to new outlets.  

But, no matter how many playlists or radio spins you get, you should look at the ratio between your exposure and the number of actual new streams or fans you get. If you don’t, you will likely spend time and advertising efforts on operations that don’t pay off as much as they should.
Every step of the way, you must care that your audience is engaged and that your engagement metrics are good. From the beginning, your very first followers/supporters should be reliable and support your project whatever it takes, and you should have a good understanding as to what your brand is to them. These people will make your project real and help you grow from a healthy standpoint.

Streams, Followers and Listeners

Let’s talk about the relationship between your number of streams, your total number of followers, and your number of listeners. These metrics can be volatile and they are interdependent – one variation affects the two others.

To illustrate the specific relationship between these three, we will take the example of the Spotify Fan Retention ratio:

Spotify Fan Retention = Spotify Followers / Spotify Monthly Listeners

In plain English, from all the people who listen to your music on Spotify, how many follow you?

We took Spotify as an example because you can easily find any artist’s Monthly Listeners in an open/non-private way. You can calculate your own by finding these two metrics in the section ‘About’ of your artist profile. 

This ratio is one of the most relevant metrics in terms of ROI. Did your digital promotion and editorial playlists work to get more fans and followers? From something ephemeral like getting a placement on a big editorial playlist, did you manage to convert listeners into followers who are interested in following your career?

The ratio can be under 100% or over 100%. There is no bad or good ratio; it depends on where your career currently stands. 

Case studies

Case 1 – the ratio is under 100% 

→ The number of listeners is over the number of followers. 

  • Established artist – Jorja Smith (19,53%)

Jorja Smith has about 2M followers and 10M listeners, which makes her current fan retention ratio around 20%. Her songs are featured in many large playlists, whose cumulative followers reach 50M.  Given her current activity, several releases and campaigns over the past few months, we can consider that 20% is a good and healthy ratio.

  • Emerging artist – Jaycee (63,45%)

Jaycee is a very prolific DIY Australian musician. He recently finished his world record-breaking project #OneSongOneDream where from July 1st 2019 to January 1st 2020 he released a new song and music video every week for six months straight. Such commitment and growth got him under the TuneCore radar, which now actively supports his career. Looking at the above graph, it’s interesting to observe whether increased exposure (more Spotify monthly listeners) translated into follower base growth, which is the case here. Over the past year, his ratio fluctuated between 25% during peak exposure times in April 2020 (which tends to make the ratio lower) and 100%. Compared to Jorja’s, it all makes sense.

Case 2 – the ratio is over 100%

→ The number of followers is over the number of listeners.

  • Superstar artist – Ed Sheeran (131,56%)

That is a particular case. Ed Sheeran broke many records and grew a very large community across all platforms. His follower base (76M followers on Spotify, 22% of the 345M total Spotify Monthly Active Users in Q4 2020) is now such that even with a lot of exposure, his followers would usually outnumber the number of monthly listeners. His ratio is likely to remain very high and frequently above 100%.

  • Emerging artist – Anissa Altmayer (150,47%)

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Anissa Altmayer is starting her career. She doesn’t have a lot of songs yet in her catalog (2 EPs over the past 3 years), which doesn’t help the monthly listeners KPI, but her fans are actively supporting her no matter how many songs she posts. In her case, followers outnumber her monthly listeners, which should be interpreted as a good engagement sign from her community. When she’ll grow and get more active and more exposure, her ratio will decrease and reflect that new reality. 

These four examples illustrate that an artist’s audience size is not necessarily correlated to the final ratio – it can be over or under 100%. 

In summary, here are a few factors to take into consideration when analyzing your engagement ratio:

  • your career stage: undiscovered, emerging, or established 
  • your status: active (tour, release, marketing campaigns…) or inactive (no current project or activity)
  • your catalog size: large (several albums, more than 100 songs) or limited (one EP, a few singles)

As you can guess from the above examples, your fan retention ratio will usually be under 100%, and be considered healthy anywhere between 10% and more, depending on your current exposure. 

