Jason Joven from Chartmetric (he’s the company’s very grandly titled “music data storyteller”) has published a fascinating blog on Medium looking at what are termed “trigger cities” (a concept coined by Chaz Jenkins at the company). In short, it is about understanding the locations where a track can really take off online – and they are not always the obvious ones where achingly cool people like to position themselves as tastemakers (London, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Stockholm) and whose anointment of tracks can break them globally. “What an Indonesian hipster finds for free on SoundCloud might soon be played by a Spotify Premium for Family teenage user in Iowa next week,” is how Joven puts it. “Maybe the same day.”
His argument is that, as an industry, we are still getting our heads around this fundamental change in music promotion and virality. The “origin of hype” around a track can now take place in “cities that due to their socioeconomics, may not be large contributors to the global streaming revenue pot that IFPI measures annually”. These are the “trigger cities” that are effectively a series of dispersed gatekeepers for songs and they will become even more influential as streaming grows.
Initial analysis of a number of tracks last year by Jenkins (looking at where their streaming momentum grew rather than just focusing on the nationality of the artists involved) found that “Latin American and South/Southeast Asian ‘trigger cities’ tended to engage with new or emerging artists more rapidly”. This was regardless of where the artists in question were from. There is a domino effect here, where a “trigger city” gets things rolling and other cities follow suit.
Joven digs into the data and finds that Mexico City and Santiago are the two biggest cities on Spotify by non-unique monthly listeners (São Paolo is fifth). Jakarta, Buenos Aires and Quezon City are also in the top 20. On YouTube, it’s even more interesting, with Mexico City, Bangkok, Bogotá, Santiago, Lima, São Paolo and multiple cities in India dominating. He adds an important caveat here by saying that it does not follow that big US hits can easily dominate in these cities. “Access alone does not mean cultures instantly forget their local preferences in language, attitude and so on.”
Ultimately this all should make the industry look at where it is throwing its marketing money and allocating its online ad budgets – where these “trigger cities” can generate far more streams (and far more income) than the cities where that spend is traditionally focused. The business needs to recalibrate its focus and its efforts with all this in mind. (Chartmetric says it will explore all of these themes and their wider implications in greater detail in future blogs.)
As Joven puts it, “[D]espite us being in a cultural industry, it can be very easy to forget the various cultural contexts our music ends up in […] With some global awareness, we can hopefully get the right music to its potential fans in a way that makes more sense to them…and hopefully more cents for artists…”