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Music Streaming’s Real Value for Most Artists Is Data, Not Money

Apple Music for Artists comes out of beta, as rival companies like Spotify and Pandora beef up data analytics for artists as well

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When Metallica books a tour, the band doesn’t just prepare to play its biggest hits in the biggest cities — it uses granular Spotify data to tease out the specific preferences of its city-specific fanbases, tailoring set lists to location, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek revealed on an earnings call last summer. Ek was sharing the detail to highlight the success of Spotify for Artists, the company’s analytics dashboard for musicians, which provides information such as playlist inclusion, streams by time period and geographic rankings of popularity.

Not to be outdone by Spotify, rival service Apple Music released Apple Music for Artists on Thursday — an analytics platform that had spent the last year in beta mode but is now available for all artists on the streaming service. The service offers detailed insights into music releases by metrics such as listener demographics, playlist inclusion trends, Shazam popularity and iTunes sales data, the latter two of which are Apple-exclusive data points. (The tech giant acquired Shazam at the end of 2017, and it is the only major streaming service connected to a download marketplace as well.) In a demo of the new software to Rolling Stone, Apple representatives shared the many ways in which the data could be cut, noting that the hope is for artists to feel the experience is “like having your own data scientist expert on call.”

The new program can help break down listener info by city in over 100 countries, display top Shazamed cities and countries and automatically send alerts to users to notify them of streaming milestones, new playlist inclusions and other events that may be of use. It also moves from being desktop-only to existing in mobile form as well — something that clearly takes aim at Spotify for Artists’ popular mobile app. In building more features into the tool, the creators of Apple Music for Artists consulted artists and managers on a scale from indie to mass-market, Apple says.

As streaming becomes more and more of the centerpiece to artists’ business strategies, so does the opportunity for streaming services to get closer to artists and their labels by sharing their information insights back to that user base. Several artist managers say that analytics platforms are essential to their business, and that major artists typically have at least one or two people who keep tabs on specific streaming figures and markets. Data “is like a currency for you out there,” Don VanCleave, a manager who works with musicians including Brent Cobb, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, and Moon Taxi, tells Rolling Stone. “We are constantly using global information to get more business, especially talking to music supervisors, advertising executives — if you’re trying to do a car ad in Belgium and you say ‘that’s our fifth biggest market, we’ve got this many listeners there’ and you can really break it down, you’ve got a more compelling argument to get the attention of whoever you’re pitching. Advertisers, brands, you name it.”

After Cobb released his first record, VanCleave says, he noticed that it was streaming particularly well in cities like Helsinki and took that data to agents to schedule shows in the Nordic region. He adds that he checks various analytics “at least weekly” and has found the Spotify for Artists mobile app useful for pulling up a stat or two on his phone in a business dinner: “If you’re talking to a promoter or agent, it’s really helpful to have all that right at your fingertips.”

But, in line with the intensely competitive nature of the music streaming market, it’s not just Spotify and Apple Music occupying the analytics space: other companies such as Internet-radio service Pandora and data analytics platform Chartmetric have built viable businesses helping artists glean an understanding of their audiences through data. Spotify for Artists and Apple Music for Artists are both free at the moment — but it doesn’t appear likely that both will remain that way. “We’ve never before been at a place in time where you could make as many informed decisions and understand your audience as well as we can do now as an artist,” Ek said last year, about Metallica and other bands that use streaming analytics to inform their business decisions. A year later, in its latest quarterly call with investors, Spotify hinted that it is actively building out provisions in its new label licensing negotiations for a “two-sided marketplace” in which it could charge artists and labels for currently-gratis analytics services.

The value in the data points provided by streaming services is clear. (“You can be streaming a lot but not selling tickets because you’re not connecting the dots to fans,” VanCleave points out.) What’s yet unknown is the exact dollar amount that could, or should, be placed on it.

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