We are now more than 13 years into the music streaming era, but its workings continue to evolve. One important strand of that evolution is the impact that social media is playing.
That was the focus for a talk at the NY:LON Connect conference by Chaz Jenkins, chief content officer at analytics firm Chartmetric.
He drilled down into how socials are reshaping streaming, including this finding from examining the demographic breakdown of artists’ fans on social networks.
“It is increasingly clear to us that artists who break through and go on to become big international stars, their initial audience – the people they engage with online on socials – tends to have a really sharply-defined demographic,” he said.
“That stands to reason. Audiences follow and engage with what their friends and other likeminded people follow. Self-identification and context are what fuels the growth of online followings for artists, and what fuels engagement.”
“But while artists who trend and impact on the streaming marketplace typically have a highly-defined demographic, their geographic reach tends to be international from a very early stage. What we don’t tend to see these days is that the big stars emerge early in one market then grow globally. They tend to grow globally right from day one.”
Jenkins also said that Chartmetric’s research has found that successful artists do not put all their eggs in one social basket.
“They are constantly acquiring but crucially also retaining audience engagement on social networks: not just on one platform, but on multiple social platforms,” he said.
“We normally look at the marketplace in verticals. It’s a natural human instinct. When we look at data we segment by service, by country, and look at these verticals of data. But consumers are horizontal. There’s no such thing as somebody who only uses one service nowadays: we all use multiple platforms.”
“For an artist today, it’s better to have a modest but constantly engaged audience with you everywhere, rather than having one huge audience on one specific platform.”
Jenkins’ talk was followed by a panel on the future of global streaming moderated by Christine Osazuwa, strategy director at Pollen and founder of Measure of Music.
She was joined by Feed Media Group COO Lauren Pufpaf, Anghami CEO Eddy Maroun, Range Media Partners SVP of streaming and artist development Blaike Ford, and Empire head of sales and marketing Matthew Maysonet to discuss what’s coming next for our industry.
The panel began with an appreciation of the fitness-tech market as one new frontier for streaming, and the importance of music to Peloton and its rapidly-growing number of competitors.
“For at-home workouts you need a really good soundtrack to get you through it. Music is even more important, and is absolutely a differentiator in this now-very competitive field,” said Pufpaf.
“Some of our biggest customers have grown literally 2,000% year over year in terms fo songs streamed, so it’s an increasingly important channel in terms of volume, but also influence. There’s a lot of buzz around [fitness] instructors being the new DJs. Less people are going to clubs!”
Ford joined talent agency Range Media Partners from Spotify, which has informed her approach to strategy for the artists she works with.
“We use streaming to inform a lot of the rest of our business. Not only is it what playlist can we get on? We all know the value of that… but it’s also saying what programs can we plug into?” she said.
She cited Spotify’s ‘Radar’ and ‘Fresh Finds’ and Amazon’s ‘Breakthrough’ as examples of artist development / emerging artist programs of this kind, while warning that “you can’t just raise your hand and get in: a lot of work goes into that!”
Maysonet talked about how streaming is broadening the horizons for artists who have built a following in one part of the world, and can now reach listeners elsewhere.
“Locally, you have artists who in certain regions are reaching their audiences as a cultural connection, and it’s [about] finding ways to expand that cultural connection to a global audience,” he said.
Partnerships with the full gamut of streaming and music-related services are part of that, as are collaborations with other artists and brand deals. Empire sees this working particularly well from artists in what the music industry now describes as ‘high-potential’ markets.
“Those markets are growing the fastest,” he said. “But we’re seeing that transition over to the US, where it feels like at least 30% or 40% of the current artists on the Hot 100 [Billboard chart] are from international territories, which is exciting.”
Maroun talked about Anghami’s evolution as the key streaming service in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and its ambitions beyond its home markets.
“We are at the stage of working a lot on the experience: a mix of the AI work and the curation work [to help people discover music]. The next area we want to go into is helping this music to go beyond the Arabic world,” he said.
Anghami is also extending its work with artists into the physical world, teaming up with hospitality company Addmind to open ‘Anghami Lab’. It’s a venue in Dubai which includes a lounge, a stage and a recording studio, with plans to open similar facilities in other cities across the MENA region.
He talked about the idea of “allowing these creators to come together, co-create… a fusion between Arabic and international music” with the recordings made available on Anghami to stream. It will also be recording live performances and making those available online too.
This idea of international artists collaborating was a key theme of the panel. Maysonet is also excited about pairing artists from different parts of the world up to make music.
“I’m excited to see the increase in American superstar-level artists or UK superstar-level artists working with what would have been traditionally considered local artists, or international artists,” he said.
“Going into those markets, that’s a growing streaming economy, so it makes sense to be there and to tap into that streaming audience… we’re seeing a lot more of these collaborations where it’s not just about US, UK artists collaborating together, but they’re going into different regions of the world and capturing that audience by collaborating.”
