A Newsletter about Big Ideas in Music and Technology, by Cherie Hu
This is issue #64, published on September 26, 2019
Happy belated One-Hit Wonder Day!

Today's essay is filled with lots of interesting data-driven trends and, as usual, is a bit long, so I won't hold you for much longer with this intro. The only thing to mention before jumping in is to follow Water & Music on Instagram at @water_and_music if you haven't already, and if Instagram is your social media of choice. Will be posting more often there in the coming weeks :)

Thanks so much for reading and supporting!

- Cherie
Exclusive: Chartmetric's inaugural six-month data report reveals hidden music trends beyond streaming

The lowdown:
  • Chartmetric’s first six-month data report sheds light on the kinds of perspectives that we’re still missing by relying on incumbent charts like the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Focusing on overall online footprints and growth over sales and absolute numbers can unveil much more interesting narratives around where our industry is headed, and what exactly differentiates streaming and social media platforms from each other.
  • The top editorial playlists on the top streaming services haven’t caught up to the music industry’s rapid globalization, with the U.S. still claiming majority market share of those channels.
  • You can click here to access the report.
As part of the first-ever Water & Music exclusive, I’m excited to share the latest findings from Chartmetric's inaugural six-month (6MO) data report for the music industry, which is chock-full of interesting streaming and social-media trends that have not previously been quantified or articulated before.

If you want to dive straight into the data yourself, Chartmetric has offered early access to the report especially for Water & Music readers; you can download a PDF version of the report by clicking here.

In case you aren’t already familiar: Chartmetric is an independent startup building in-depth data-analytics tools for the music industry. The company is quite lean — employing only ten full-time staff today, after four years of operation to date — and has largely stayed behind the scenes with respect to external press. But that doesn’t mean they’re not well-known: virtually every major music company (across record labels, management firms, streaming services, concert promoters etc.) uses their platform, alongside an even greater number of independent artists and their teams. They also run an excellent, data-driven music blog, with notable posts including “The Rise of the Contextual Playlist” and the series on “Trigger Cities” for breaking new acts internationally.

With their inaugural 6MO report, which analyzes streaming and social data from H1 2019 (January 1 to June 30), Chartmetric aims to offer publicly-available trend analysis for the music industry in line with existing reports from the likes of the IFPI and RIAA. For the purposes of this newsletter, we’ll be focusing on the first two sections of the report: the Semi-Annual Awards, which ranks the top 10 artists by overall reach and follower gain across multiple streaming and social platforms, and Platform-Playlist Analysis, which visualizes market share of the top 30 playlists on Amazon, Apple Music, Deezer and Spotify by genre and geographic region.

Now, you might be thinking… Why do we need yet another industry report? Why do we need even more charts to overwhelm us?

I totally feel you — so let’s step back and discuss some much-needed context.

We live in a super interesting, and indeed overwhelming, time when everyone seems to be going crazy about charts again. For instance, in an attempt to compete with Billboard on credibility and tastemaking, Rolling Stone launched their first-ever charts in July 2019, using the data-crunching capabilities of Alpha Data (f.k.a. BuzzAngle Music, which has received an investment from Rolling Stone’s parent company Penske Media Corporation). Individual streaming platforms are racing to publish their own region-specific rankings — the most recent example being YouTube’s India-specific music charts, which just launched last week.

Also this month, Billboard surprised many in the industry by putting every single one of its charts (except the Hot 100, 200 and Artist 100), and the vast majority of its business articles (including my own), behind a paywall. (Upon further research, I learned that the Billboard charts have actually been paywalled for the majority of their existence, and it was only from 2009 to this month in 2019 that the charts were free.) One underlying argument behind this decision to paywall business-related content is that charts aren’t just useless vanity metrics; they also provide valuable market intelligence that, in a world where “data is the new oil,” should be paid for.
In this landscape, my first, honest reaction to Chartmetric’s new 6MO report was: “Oh, OK, this is just another bunch of charts to add to the noise.” But then I realized there were a few key differences that made Chartmetric’s report worth a deeper read.

Firstly, the charts from Billboard and Rolling Stone prioritize sales and commercial streams — to the point where both of their formulas give more weight to paid streams than to ad-supported ones, inherently prioritizing the listenership that can afford a monthly streaming subscription. In contrast, because they’re working with publicly-available data, Chartmetric is revenue-agnostic, and is more interested in an artist’s online footprint overall (e.g. through the Cross-Platform Performance metric) than in mere transaction volume.

Secondly, you’ll notice that the vast majority of the charts in Chartmetric’s report focus on growth, rather than on absolute numbers. Rolling Stone does have a Trending 25 chart that tracks streaming growth on a weekly basis, while Billboard has its aggregate Social 50. But to my knowledge, there’s historically been no publicly-available chart for, say, the fastest-growing music accounts on Instagram and Twitter — both of which are included in Chartmetric’s writeup, and are important to know for any industry professional who cares about social media.

Growth provides a different, and in some cases more relevant, kind of market intelligence. “From the beginning, we’ve been obsessed with trends, not with snapshots,” Sung Cho, Founder/CEO of Chartmetric, tells me. “That’s why we designed our charts this way, such that even much smaller artists deserve a spot if they’re growing quickly enough.”

