Don’t Split The Streams — Part 3 — Getting To A Million Streams

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 3 — Getting To A Million Streams

“Don’t Split the Streams” is a blog series focused on independent musicians. The concept of not “Splitting the Streams” — well it means that musicians are better off from a marketing perspective, demonstrating a larger audience on a single music platform versus having smaller stream counts and sales numbers spread across multiple music services.

Disclaimer: “Stream Counts” are simply metrics, and can be useful for marketing a musical artist in terms of demonstrating their success in the market. Publicly displayed stream data, or the back end stream data that artists’ see in their analytics platforms, do not necessarily determine how an artist will be paid, and by how much.

Furthermore, not every music service counts up the consumption of an artist’s music the same way, so why would a musician send their fan to a place where their music isn’t being counted?

In the first post in this series, I explained why independent artists may want to consider choosing one, or two music retailers as the exclusive site(s) to sell their music (file downloads). The result of being focused on a single retailer means there is greater opportunity to maximize sales and marketing efforts.

The second post in the series I looked at how Apple and Spotify count streams based on how artists are classified in a particular song or album’s metadata. For instance, “featured artists” do not get counted for their work on a song, on either Apple or Spotify. Remix artists, remixing other songs for other musicians, WILL get counted for streams of their remixes on Spotify but not on Apple Music.

So a producer who is prolific in the area of remix productions, they would want to push their fans to listen to their work on Spotify versus Apple Music.

Another big motivator I think for independent musicians to focus on driving fans to Spotify, is the music service’s annual summary of stats for artists, known as Spotify Wrapped for Artists.

I wrote a bit about the program in part 2 of “Don’t Split the Streams”.

Billboard also covered the program:

The Spotify Wrapped for Artists program allows an independent artist to roll up their annual listenership into a shareable graphic and really demonstrate how well they are doing in the market.

Some musicians are cynical about the program, as highlighted by this opinion piece from electronic music blog Create Digital Music:

Whatever independent artists think about the Spotify Wrapped program, it should be pointed out that Spotify is the only music service that publicly displays stream counts to music listeners**

Music listeners, when discovering an artist for the first time on Spotify, are usually pre-disposed to listen to the song on an artist’s profile with the highest stream count.

My music group FSQ’s catalog on Spotify — which song would you listen to first?

For instance, my music group FSQ have only 3 songs on Spotify with +30,000 streams, and potential listeners see these songs under the “popular” tab on the FSQ Spotify artist profile. Listeners are more likely to hit those songs because they are the most popular. It’s harder for the less popular songs to gain more streams over time because user behavior favors streaming the songs that already have the highest stream counts.

I put asterisks ** on the phrase “Spotify is the only music service that publicly displays stream counts to music listeners”** because of course you can see YouTube view counts on music videos or audio only streams of music distributed into YouTube Music. An artist may have a lyric video, a music video, and the audio only up on YouTube and so getting a comprehensive view of a song’s stream count or musical artists’ overall audience is a bit difficult. It’s not as streamlined as the publicly displayed data on Spotify’s consumer facing artist profiles, or in the year end Spotify for Wrapped for Artists program.

Another issue is most independent musicians have not taken the leap to consolidate their YouTube channel with their YouTube Music artist profile, something known as a YouTube “Official Artist Channel”. YouTube stream counts is a complicated topic, and best left for another post in the “Don’t Split The Streams” series.

So let’s say YouTube stream counts aren’t as feasible for music marketing as Spotify’s public facing stream counts.

Amazon Music, Apple Music, TIDAL, and Deezer do NOT display stream counts to music fans / listeners.

So Spotify is unique in the music streaming market with the public display of stream counts, and display of the monthly listeners and followers an artist has. Note, that a Spotify user has to explicitly press “follow” on an artist profile for an artist to receive a follow.

Duran Duran has 5.8 million monthly listeners as of May 2020 and about 1.5 million followers

I often wonder if Spotify would ever hide stream counts, and an artist’s monthly listeners and followers. My opinion is doing so would be disservice to music marketers who rely on the public facing Spotify data to demonstrate audience growth.

Spotify’s display of stream counts of listenership is a big reason I promote the idea of “Don’t Split The Streams”, which means to push potential listeners and fans towards using the platform.

Soundcloud does display stream counts on individual songs and playlists, but artists, managers and record labels using the professional aspects of SoundCloud’s platform can put a track into “quiet mode” and turn off public display of stream counts.

Ok so now that you understand why I am a proponent of pushing the music audience towards Spotify, here’s the big question to ask.

How does your Spotify Wrapped for Artist look in comparison to other independent musical artists?

First, I note within the musical niche I operate in, my peers and collaborators clocked at least 1 million Spotify streams in 2019.

David Marston is a collaborator with my music group FSQ and a close friend of mine. We were record label mates both making our debut on Soul Clap Records in 2014.

I estimate our overall catalog of songs available on Spotify to be about the same in size, though David inches closer to ~50 productions versus FSQ’s ~40. Marston counts some high profile collaborations other artists like Nick Monaco. David also had an original full length album in 2019 while FSQ did not. We released an EP and several remixes for other artists in 2019.

This is David Marston’s 2nd year of counting 1 million plus streams for the year via the Spotify Wrapped for Artists program. FSQ, well our total stream count is a fraction of that, at 60,000. FSQ’s Spotify streaming came in at 3% of David Marston’s total stream count for 2019.

David Marston racks up almost 2 million streams in 2019

What’s even more impressive about Marston’s success is that his new music project does not bare his name at all. His new effort is called DejaVilla, releasing music on ULTRA Records. That record label is well regarded mainly for electronic music, with highly successful artists like Kygo, Steve Aoki, Calvin Harris, and Black Coffee ; ULTRA is backed by Sony Music, a majority owner of the record label.

