Don’t Split the Streams! — Part 2 — When do artists get “stream counts”

A look at music marketing campaigns — including song exclusivity to specific music streaming platforms, and how music metadata fields are handled by such platforms can make stream counts vary wildly

Thanks for reading Don’t Split the Streams! — Part 2 — When do artists get “stream counts”

The first post in this series dealt with why independent artists may want to consider choosing one, or two music retailers as the exclusive site to sell their music (file downloads).

In this second post of the series, I cover the following topics regarding independent music artists and major streaming platforms

  • Why Spotify Wrapped for Artists Year End streaming stats are important and what data points Spotify offers
  • How to find Apple Music for Artists Year End streaming stats
  • The three types of “artist” metadata fields on an album or song — “main artist”, “featured artist” and “remix artist” and what they mean
  • How Spotify and Apple Music handle stream counts differently for “remix artists”
  • How the stream counts of “featured artists” are ignored by Apple Music and Spotify
  • Why “artist” metadata fields are NOT the same thing as “song credits”
  • Don’t Split the Streams — Why artists could consider pushing listeners to use to Spotify to maximize Spotify Wrapped for Artists annual year end streaming results
  • The pros and cons of skipping “featured artist” and “remix artist” metadata fields and always listing artists as “main artists” on collaborations, with the goal of improving overall stream counts

Spotify for Artists is the only artist analytic suite offering year in review stats — what do musical artists get?

Remember back in December 2019 (and for the past few years), Spotify and their artist marketing platform, Spotify for Artists, presented music artists who use the platform the opportunity to review their year end analytics in depth. It’s called Wrapped 2019 for Artists. It’s a slick, beautifully graphic designed and semi-interactive 8 page slide show breaking down things about musicians’ Spotify stats for the year. Including things like:

  • Most streamed songs for the year (released by the artist), and what day of the year these songs had their greatest streaming peak
  • The specific day and hour of the year an artist had the most # of Spotify users streaming the artist’s music
  • The % increase of followers an artist gained year over year (** note: Spotify moved and de-emphasized the artist “follow” button on artists’ pages within the Spotify mobile app in 2019; the follow button remains in the same position within the desktop app)
  • Year over year % increase of an artists’ overall streams, total listeners, and brand new listeners
  • The specific country / nation in the world where an artist had the biggest increase in audience size year over year

On the eight slide of the Wrapped 2019 presentation, artists are presented with a summary stats graphic they can distribute anywhere they like. When the Wrapped 2019 offering appeared for artists in December, you saw many musicians share their stats on social / digital channels like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The numbers looked good for so many artists, and they often posted the stats to thank their fans.

There were of course some musicians who made jokes about the stats via altering the numbers. Like so:

Artist YOOKiE altered their stats on the shareable graphic that Spotify for Artists provides for the Wrapped 2019 program. YOOKie isn’t doing this bad! He has several songs with Spotify with over 1 million streams a piece, and has 250,000 monthly listeners currently on the platform

As some readers of this music marketing series already know, I produce music with a 6 person production team known as Funk Style Quality aka FSQ. We use Spotify for Artists and participate in this Wrapped year end stats campaign. If you aren’t familiar with FSQ, here’s a brief overview

Video capture of FSQ’s Wrapped 2019 for Artists follows. This is what it would like for an independent artist with a small audience size. Our monthly listenership on Spotify varies between 2000–4000 listeners depending on whether we have new music coming out. Listenership goes up in the months that we have new music.

Music in this video: FSQ’s Northern Soul Remix of Life on Planets’ “Cold Front” — that ONE song accounted for 40% of our overall streams on Spotify in 2019 across a catalog of almost 40 songs

What stood out in our FSQ Spotify Wrapped for Artists 2019?

  • FSQ’s Northern Soul Remix of Life on Planets’ “Cold Front” — that ONE song accounted for 40% of our overall streams on Spotify in 2019 across our existing FSQ catalog of almost 40 songs.
  • We grew our audience by 557% in France year over year
FSQ netted almost 60,000 streams on Spotify in 2019

Does Apple Music for Artists offer a similar “Wrapped” end of year stats program?

Apple Music for Artists — Apple’s artist marketing platform — does NOT offer an interactive “year in review” program similar to Spotify Wrapped for Artists.