Before I dive into the most interesting trends from Chartmetric’s report, it’s important to point out some of its key limitations, just for your knowledge as you peruse the findings yourself:
  • The pie charts for artist genre/region/country market share (pp. 13–20) are measuring market share of placements on the top 30 playlists of each service, NOT market share of streams. Furthermore, the percentages are not rank-weighted — i.e. a track placed at No. 1 on a given playlist is treated the same as one placed at No. 70. Hence these specific charts are a good representation of editorial distribution, but NOT of commercial success of a given genre.
  • Each social-media follower-gain chart in the report is working off its own minimum threshold. For instance, the Twitter charts considered only those accounts with over one million followers as of January 1, 2019; the Instagram charts looked at those with more than 100,000 followers; and the Spotify monthly listener charts also had one million listeners as their minimum. While this might serve as an effective filter from an A&R standpoint, it does limit the dataset to acts who have already achieved a certain level of popularity in the first place.
  • I noticed there were no Indian artists on YouTube’s follower-gain chart — a strange occurrence to me, given that India is one of YouTube’s fastest-growing markets. The Chartmetric team tells me that because YouTube didn’t launch its India-specific music charts until this month, there were no Indian artists at all during H1 2019 on, the URL from where Chartmetric gets its YouTube data.
Alright, with that in mind, let’s dive in…
Despite the music industry becoming more global, the U.S. still controls the top playlists on major streaming platforms — especially on Amazon Music...

Having just come back from India, and having learned and thought a lot about how quickly international markets were growing and gaining influence, I was kind of disappointed by this specific finding.

In the sidebar on page 19 of their report, Chartmetric points out genre-specific differences among Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer and Spotify. For instance, Amazon Music is the only service out of those four with Country in its top five genres on its top playlists; for Apple Music, that differentiator is R&B, Funk & Soul; for Deezer, it’s Latin & Caribbean; and for Spotify, it’s Folk, Traditional & World.

But while these genre specialties are solidifying, that doesn’t necessarily mean playlist representation is becoming more equitable on a geographic level. In H1 2019, artists from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. accounted for 66% of tracks on the top 30 playlists on Spotify, and for 62.5% of the tracks on the top playlists on Apple Music. For Amazon Music, artists from the U.S. and Canada alone took up over 73% of top playlist real estate.
Share of placement by geographic region for the top 30 playlists on Amazon Music. (Source: Chartmetric)
In the case of Amazon Music, that might be due to the disproportionate popularity of country and rock music on the service. I had heard anecdotally in the past about country music doing better on Amazon Music compared to other services, so it was good to see some concrete numbers on that front in this report: together, country and rock account for nearly 25% of song placements on Amazon Music’s top 30 playlists, a higher percentage than that of any rival service.

Deezer is a major exception: only 48.5% of tracks on the service’s top playlists are from the U.S., Canada and the U.K., while another 30% of tracks are from South American and Caribbean artists. This reinforces the company’s recent push into supporting artists from those latter regions — e.g. their Spanish-language Deezer Originals channel, and the announcement of their first Latin priority act Manuel Turizo.

While Deezer still lags behind competitors in terms of user numbers, the above implies that the service might have the widest diversity of content in its top editorial real estate. As written in the Chartmetric report, its top playlists “appear to maintain the strongest sense of global equity, offering international artists a better shot at breaking big on the platform” (p. 18).

Largely because most of Chartmetric’s customers are from Western markets (particularly cities like New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, London and Amsterdam, the team tells me), the majority of the most-followed artists on Chartmetric’s platform (listed on pp. 9–10) are also from the U.S., and over half of the most-followed playlists on Chartmetric are owned and operated by Spotify. While an indication of some kind of geographic skew, it might also be a function of Spotify just giving out more data to the music industry than any other streaming service, which allows people to make more informed decisions on the platform. “People are following playlists like RapCaviar because of better predictability,” says Cho. “If things look more predictable, people tend to track them more.”
... but social-media growth is a completely different story, and is much more globally equitable.

Unsurprisingly, Chartmetric's chart for the artists with the best Cross-Platform Performance (p. 4) looks a lot like your typical Billboard Hot 100 chart. In fact, with the exception of Rihanna and Avicii, every artist in the CPP top 10 is also currently on this week’s Hot 100.

But if you take out audio streaming platforms and focus only on individual social platforms, and only on growth, the picture starts to look much different — perhaps even unrecognizable.

U.S. artists account only for four of the top 10 fastest-growing music accounts on Instagram, for three such accounts on Twitter and for just two for YouTube. In fact, none of the top-10 CPP artists made it onto any of the growth-focused social charts; while they might be the “biggest” artists in some capacity, they’re not on the fastest-moving bus.

