The way that we consume music has changed. Gone are the days of waiting for a physical album to come out to listen to your favourite band. Now in just a couple of clicks, you have access to everything that they have ever created.
The shift to music streaming platforms has had huge implications on how the industry functions, placing consumer behaviour front and centre.
Numbers and analysis have long been powerful tools in the music business. But previously the amount of information that could be attained about listenership was limited to what could be gained from sales figures, such as what the best-selling album is that month or the region with the most sales. The digitisation of music consumption has opened a whole new world of almost endless data sources.
Demographics, locations, and listener habits are just the tip of the iceberg. Streaming platforms act as a mirror, reflecting all of the listener details that stakeholders could possibly want, not only allowing them to decipher the latest trends but also to build comprehensive consumer personas.
The Value of Data in the Music Industry
As with any data source, once it is out in the world, there will be someone looking to utilise it for their own intentions, whether that be as a competitive edge or to inform decision making.
In the music industry, data has become a critical resource. It provides real-time metrics in a space where decisions used to hinge entirely on subjective assumptions about what sounds good to an executive. Of course, the very nature of music will always involve subjective opinions, but now these can be backed up and formed around indisputable facts. For artists, data facilitates accurate and timely progress reporting. They no longer have to wait until a chart is released to find out how successful they are.
They can track the number of listeners they have, the number of times they have been searched for, or added to playlists, all in real-time, minute by minute. Geolocational demographics can also impact decisions such as where to tour. When Brooklyn’s ‘Cigarettes After Sex’ discovered – via Spotify’s data – that its music was being heavily streamed in places like South Korea, the band toured in those territories, helping them to build a global fanbase of more than 4 million monthly Spotify listeners. For record companies, in the midst of an increasingly competitive market, listener data will influence which artists they sign.
Aggregators such as Soundcharts provide stakeholders with an extensive overview of an artist’s radio airplay, streaming playlist and geolocated listener demographics. Combine this with insights on popularity gleamed from social media follower and engagement metrics, and you’ve got yourself a comprehensive view of who and what is trending (or isn’t). Analysts also claim that they can use this information to predict who will be the next big hit. Algorithms are used to make assumptions about the future. Chartmetric for example, claims it can shortlist which of the 1.7 million artists it tracks, will have a big career break within the next week. Changing the sound of music?
Although using data to promote music is a widely accepted necessity, using data to create it is another matter entirely.
There are concerns about the implications that following data trends could have on the sound of music. Labels may become even less willing to take a chance on artists whose music isn’t engineered to maximize profit. With less incentive for creativity and innovation, only certain types of music will be produced – essentially creating an increasingly homogeneous marketplace. However, it is worth remembering that the market remains a highly competitive environment. With close to 40,000 tracks uploaded to Spotify every day, artists have a lot of work to do to stand out, with or without data insights.