However you can get your annual stats for the just by clicking on year “2019” in the overview section of the dashboard. The data should go far back as far as you had releases. In the case of FSQ, we have Apple Music for Artists data by year for each year back to 2015.

While FSQ got almost 60,000 streams on Spotify in 2019, we only got 4,500 “plays” on Apple Music. Terminology: Apple Music “Plays” should be equivalent to Spotify “Streams”.

Looking at Apple Music for Artists stats by individual year, will not turn up the in depth year end analysis that Spotify offers in Wrapped for Artists.

However, you can match some of the basic stats that are on both artist analytic services, for instance, annual number of streams.

When you look at FSQ’s 2019 performance on Apple Music we only had 7% of the total streams we had on Spotify =

  • 59,900 Spotify Streams vs 4,500 Apple Music Streams

This has nothing to do with audience size or listening behavior, for instance, it’s not like FSQ just has a bunch more fans on Spotify.

This has to do with the way Spotify and Apple handle certain metadata fields to be able to count streams. FSQ’s songs are just not counted the same way they are counted on Apple Music the way they are counted on Spotify. Which leads to this question ..

Is an artist’s song really being tallied up when it’s streamed?

Spotify versus Apple Music and stream counts

Here are some hypothetical songs and artists, and how Spotify and Apple Music treat these various artists included in a song.

In the following examples — we show how Spotify and Apple handle the following musicians and their stream counts.

“Main Artist” — e.g. a rapper with a big hit, let’s call him Artist Name X

“Featured Artist” — e.g. a vocalist who is making a guest appearance on this rapper’s song, she’s sings the chorus, the hook of the song, and gets a credit — Artist Name Y

“Remix Artist” — e.g. a DJ / producer who made a remix of this big hit, especially styled for club play, or in a specific style, say EDM or reggaeton, etc etc — Artist Name Z

Spotify Stream Counts

Play Song Title: “Bring The Funk” by X featuring Y vocalist — Z Remix

Main Artist: Artist Name X

Featured Artist: Artist name Y

Remix Artist: Artist Name Z

Both artists X and Z will receive a stream count, but the featured vocalist Y will NOT get a stream count from Spotify.

Spotify is the only streaming service that counts remix producer’s work in the artist analytics. (Please correct me if I am wrong, but this is what I am seeing).

For my music group FSQ, Spotify’s count of remix producers streams is extremely important as about 50% of our +40 song catalog actually consists of FSQ remixes produced for other artists.

Apple Music Stream Counts

Play Song Title: “Bring The Funk” by X featuring Y vocalist — Z Remix

Main Artist: Artist Name X

Featured Artist: Artist name Y

Remix Artist: Artist Name Z

Only the Main Artist on Apple Music gets a stream count. Neither the featured vocalist or remix producer on a song get a stream count here.

*** This article was written early 2020. Apple Music recently (late summer 2020) started counting streams for remix artists. However, the change isn’t retroactive so only remixes released starting this fall will be counted as streams for remix artists.

Spotify Wrapped for Artists — not a great deal for featured artists

Amy Douglas is a very successful vocalist in the world of dance music, and she’s a great musician, songwriter and talent across all genres of music. Because she was credited as a “featured vocalist” on several songs released in 2019, she did not receive stream counts for her work on those songs.

Her Spotify Wrapped 2019 showed about 60,000+ streams for the year. 60,000 streams across songs where she was credited as “Main Artist” on Spotify.

Meanwhile, Amy was a big part of Horse Meat Disco’s “Let’s Go Dancing”, as the lead vocalist. Last year, the song netted about ~400,000 streams overall on Spotify across a few different versions of the track. It was also released in 2019.

April 2020 Spotify Stream Count for Horse Meat Disco’s “Let’s Go Dancing” featuring Amy Douglas

From a consumer / music listener perspective, the idea of “featured artist” information on a streaming service, makes total sense. You’re listening to a song by Horse Meat Disco, a known production team, and this is their single “Let’s Go Dancing”. Amy is the guest vocalist, leading a track by Horse Meat Disco, as the “featured artist”. But neither Apple Music or Spotify can get it together to credit such featured artists for their part in a song, and give them a stream count on their artist profile.

From a marketing perspective, not including featured artists in song stream counts is a big problem. It means an artist who does guest appearances and contributes — a lead guitarist, a lead vocalist, etc — shows no activity on Spotify or Apple Music other than when they are a main artist. And many musicians make their entire career from just being a featured artist.