DejaVilla is Marston’s collaboration with fellow Jamaican and sublime vocalist Sarah Couch. Standing on its own without any metadata link to David Marston (that would add up to stream counts for both parties), DejaVilla still stacked up almost 700,000 streams in 2019. ** I understand that for 2020 and beyond, ULTRA will be adding David Marston’s name to the DejaVilla artist name so that he will be getting stream counts for DejaVilla as well.

This number is also tremendous considering that unlike Marston who launched is career in 2014, this DejaVilla duo only entered the streaming realm as of October 2018; really only about a year’s worth of stream data. From what I know about DejaVilla and Marston’s work here, I am not sure ULTRA can claim that they were instrumental in getting the duo to 700K streams. But what do I know, I do not have access to understand the origin of the streams. Maybe there were some Spotify playlists that DejaVilla were placed on that allowed their songs to gain a wide audience.

Also keep in mind that at the close of 2019, Dejavilla only had 6 songs — plus 3 of those songs released also as singles — so a total of 9 titles in Spotify versus Marston’s almost 50 song catalog (** note not all ~50 songs are original productions, a good percentage are remixes by David Marston for other artists).

DejaVilla only has about a years worth of streaming data under its belt but still tallied up 700K streams

So DejaVilla is doing much better in terms of the # of streams to # of actual songs ratio, versus David Marston as a solo artist.

Looking at another artist in the world of FSQ, we turn to another Soul Clap Records label mate of ours, Bosq.

Bosq has about 2 years of a head start on FSQ and David Marston, with a music catalog that originates in 2012. I’m also estimating his total song catalog on Spotify — both original Bosq songs and his remixes for other artists — at about ~85 songs.

Given the jump of Bosq’s music catalog size and length of time he’s been actively releasing music, Bosq’s 3.4 million streams for 2019 is actually very comparable to David Marston’s 1.7 million streams. Bosq did not have a full length album release in 2019, with his last album release during this time period being from April 2018, while Marston released his album “Feeling You” in March of 2019. But overall Bosq has more music than Marston on Spotify, that’s been up on the service more years than Marston. Over time, what’s great about streaming is that an artists’ back catalog continues to get play.

Dances with White Girls — a dance music artist — points out the benefits of a catalog on a streaming service like Spotify
More thoughts from Dances with White Girls on streaming

Of course FSQ, David Marston, DejaVilla and Bosq are only 4 examples but you can begin to see what it looks like for this category of artist. In looking across my peers and record label mates in this realm of independent dance music, I found that about +30 songs (originals and remixes) and 4 years worth of releases should equal out to about 1 million streams per year.

Even if FSQ is at 3% of David Marston’s 2019 stream count in 2019, I am expecting us to hit this 1 million mark in 2020, especially considering I’m viewing it as the average for my colleagues. FSQ has a full length album coming out on Soul Clap Records with superstars George Clinton, Nona Hendryx, Fonda Rae, Dolette McDonald. I’m going to put as much thrust as I can into getting our music on to Spotify playlists — which can drive a tremendous amount of stream counts.

So much of our success also depends on the volume of music FSQ releases this year. Fortunately, on Spotify our music does not have to be all original to be counted. For instance, Spotify will count streams of our FSQ remix of “Feel Me Running Away” a song by our friend David Marston’s DejaVilla project. Meanwhile Apple Music will not count streams of this remix by FSQ, because Apple Music does not count remix producers streams.

While I want FSQ to hit the Spotify 1 million mark in 2020, artists who are already doing that today, aren’t always impressed with the results. Some of Bosq’s thoughts on 3.7 million stat and his Wrapped 2019 for Artists:

People probably don’t even know who they are listening to half the time because they just put on a playlist or let the algorithms roll. This also has the added effect of removing the listeners loyalty from specific artists and more towards services, all taking power away from artists themselves (many major labels are complicit in this as well, artists are hard to control sometimes and they don’t like that). These stats can most certainly be inflated by big Ad buys and connections with playlisters.

Bosq isn’t all negative on his Spotify streaming success, more follows, but he has valid points. I’m still reaching for 1 million FSQ streams on Spotify in 2020.

In December when Wrapped for Artists 2019, certainly many artists took to sharing their stats on social channels.

Some artists felt inadequate when they saw their peers post their successes — as I mentioned, even I did! But let’s keep this in mind:

It’s very hard to compare Spotify Wrapped for Artists 2019 stats between various artists without looking at:

  • Size of an artist’s music catalog on Spotify
  • Number of years artist has been releasing music for Spotify
  • Whether an artist’s catalog is primarily composed of music where said artist is “main artist”
  • Whether an artist’s catalog is primarily composed of music where artist is “featured artist” or “remixer”

I’m not going to get into math here but with these four vectors, you could probably come up with what the expected annual streaming averages would be for artists of particular sizes and genres. Without looking at those numbers, getting an idea of what an artist’s annual Spotify Wrapped stats mean is difficult ; as is comparing artist to artist.

I think Spotify should lead with those numbers in the presentation and provide some context on what an artist should expect and try to achieve given their catalog and existing reach.

Regarding context and music data, in the next part of “Don’t Split The Streams” — part 4 — I’ll show you some of the ways independent artists can map their Spotify and Apple Music stats to real world events like radio airplay, their live stream and concert appearances, and press, with the goal of understanding what specific campaigns and other factors are driving streams of their music.

Read Next — Part 4 — How to map music data sets to reveal what’s driving the streaming consumption of your songs

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