Hello, hello! Welcome to Penny Fractions, a newsletter about music streaming and the ever-changing world of music technology. Okay, well I don’t actually cover that much in terms of emerging music technology, but perhaps someday. If you’re new to the newsletter, please feel free to check out previous issues here, support it via Patreon, and otherwise... let’s read some industry reports!
Older readers may remember that I used to do way more stuff back in 2017 and early 2018 that looked at charts and on-platform trends, so I guess this is a bit of a throwback. Before I give my thoughts on the Chartmetric and International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reports, I kind of want to state what should be obvious. These reports are advertisements for their respective businesses and therefore any “insights” gathered from the reports should be considered within that context. Thus, my criticism below about some of the information provided is centered less on the work put into data collection but rather on the narrative that these companies sell in order to get more buyers for its products. Now let’s get into these reports.
What’s a bit frustrating about Chartmetric’s report is its limited scope. I’ll shill for a second to say that if you’re a statistics-obsessed music professional, you should check out Chartmetric as it’s the best place to dive into playlist metrics and be able to gauge the popularity of songs across several platforms. However, Chartmetric’s “Global Music Industry Data Report” falls a bit short of the perhaps-too-high of a bar I set for the company.
The first few pages look at the most popular artists based on Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, and YouTube followers, which is fine but is rather bland information that I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to glean from it without having values to compare this metric to. Even the month-over-month increases found on Socialblade would’ve been slightly more informative. Thus, I preferred seeing the percent change in YouTube channel popularity, which recently showed the rise of a number of Latin American artists like Dalex, Cynthia Luz, and Myke Towers.
(I wrote an entire newsletter about why I loathe Spotify’s Monthly Listeners metric so I won’t rehash that dispute but that metric is used in this report to my chagrin.)
The “Platform-Playlist Analysis” section reviews the most followed playlists across streaming platforms and provides some high-level information about what is and isn’t popular on them. (A quick note that Charmetric uses display ranking as a substitute for popularity, which is okay but those rankings do indicate how the ranking is being conducted just for context.) The fact that, for instance, Amazon features more country music while Spotify features more rap, is pretty much in line with recent years of reporting that has drilled down into the genre specialization that’s happening across the platforms. The Charmetric report notes that Deezer offers by far the most diversity in terms of the nationalities of artists represented across playlists, which caught my attention within the context of how much streaming is dominated by mostly American companies. There is a rather deeply ingrained tendency to promote American artists and music on these playlists, which only reinforces particular genres into markets that on other platforms allow for more regionally specific music. That much of this can be attributed to the influence of major labels on playlists is a point I’ll be repeated across this analysis.
The last section of the report is the “Strategic Business Insights” section builds upon Chartmetric’s informative blog posts. There is a great slide showing that there’s a rather wide gender gap between playlists across all countries and genres, with rap showing the largest gap. However, I’d like to not solely point the finger at streaming platforms, when ultimately they’re just middlemen for major labels that are signing and choosing which artists to promote. I hope that future reports by Chartmetric lean more on this kind of information because it really drives home what’s so unique about the company—far more than telling me that Taylor Swift has a lot of followers.
IFPI’s Report Into Music Enjoyment or Something Like That
The IFPI is a London-based non-profit whose aim is to represent the interests of the recording industry. This is fairly key in understanding the particular lens that the organization puts on certain pieces of information. In fact, let me just highlight a specific quote from the introduction of the IFPI’s 2019 report (emphasis mine): “IFPI’s Music Listening 2019 paints a vibrant picture of a world enjoying the widespread availability of rich and varied music. Record companies work every day to make this happen.”
Just in case the IFPI’s primary audience wasn’t obvious...
The first statistic that jumped at me was that adults aged 35-64 saw a 9% increase in year-over-year music consumption via streaming compared to younger adults, where streaming grew closer to 6%. It certainly makes sense that younger people are already streaming more music than older generations but a notable takeaway here is that streaming is moving into new age brackets. This is something that even I’ve noticed all year when looking at streaming charts, especially at Apple Music ones, as all of a sudden pop, rock, and country began breaking into Top 50 albums and singles charts. The dominance of rap, which I often thought was overblown, is starting to make way for other genres.
