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Mark Mulligan: ‘The role of curated playlists has accelerated’ (#midem)


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A few stats to conjure with. In December 2014, Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits playlist had 2.3 million followers and was generating 35.4m monthly streams.

By April 2016, those had increased to 7.8 million followers and 120.4m monthly streams, while a month later, Spotify said that its in-house playlists were now generating 1bn weekly streams.

The Today’s Top Hits stats come from a presentation at Midem today by industry consultant Mark Mulligan, based on data supplied by Spotify for the latest report by his company Midia Research.

After kicking off his session by pointing out that 26% of streaming subscribers have stopped buying more than an album a month, while 32% are listening to less radio, Mulligan drew the audience’s attention to the growing role of in-house playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

The role of curated playlists has accelerated just in the last three months,” said Mulligan. “People are having to work out on the fly how they respond to the changes to cash-flow, to breaking discovering artists.”

A strong theme of his talk was the tension between a homogenisation of culture across the world – are we all just listening to the same big US pop artists? – and an internationalisation of culture, where artists from the Nordics, Europe and other parts of the world can find big global audiences they wouldn’t have been able to reach in the past.

Midia’s latest survey found that people see streaming as the reason they’re listening to more music from other countries than they used to.

We’re nearly at the stage where half of streaming music users say that streaming is helping them discover more international artists,” said Mulligan, although he caveated that with the warning that ‘international’ can be big, global pop artists like Katy Perry, not just new acts from countries off the beaten track.

However, Mulligan cited the recent success of Danish artists Lukas Graham and Mø as encouraging. “Nordic artists have realised that ‘if we sing in English, we have these big global platforms that will help us break out’,” he said. “We are seeing European artists, particularly those who are singing in English, breaking through to global markets.

It was at this point in the presentation that Mulligan talked about the growth of Today’s Top Hits on Spotify, and the growing appetite among streamers for lean-back playlists of its type.

“The percentage of people who make their own playlists on streaming has dropped by 10 percentage points in just one year,” said Mulligan. “The main playlists which people are using are the playlists which are being pushed to them.”

He predicted that playlists will become something “much more dynamic, interactive and visual” in the next year: less list-based, but in that process, will also become more lean-back and less lean-forward in their listening nature.

Mulligan talked about the impact of curated playlists being “radio meets retail” where plugging songs to influential playlists starts driving revenue on its own, citing Feder’s ‘Goodbye’ as an example of a track that Spotify playlists turned from a local, French success into a global hit. Ultimately, France only accounted for 18% of the track’s streams – Germany was 41%.

“International music gets discovered more now than it did. Artists are finding audiences across borders more than they could before,” he said, before ending on a dilemma. “The playlist curators are the ones who will ultimately decide whether streaming is about globalisation, or internationalisation.”

Stuart Dredge

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