Can acts on direct deals with Spotify out-perform those on major labels?


There has been a lot of bellyaching, handwringing and bluster spoken about Spotify recently doing direct deals with artists. Is it a stealth move by Spotify to cut out labels entirely? If it is, it’s the biggest kamikaze play in history. Is it a tactical bartering chip for when Spotify has to renew its licensing deals with labels? Maybe, but it will have to really break some huge acts on an unprecedented scale in the next year if any of the labels are to even blink. Is it an experiment to see what – if anything – it can achieve? Possibly and, as such, it could be quietly mothballed like so many other initiatives and pilots in the past.

Obviously saying conclusively one way or the other what a) it means and b) what it will achieve is at best idle speculation and at worst honking bloviation. But Chartmetric has attempted to add some flesh to this hypothetical skeleton by looking at how acts signing direct deals with Spotify are faring against acts with all the bells, whistles and financial clout of a major label behind them.

Researched and written by Gillian Robins and Jason Joven, Spotify “Direct Deals” Vs. Major Label Artists: A First Look is a deep (it’s close to 3,000 words) analytical and statistical dive into what’s been happening here. The whole piece is worth reading in full, but it’s equally worth pulling out the key talking points and conclusions.

In methodological terms, five acts signed to majors and five “DIY” acts were selected for comparative analysis. None of the DIY acts were named and Chartmetric admits that it is basing their inclusion on tips that they have “possible” direct deals with Spotify. The five acts on the majors were all, however, named – they are Kali Uchis (2.2m monthly listeners on Spotify), Khalid (40.7m), Charli XCX (11.5m), Billie Eilish (16.5m) and Halsey (27.8m). From this, flags immediately go up as we are not sure just how much like is being compared with like as they are already huge names and have considerable streaming momentum behind them while it is likely that the DIY are going from a standing start.

“At first glance, we can see the majors already outdoing the DIYers in both Spotify’s Popularity Index (SPI) and Spotify Follower Count, which is expected,” says the report. It also looks at their reach and engagement across multiple platforms where, with the exception of SoundCloud, the major label acts typically vastly out-perform the DIY ones. Inevitably major-signed acts also dominate in wider media activities like film and TV sync deals and traditional media appearances. So far, so predictable.

The analysis of Spotify playlists, however, is where it promises to get much more interesting. Except, well… “In examining all ten artists in the past six months… there actually is no apparent pattern. (Sorry, folks.),” it despondently concludes. “Though it would be neat to see some kind of magic bump in additional playlists for the DIY artists after the April 2018 IPO, any artist’s playlist evolution is still tied to how prolific they are for that time period.”

There is a chink of light, however. “The only real pattern observable is that the majors skewed towards Today’s Top Hits and Global Top 50 spots, as a highly-prized and likely very political playground for the Big Three labels, while New Music Friday playlists seem to be much more open to the DIY artists.”

As it stands, it is an interesting first stab at trying to understand what, if anything, this all means. Chartmetric, to its credit, holds its hands up here and says the “small, exploratory sample set” is drew on was merely its “first preliminary look into what is likely going to be a debate for years to come”. But because the DIY acts are all anonymised, it is difficult to see the wider context around their development and get any purchase on a precise comparative analysis. As such, the concluding feeling on reading this is that it raises far more questions than it answers.

Eamonn Forde

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