To justify this statement, we’ve built a data set composed of various French artists. Here are the panel characteristics: 120 artists analyzed, among which 70 emerging artists and 50 established artists. Career status has been determined with Billboard’s standard classification: 

  • Established artist: has at least one chart position in Top 200, Top 100, Viral 50
  • Emerging artist: no chart position ever 

Artists were selected from two major playlists:

  • Hits du Moment by Spotify France – 50 songs – 1,716,617 followers 
  • Découvertes by Gil from Deezer – 70 songs – 85,407 followers

Results:

  • 97% of the panel is under 100% (only three artists are above: Anissa Altmayer, David Guetta, Uele Lamore)
  • 81,8% of the panel is under 50% 
  • Emerging artists have a median ratio of 7,99% whereas established artists have a median ratio of 18,86% 

Takeaways: 

  • It is crucial to know how active the artist is and how much exposure they get (release, tour, playlist addition…) – the lower median ratio for emerging artists can be explained by the “status” factor. They usually are releasing songs/albums to launch their careers. It simply means that they are completing the first part of the Audience Snail represented above. More content, more campaigns, more exposure.
  • Fan retention tends to be higher when established. There is a direct correlation between a high ratio for established artists and the size of their catalog (the more the better). 
  • Compare artists from the same market (here, in France) and at the same career stage.

What does it mean when your ratio is very low?

Some artists may have a very low ratio, sometimes under 1%. It means that their songs are streamed much more than they are followed, suggesting a lack of artist brand identification. That happens when an artist is pushed at an early stage of their career into big editorial playlists with thousands of followers. Most times, the songs are being heavily streamed before the artist has time to grow his community and so get an engaged community. This is the syndrome “I know this song but I don’t know who sings it”. 

Some notable examples, we’ve spotted recently: Olivia Rodrigo, Masked Wolf, or Issam Alnajjar.

This phenomenon is even more relevant with the User Generated Content era and the renowned ‘Challenges’ on Tiktok (pick a 15’ audio and dance on it), or with artists featured on specific moods playlists.

Issam Alnajjar is a young Jordanian singer who’s getting millions of streams thanks to his unique song ‘Hadal Ahbek’ – used in more than 3.3M videos on Tiktok. 

His song was added to Spotify’s biggest playlists: Pop Rising (2M followers), Global Viral 50 (1.7M followers), Viral Hits (1.5M)… However, he only has 156k followers on his Instagram account. 
In that case, you need to work on building a relationship with your fans. In Amber Horsburgh’s words, from her guide about practical ways to build a band’s brand, “you’re building a thing that’s bigger than you and can be remembered beyond a Spotify playlist add”.

Engagement metrics are meant to be compared

You should explore the market in which your artist is developing. Thanks to music data analytics platforms, you can easily access analytics from other artists. In this piece, data is coming from Soundcharts and Chartmetric

Benchmarks can be also very useful to put the ratio you are studying into perspective. Several solutions were built to back your benchmark when comparing artist growth with similar audiences. Here are two relevant tools:

  • Next Big Sound Audience Engagement gauge

Next Big Sound is generating weekly analysis gathering the artist audience on Twitter and Pandora. The gauge is gathering comparable audiences and pinpoints the artist’s position depending on comparable artists’ activity.

  • Soundcharts Compare Artists tool

In a nutshell

Understanding your audience is critical when building a sustainable development strategy for your artist. Engagement metrics depend on many factors that can nuance your interpretation. It’s not all about streams or followers (at least, not only!). Career stage, status, the market, all these factors influence ratios that have to be interpreted in a specific context. 

However, a few things always remain the same: Healthy career development stems from working on your brand and building a strong core community. 

More reading around the topic:

3 Music Data Resolutions for the New Year

Happy new year everyone! Let’s start 2021 by sharing what we would like to see this year in the music & data world. Here are our goals:

  1. Develop data literacy
  2. Tell more data stories about emerging artists
  3. As an industry, be more mindful about how we use technology.

