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.
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.
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.
Let’s dive deeper into top genres by regions:
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.
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.
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:
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:
Or, if we visualize the frequencies on the graph:
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.
Straight away, we can detect at least three distinct groups of keywords that are more common on Instagram Stories charts vs Spotify charts:
Nature & Weather, characterized by keywords like “sunshine”, “ocean”, “island”, and “summer”
Life Occurrences, characterized by keywords like “birthday”, “work”, “ride” and “party”
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:
People sharing shots of nature: sunsets, sunny weather, seascapes, etc (Nature & Weather)
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:
What is your target platform?
What is going to make up the social zeitgeist when the song comes out?
How will that social context affect the search intent on your target platform?
How will people express their search intent in keywords?
How can those keywords be seamlessly integrated into the song’s title?
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:
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!