Empire has been working with Nigerian artist Fireboy DML, who is building his audience internationally. Maysonet talked about the way the company is pitching him in to streaming services.
“This guy, he’s from Nigeria, it’s Afropop, but forget that. This is pop music! This is not just going to be on the African music hub on your platform. There’s going to be Justin Bieber, Pink Sweat$, and Fireboy DML,” he said.
“There’s no reason why that can’t be the case. It makes no sense to even think otherwise… I think it’s great for music, I think it’s great for streaming, I think it’s great for professionals in music, and it’s only going to rise the tides so there’s going to be more revenue for everyone.”
Collaborations between artists from different parts of the world should be an artistic decision as much as it is a commercial one, noted Ford. These partnerships should not be cynical cash-ins.
“So many of the artists we work with are one, very cognizant of where their immediate audience is and where they’re from, and making sure they speak to that hometown… but they also have this other eye to saying ‘who in this other space over here should I think about?” she said. “What you want to create is art.”
Ford also offered some thoughts on how artists’ teams can use analytics to understand whether their strategic moves are paying off, including stressing a need for patience rather than always expecting instant wins.
“Do we see some sort of impact from doing this? Do we see an increase in monthly listeners, in followers, in fan engagement? Do we see a conversion from a casual fan to a more in-depth fan? And when you see something that moves the needle, maybe we’ve hit on something here!” she said.
“The tricky thing is that the needle’s timeframe is very variant. Sometimes five days, other times things take five months, so the game of patience becomes so, so important. If it hasn’t worked in 10 days, was it a failure? Maybe not. Maybe we need to do something in the surroundings to drive that success as well.”
“The measurement of success is always a tricky one. Basically you want to see some indication that something is happening. But just be mindful that this something may take different amounts of time. And that’s okay!”
The panel finished with some views about challenges to solve in the streaming economy. Pufpaf talked about the need for education about licensing when working with technology companies who are using music in their services, but don’t necessarily have a background in the industry.
“We really help them understand: what is your use case? Do you need interactive, non-interactive, do you need sync licensing? And everyone is interested in creating a consistent global experience, which 100x increases the complexity!” she said.
Maysonet focused on another issue: the mental health of artists who are having to adapt to the streaming economy.
“We’re asking artists to do a lot. They’re not just recording and touring. Now they’re expected to understand crypto and NFTs, and expected to be using TikTok on a regular basis, and be on their Twitter feed, and on Instagram, and creating content and engaging with fans,” he said.
“It’s a huge task! They’re holding multiple jobs in addition to creating art, and I think a lot of times, people forget that music is art, and it takes a certain mindset and level of focus to create that itself, let alone commercialise and monetise it.”
Maysonet is keen for the music industry to put renewed focus into tackling this challenge and helping artists to thrive rather than sink under the pressure.
“It’s a lot we’re asking of artists. Increased collaborations are wonderful. The increase in global markets is fantastic. And having all these tools available is something that’s never happened before and is an incredible opportunity,” he said.
“But we do risk burnout for some artists who are using all these socials, including having to worry about the algorithms on different DSPs. ‘If I don’t release a single every five to six weeks I’m not pinging that algorithm and my monthly listeners are going to decrease…’”
“Those are things that artists never had to really worry about before, at least on this score. I’m excited to see how we as an industry accommodate and approach that over the next few years to even things out a little bit… I think it’s something we should be addressing.”
Ford agreed. “I was having a conversation with one young artist, and she said to me point blank ‘I’m scared’… The more that people can provide comfort, I think, is just as important as strategy to be honest, because people are burning out.”
She cited a recent Instagram post by artist Chelsea Cutler about this topic, in which Cutler said that “I don’t know how to keep up with how insatiable our content culture has become. It feels exhausting to be constantly thinking of how to turn my daily life into ‘content’ especially knowing that I feel best mentally when I spend less time on my phone”.
“It hit the nail on the head, and it really made people step back and think and say ‘what’s going on right now?’” said Ford, who thinks there needs to be a conversation to “make sure that these algorithms are in fact helping, and to make sure that this art is in fact getting in front of the audiences that these artists have worked so hard to cultivate”.
“Too many artists think, to your point Matt, ‘If I don’t do this by this, and this by this, I lose everything’. I can’t imagine that being my brain as an artist. I probably would quit!”
“We don’t want to cultivate that… We always say in the music industry ‘We’re not saving lives!’ but I actually think right now we do have to do some of that! This is the time for us all to come together and really make sure we do that to the best of our ability.”
The Chartmetric talk and global streaming panel were part of the ‘Streaming – Making The Business Work Internationally’ track at NY:LON Connect, which was co-sponsored by Chartmetric and Feed Media Group.