If this is the case, that a musician is always a “featured artist”, their Spotify Wrapped for Artists year end stream tally can be zero.

Something important to point out — “stream counts” tallied up for public display on Spotify are calculated by those metadata fields — “Main Artist”, “Featured Artist”, and “Remix Artist”.

Meanwhile, those stream counts displayed to music fans on Spotify within the consumer app, or on the back end in Spotify for Artists analytics platform, do not actually determine the individual songwriters and their individual percentage ownership or “splits” of the song.

The credited performers, noted songwriters and publisher of the song will be paid per stream depending on their financial share of the song and the rights determined by their legal record label and publishing agreement. That pay out is thought to be around average $.003 per stream, at least for the artists.

Again, the “main artist” or “remix artist” will get the “stream count” on Spotify and “Spotify for Artists”, while the “featured artist” will not.

But there’s a whole another set of credits you can see regarding songwriters, performers and producers within Spotify, that you can find by clicking on “Song Credits” on any individual song.

These music metadata “credits” fields are deeper than the simple “which musical artists are on this song” and do not count towards who will get a “stream count” on an artist profile.

“Song Credits” displayed for Horse Meat Disco’s “Let’s Go Dancing” featuring Amy Douglas

Don’t Split The Streams ! Ok, where to focus the streams?

Reminder: The whole concept of this series on music artist marketing is to demonstrate there is a reason to push fans to a specific music platforms to grow and engage their audience.

I already wrote in part 1 of this series about why an artist may want to SELL (not stream) their music exclusively on one single platform — Bandcamp, Traxsource, Juno Download, Beatport.

By consolidating where music (file download) sales happen, and focusing on individual music retail sites, artists can better their chances charting on these sites, e.g. top genre sales charts.

Through marketing relationships with these music sites, independent artists may also improve their visibility to fans. Some of these marketing relationships are dependent on an artist being exclusive to a single retail music platform.

The same kind of marketing programs are available to musicians who may focus on a particular streaming platform. As far as where an artist should focus their streaming efforts, let’s say for the sake of this post, an independent artist has no specific marketing arrangement with a single streaming service.

Don’t Split The Streams — Keeping them on Spotify to improve Wrapped for Artists

For FSQ, it does not make any sense for us to push any fans to Apple Music because a majority of our musical work will not be counted towards our stream counts. Given that for most of our FSQ musical work, we are credited as the “remix artist” and Apple is not counting this work towards our overall streams.

Spotify Wrapped for Artists — the numbers will be bigger if I can push our small listener base and potential future fans to listen to FSQ on Spotify, versus Apple Music or YouTube. And I believe most musicians using Spotify for Artists understand that the Wrapped streaming data is important, since it’s easily shareable and very visible across the internet and social media channels, at the end of each year. I think Spotify knows the Wrapped program acts a potential incentive for artists to push their fans to stream their music on Spotify, so that the numbers look good come the end of each year.

Regardless of what music service I want fans to listen to FSQ on, consumers lean on the music platforms they like or where they already have a paid subscription. For instance in terms of ad supported free streaming, YouTube is where most people access music and music videos. YouTube links for music are the most shared on Facebook and Twitter, beyond any other music links to songs on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, or more common, SoundCloud.

For the first half of 2019, Spotify had 36% of global streaming music subscriber market share, while Apple had half at 18%. Some of the most ardent FSQ fans, close friends of ours, prefer Apple Music. There’s nothing we can do to change their listening behavior, though we do let our fans know directly that Spotify will lead to a better outcome for our marketing. Focusing the audience to use Spotify, can lead to demonstrable and higher stream counts.

Beyond how Apple and Spotify tally stream counts, there’s a lot more to discuss re: how Apple and Spotify allow independent musicians to market their music. For instance, Spotify allows independent artists to deeply customize their artist profile pages. Through customization options utilizing Spotify for Artists, independent artists can present their artist branded experience to listeners and potential future fans. Spotify for Artists allows users to add a hero image, artist bio, curated artist playlists, tour dates, and an “artist spotlight” pick.

A video quick tour of the customized artist profile FSQ

That’s a big thing for me as an artist. I want music listeners to have a branded listening experience, versus a flat experience with no information or imagery about FSQ.

And most artists should desire and demand the ability to present themselves as deeply as they would like to on music streaming services.