Wish #1 – Develop data literacy and critical thinking skills

In Cherie Hu’s words, “as much of the music industry remains online, data literacy has become more important than ever across all sectors”. Managers and marketers have plenty of information to analyze, and it’s sometimes difficult to extract the right insights from the abundance of available data. Now that I’m almost done writing our series about how music professionals use data – check it out on Cherie Hu’s Water & Music publication – I’d like to help professionals develop their critical thinking skills.

Here’s an example: Correlation doesn’t mean causality.

While the left example is fairly obvious: we all intuitively know that ice cream sales don’t increase murder rates (- hopefully). We wouldn’t jump to that conclusion even if someone was showing us data backing up that story. We would keep looking for another factor. Sometimes, it’s not that obvious: while Instagram growth is often paired with listeners growth on streaming platforms, it may not be the full story.

Wish #2 – Tell more data stories about emerging artists

There are a lot of success stories written in traditional media about artists hitting the billionaires club on Youtube or breaking charts records. These metrics are impressive and artists and their teams should indeed be praised for such achievements.

However, becoming a TikTok star or getting high volumes of views or streams matters, but it is not the only end-game. I discussed that topic in previous pieces focused on A&R and talent scouting, definitions of success vary widely from one case to another. Among the 25M music creators, about 43,000 artists account for the top 90% of streams in the world on Spotify (therefore belonging to the top-revenue generating artists on the platform). Not all of them are Youtube billionaires, and I’d like to see more coverage about non-billionaires and their strategies to achieve success. 

It’s not just the hits industry versus the long tail, there is a whole world in between.

Wish #3 – Be mindful about how we consume technology 

My last wish is for us to be more mindful about how we use technology, both as consumers and as music industry professionals.

Discussions about the environmental footprint of the music industry should focus as much on waste produced during music festivals and concerts, as on the digital carbon footprint. Technologies are great but they’re not neutral, even when they’re labelled renewable or green. 

On the consumer side, the dematerialization of music consumption has resulted in significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music. Audio and video streaming are the biggest drivers of data consumption growth, and they are expected to account for more than 80% of Internet data traffic in 2021, according to Cisco. Streaming music videos from Youtube without watching them is an example of digital waste we could easily avoid by streaming audio only. 

On the business side, we can be mindful about when carbon-intensive technologies like HD-video streaming, VR or AI are relevant or not to solve our business problems. There are many discussions about whether tech efficiency gains can offset the carbon impact of online services’ rising demand. The answer is “it depends”, but it’s not very likely that efficiency gains will be enough to keep up with an exponentially rising demand. Here are the 2 best reads I could find about the topic: 

Data Cheat Sheet: A summary of data ownership in the live events industry

Guide by Julie Knibbe & Marie Cebrian

Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP

A study from PwC forecast that the live music industry would be worth $31 billion worldwide by 2022 if it weren’t for the pandemic. In the U.S., the live sector alone accounted for 48% of total music-industry revenues in 2019, outpacing the recorded-music sector. Long story short, the live sector is an industry within the music industry. 

I recently wrote a piece for Cherie Hu’s Water & Music publication, How the touring industry will use data in 2021 — even in a pandemic, providing guidance about how professionals use data in the live sector. During the research phase, I realized how data flows in this sector were even more complex than I thought. Ticketing platforms, promoters, venues, festivals, agents, bookers, and artist managers all collect and use data. On top of that, hybrid virtual events, live streaming and privacy regulations are now reshaping relationships between them: who owns what? Who needs access to what data? I even got lost at some point 🙂 That’s why I summed it all up in a Data Cheat Sheet to help you navigate this live universe within the music industry. 

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, Marie and I designed an illustrated version as well to describe data relationships between players of the live sector. As lines get blurrier between them and the recording industry, it’s a good time to review our basics to understand this ever-changing landscape.

How to read this chart

Ticket sales sit at the very center of this chart. It’s a goal and KPI shared by any player involved in the sector. All parties must define:

  • their own strategies to achieve ticket sales (outlined colored circles) 
  • data they own (colored circles)
  • external KPIs they need to get their job done effectively (outer circles)

Thanks to all the ground work done in the industry, data is now accessible and made actionable by several data tools that I will mention below. For more details regarding how to use these KPIs and tools, read the full guide on Water & Music.

