November 30, 2016:The Weeknd Spotify success shows growing clout of playlists

Spotify’s announcement yesterday that The Weeknd has broken its record for the most daily streams by a single artist came without the actual number of streams.

However, public data available on the streaming service gives us some useful stats to quantify the Canadian star’s global success on the platform.

All 18 tracks from The Weeknd’s new album ‘Starboy’ were on Spotify’s Global Top 50 chart yesterday, meaning the album is currently hogging more than a third of positions on that chart.

According to yesterday’s rankings, the 18 tracks collectively were doing 32.8m daily streams on Spotify, although that’s not the record-breaking total, since that number doesn’t include plays for older tracks that weren’t in the top 50 when we were analysing the data.

By yesterday, the ‘Starboy’ album had generated 448.5m streams on Spotify. While the album was released five days ago on 25 November, its title track and lead single came out earlier, and accounted for 293.2m of those plays. As of yesterday, The Weeknd was the third most popular artist on Spotify, with 34.9 million monthly listeners.

It’s understandable that Spotify is shouting about his success too, because ‘Starboy’ is one of 2016’s high-profile albums that *didn’t* get an exclusive release on Apple Music or Tidal.

These kinds of figures are reigniting another debate about Spotify’s business though: the influence of its in-house playlists, and whether that influence is being built at the expense of playlists from external curators.

Tom Packer, director of marketing agency Motive Unknown, called Spotify out yesterday for new features that drive even more listening to the service’s own playlists.

One is showing playlists that feature an artist that a user has searched for, and the other is a new series of ‘This Is’ playlists as an introduction to artists’ work (e.g. ‘This Is: A Tribe Called Quest’).

We wonder what Universal Music will make of the latter, given that ‘THIS IS’ is one of its main playlist brands. But Packer’s complaint is that Spotify is prioritising its own playlists over those launched by artists – many of whom have previously been encouraged by Spotify’s artist and label relations teams to create their own introductory playlists.

“If search is now compromised, so that even once you build organic awareness and activity around an artist that interest is driving traffic to Spotify editorial, rather than the artists releases or artist curated playlists, there is a problem,” he wrote.

“Surely artists who take time to curate should be rewarded, and their efforts should be allowed to be presented to Spotify users who show an active interest in them ahead of Spotify’s own editorial?”

How does this relate back to The Weeknd? Breaking Spotify’s daily-streams record is only partly a signal of his popularity: it’s also a signal of Spotify’s ability to boost those streams by putting the songs near the top of a host of its own playlists.

It’s undeniable that playlists can drive huge listening spikes, and that will be one of Spotify’s most convincing arguments against exclusives elsewhere.

But there’s no avoiding the flipside of that argument, which is that if Spotify is flexing every muscle to drive listening for its own playlists, what incentive is there for artists, labels, media and other external curators to sink time into their own playlists on the platform?

Stuart Dredge
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