(To be snarky for a second, a small graphic on page 4 posits: “The main reasons for enjoying audio streaming” and the three reasons provided are essentially variations on the same phrase. “Instant access to millions of songs” (62%); “Listen to what I want when I want” (61%); “It’s the most convenient way to listen to music” (47%). A lot of insights to be gleaned here.)
These next two points are kind of obvious, but I appreciate seeing numbers back them up: Kids love rap, and people love radio. What IFPI’s report clarifies is that while there are many regionally specific genres that perform well on streaming platforms, rap is still massively popular across the globe. In particular, the report states that users aged 16-24 are four times more likely to select rap as their favorite genre than other age groups. I said earlier that rap feels like it’s losing a grip on streaming charts but that says more about who’s entering the streaming market than about the genre losing its appeal to younger listeners. Another statistic mentioned in the report is that people, particularly Europeans, still enjoy listening to the radio, and apparently, 51% of those people access it on their smartphone, which captures my phone usage pretty well.
Often I’ll argue, yes I do do this, that the idea of playlists replacing radio is bullshit. A key factor is that one medium’s rise does not replace another medium in a one-to-one manner. Television didn’t replace radio; it simply added another way for one to spend his or her time; recordings didn’t destroy live concerts; etc. This balance can be lopsided and an entertainment form may dip in popularity but crediting it to a single factor always feels more like storytelling than actual fact. Thus, when I see that radio is getting 5.4 hours of play per week globally, it indicates to me that music listening will continue to fragment, not concentrate, as there are more, not fewer, options to consume music. Now there might be few corporate owners of music but that’s a different conversation.
My last note is one that I made last week about the IFPI’s weird obsession with piracy, which according to its recent report is on the decline. The way this information is framed in the report would appear to scare record executives into spending more money on fighting piracy, which we know always goes well. Still, even if these reports are billboards for their organizations, between the ideological weeds, there is some fairly useful information about the current state of the music streaming business.
It’s hard for me to imagine enjoying a headline more than this: “Musicians Hold Noisy Protest Outside Disney Co-Chair Alan Bergman’s Home”. The American Federation of Musicians is currently in contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over residual payments from online streaming platform, so obviously full support to these workers in their fight. Also, speaking of full support Kickstart workers as management still refuses to recognize their union, shame!
6 Links 2 Read
Audius is so obviously full of bullshit my only reason to post this story is that the Verge does a nice job of breaking down all the ways this company is BS. If only the tech press held all companies to such scrutiny but then how would outlets get those lovely exclusives.
This is a little old but I wrote about this being a potential trend months ago, so I’m truly including this to say: I told you so.
The headline and framing of this piece feel fairly ahistorical to me, in that the record industry understands the internet very well, as a medium to make a profit and users be it artists, fans, or blogger still don’t understand their conceptualization of the “internet” isn’t the material reality for 2019. Anyway, this is mostly about copyright takedown and how they highly favor major labels, which is what I was trying to say the last couple of weeks of newsletters.
Bloomberg reported earlier this year that YouTube Music holds 15 million subscribers, which could be better, could be worse. Personally, I think it’s pretty decent considering most of them are built on top of Google Play Music and a few are leftover from YouTube Red. Either way, it appears those streams' payout roughly equal to Spotify, which isn’t enough for a musician’s living wage but is better than advertising-supported streams.
The Strange Evolution of Viral Music Stardom - Pitchfork
I love all the stories that follow-up with artists who go viral and see how they are building up their careers post-virality, so I couldn’t recommend reading this enough. Though I’ll quote Doja Cat who gives one of the best quotes about music as labor, post-fame: “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on artists to be 100-percent organic all the time...but sometimes you have to pay your fucking bills.”
I would like to see much, much, larger changes to the entire structure of how certain parts of the music industry work but the glacial pace that certain parts move are a real damper on those visions. Though, I’ll remain an optimist.