Ticket sales

Incumbent ticketing platforms provide not only primary KPIs about sales, such as:

  • Tickets sold, 
  • Capacity percentage, 
  • Seating chart, 
  • Gross revenue,
  • Time of purchase,
  • Buyers personal information,
  • sometimes ticket transfers. 

but also secondary KPIs regarding the event marketing (see below) 

Tools: Eventbrite, Ticketmaster, Seated,…

Event marketing

Ticketing platforms like Eventbrite and Ticketmaster enable promoters to add pixels to track where sales come from, so that marketers can optimize their digital advertising investments according to which channel shows the best conversion rates. 

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the event promotion structure. It gave more power to artists and labels, who often act as the promoter as well, through live streaming events. Data collected from virtual events can provide significant leverage when physical shows will happen again (email, D2F stores, advertising…).

KPIs include: 

  • Pre-sale registrations,
  • Ad campaigns performance,
  • Sales channels, 
  • Sales channels conversion rates.

Tools: Audience Republic, Audiencetools, Arenametrix, ….

Touring history

Cherie Hu wrote about this in how booking agents use (and don’t use) data (highly recommended reading). In her words an artist’s touring history is “by far the most crucial kind of data that agents reference in their day-to-day decision-making. 

However, depending on the granularity you require, you may find out that complete touring history (ticket sales, time of sales, sales channels, attendance, fan contacts, artist contracts, fan behavior during the event, …)  is dispatched between at least three players.

For example, while managers and agents “know about tours months in advance of them ever going on sale …  promoters are often the last ones in that chain owing, in the most part, to the bidding processes, despite being the folks with the biggest job to do” said Sammy Andrews, Digital Marketer, in Music Week

Tools: Pollstar, Bandsintown, Songkick, …

Fan behavior during the event

Data collection during live events primarily serves several purposes:

  • Making sure that logistics and operations are running smoothly, and that the event is profitable,
  • Learning more about fan behavior during the show to optimize future shows and to develop targeted marketing campaigns after the show,
  • Complying with sanitary regulations with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.

KPIs include: 

  • Attendance
  • Time of entry
  • With whom the fan attended
  • Contact tracing (COVID)
  • Seating plan
  • Purchases
  • Merch purchases
  • Time of purchases

Tools: TicketMaster SmartEvent, Aloompa, Appmiral, atVenu, …

Artist fandom and local footprint

Gauging and anticipating demand for shows remains a challenge. Understanding where fans are and what makes them willing to see a show can go a long way to anticipate and build demand.

KPIs include:

  • Facebook, Instagram fans per city
  • DSP Streams & listeners per city
  • Local airplay

but also secondary KPIs such as:

  • Bandsintown trackers
  • Local charts
  • Local playlists

A side note about live streaming: the meaning of ‘local’ marketing takes a different shape online: In Diana Gremore’s words, Business Intelligence Analyst at Paradigm Talent Agency, “instead of events being geographically local, they are local to online communities.”

Tools: Social networks analytics, Soundcharts, Chartmetric, Google Trends, ..

About data sharing and ownerships

In the chart, arrows represent data that is potentially shared. Data that is actually being shared depends on the promoter’s relationship and contract with the ticketing company, and on the artist management / agent relationship and contract with the promoter.

It is imperative that data collection be organized carefully, as exchanging data between third parties is under GDPR/CIAA regulations to protect privacy. Artists and their teams need to make sure that they have the right to use the data collected in the contracts they form with their partners, at least for their own marketing purposes. Partners also need to make sure they comply with data protection laws, so that the artist can be legally granted access that they need.

The Music Managers Forum (MMF) published a Fan Data Guide, which is a great support to understand where fan data flows from ticket sales to event attendance. They also built a data checklist to highlight items you should be aware of when dealing with promoters as an artist or a manager.