Ample ink has already been spilled about how YouTube’s sprawling global audience has enabled non-English-speaking artists to reign among the platform’s top ranks. YouTube itself reported that over half of the 100 most-viewed music videos of 2018 were from Latin genres specifically, and that eight of the top ten most-viewed music videos of that year featured Latin artists. This trend was confirmed in Chartmetric’s report, which reveals that the six fastest-growing YouTube channels in H1 2019 by number of views are all from Spanish-speaking artists — specifically from Puerto Rico (Dalex, Myke Towers and Lunay), Brazil (Cynthia Luz and MC Leléto) and Spain (Don Patricio).

(An amusing side note: Chartmetric’s Jason Joven tells me that he initially looked at absolute channel views rather than gains for H1 2019 on YouTube, and there were two unexpected top contenders for the former: Pinkfong [the channel behind “Baby Shark”] and WWE [which does have a pretty popular Spotify account].)

The follower-gain charts for Instagram, Twitter and Spotify also feature many artists whom I’d never heard of before, and who might surprise you as well: In short, growth usually tells a much more interesting, and arguably more democratic, story than merely absolute views or streams, while illuminating the distinct quirks of various platforms (e.g. I can’t really imagine a preacher outpacing popular musicians on any platform other than Instagram). In addition, only two artists show up more than once across all the growth charts in Chartmetric’s report — Blueface is a top-10 artist for growth on both Spotify and Instagram, Lunay for both Spotify and YouTube — suggesting that unmatched growth on multiple platforms simultaneously is incredibly difficult to achieve.

The gap in global representation between streaming and social-media platforms is also likely due to a major difference in those platforms’ overall reach. For instance, Instagram has over a billion users, whereas Spotify has only around one-fifth of that amount, according to the latter’s Q2 2019 earnings report. What's more, many of the markets that are current growth priorities for Spotify are also ones that have stubbornly low conversions from free to paid accounts on streaming. This further widening the distance that often already exists between an artist's social-media popularity and the royalties they generate from their music — which, again, goes to the importance of looking beyond only sales-oriented charts.

I invite you to look through the rest of Chartmetric's report, and would love to hear from you if you come across any other interesting findings (or limitations). As for Chartmetric at large, one priority for the company has been not just pulling in more data sources, but also processing and displaying that data in new ways, addressing questions the industry has already been asking itself for years without answers. Examples of such features that were recently launched include the Playlist Analyzer (e.g. if your track lands on the Spotify playlist “Dance Rising,” what’s the likelihood that it’ll also land on “mint”?) and cities by market coverage (e.g. even if Mexico City is your No. 1 city on Spotify, what proportion of the city’s listeners are you actually reaching, and does it matter?).

“The way labels are promoting their artists isn’t just revolving around sales or chart ranking anymore,” says Cho. “These days, it’s more about growth trajectory and editorial support, and it’s much more diverse and colorful. While it may seem like it makes people’s lives more difficult, at the same time I like it because it gives more chances to more artists to stand out. Collectively, people are making better decisions, which eventually benefits the audience. That’s always the ultimate goal for everyone.”   🌊
✨ If you’d like to support even more thoughts and conversations on music and tech, I encourage you to become a paying member of the Water & Music ecosystem on Patreon. For as little as $3/month or as much as $40+/month, you can access a wide range of perks including:
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You'll also be supporting the expansion of the Water & Music team as it continues to grow in the coming year. Thanks so much for reading! ✨
My writing elsewhere

I wrote my first analysis in a while for Music Business Worldwide about how entertainment is getting even shorter and even longer, leaving little opportunity for the "purgatory" in the middle with respect to growth and innovation.

After a solid 19 months, I finally published Part 2 of my "Artist as Technology" series on Medium, which dives into the opportunities and challenges in applying tech startup frameworks to musicians' careers. Part 1 focused on the tech adoption lifecycle (adapted for music as the "artist adoption lifecycle"), while Part 2 dives into the "Whole Product" model for marketing, which IMO can be a useful framework for artists who are looking to expand from niche to mainstream audiences.

Something new that I'm doing on Patreon, as part of my upcoming book, is publishing an "Artist-as-Startup Weekly" — a weekly dispatch of interesting news, resources and opinions about the world of artists who treat themselves like startups. The updates will be available for $15/month subscribers, and you can access the first edition here, which features the likes of Brent Faiyaz, Lady Gaga and Madame Gandhi.

What I’m listening to

I watched Rihanna's Savage X Fenty Show on Amazon Prime Video last week; not only was I blown away by the production and delighted by the diversity onstage, but I also now have Halsey's "Graveyard" stuck in my head and I don't know when it's going to get out.

If you're into bedroom pop/soul, Monsune's deput EP Tradition is a groovy must-listen. Rooting for him in part because he's Chinese-Canadian!

And of course, Demi Adejuyigbe's annual celebration of the 21st of September was absolutely riveting.


A tweet of mine this week asking how to fight feeling jaded about the music business unexpectedly received an outpour of really thoughtful and inspiring responses. If anything, it showed to me that many people in music go through the same emotional ups-and-downs but don't always know it, or don't always feel like they're in the right environment to share it.

In case you're ever felt jaded before, or are on the verge of it, I encourage you to look through the thread and maybe provide your own input as well, because it might just reach the eyes of a stranger in need. In this context, a rising tide certainly lifts all boats. :))))

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