Here is a quick screen shot of our Apple Music artist profile. The only thing that is customizable here is our artist image. We can NOT add a bio, or artist playlists, or really present any additional information about ourselves. The lack of a hero image is frustrating as well, given major label artists can add such an image. Look at how much white space is here …

FSQ’s artist profile on Apple Music — the only thing customizable here is the artist photo. No bios, and no featured artist or remix artist music appears on our artist profile here

For the sake of this post, I am really focused on stream counts and how Apple and Spotify handle them differently. We can come back to the issue of how these services allow independent musicians to market themselves.

But I did want to highlight that the ability to brand yourself on Spotify is yet another reason I’m focused on driving audiences to Spotify over Apple Music, and not “splitting up the streams”.

Ok now, back to stream counts and Spotify and Apple Music …

While it’s factually true — that an artist is being “featured” as a guest on another artists’ tune — or that a producer is offering a “remix” of an original tune for an artist — it’s better for artists to skip these music metadata fields completely.

If “featured artist” Y or “remix artist” Z are working with another artist X on a song, or an entire album, and Y and Z want to be counted for their work in terms of publicly visible stream counts on Spotify they should be listed as the “main artist”, along side artist X.

Apple does not publicly display stream counts, but WILL show artists Y and Z via their Apple Music for Artists analytics platform that they are getting streaming count credit for collaborations with artist X if they are listed along side artist X as “main artist”.

Designating a “featured artist Y” or “remix artist Z” as a “main artist” along side “main artist X” opens up a whole can of worms in terms of music search, because each music service treats collaborations differently.

Collaborations would be defined as where there are more than one main artist. Some music services recognize a collaboration as a distinct unique artist comprised of the joining of two or more main artists.

In that case, they do not treat collaboration as two or more separate main artists participating in a single work (songs, or albums). A collaboration becomes essentially a “single main artist”.

I have not yet done the research yet to understand specifically how each music service handles collaborations.

I noticed something interesting when I signed FSQ up for Amazon Music for Artists beta, similar to Apple and Spotify’s artist analytics programs.

Amazon Music had treated all of our FSQ collaborations with other artists as “unique artists” unto themselves. So “FSQ and Nona Hendryx” is an artist versus it being two separate artists, FSQ and Nona Hendryx.

Each collaboration FSQ did with other artists, was treated initially by Amazon Music for Artists as a unique artist unto itself

The above photo was taken right at the launch of Amazon Music for Artists, so maybe they’ve streamlined the sign up process so that collaborations are not treated as unique artists. There should not be multiple FSQ artist names to claim … those collaborations should all go under our main profile.

It may be a bit of risky business for “featured artist” Y or “remix artist” Z to be listed as a main artists in a collaboration with “artist X” because of the issue regarding how main artist collaborations are treated by the streaming services.

Yet listing “main artist X” with “main artist Y” or “main artist Z” will ensure that each party will get a stream count on Spotify (and Spotify for Artists) or Apple Music for Artists

In order for this to happen, artist X, or “main artist 1” would have to agree to such an arrangement before the music metadata is supplied to a digital music distributor.

Thanks for reading Don’t Split the Streams! — Part 2 — When do artists get “stream counts”?

Hopefully it makes sense now why independent artists might want to skip ever being designated as a “featured” or “remix artists” to make sure they get as many stream counts as possible as a “main artist” when participating in any song available on music streaming services.

Fortunately for “remix artists”, Spotify is giving them full stream count credit. To achieve the most stream count visibility, remix producers should consider steering their audience to Spotify. They should not “split up the streams” across other services like Apple Music that do not count up listeners of their remixes.

Now that you also know a bit more about Spotify Wrapped for Artists annual stats program, in my next part of the “Don’t Split the Streams!” artist marketing series, I researched what an average annual overall stream count should look like for an independent artist dependent on several factors, like song catalog size, number of years distributing music to Spotify, and the % of work done as a remix or featured artist.

Read Next — Don’t Split The Streams! — Part 3 — Benchmarking the results of independent artists’ Spotify Wrapped annual streaming stats

Thanks again for reading,

Chuck Fishman

Digital Media Biz Dev+FUNK music making. Personal Page. Present @Gracenotetweets @George_Clinton @fsqofficial. Past @CNET @WSJ @CiscoSystems @officialfm @acquia