On December 3rd, Spotify confirmed its biggest track and artist of the year. (A little premature, perhaps, but announcing such things early in December allows the company to switch full focus to its very successful year-end Wrapped campaign before the year’s out.)
Spotify’s biggest global song of 2019 was “Señorita” by Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello, which “saw more than 1 billion streams” by the same date. (Its actual playcount on December 3rd was a smidge over the billon-play mark.)
Sounds impressive, right? Especially when you consider those Post Malone streams would have generated around $28 million, in less than 12 months, according to generally accepted Spotify blended per-stream rates ($0.0044 per play).
However, when Spotify’s biggest superstar record-holders of this year are compared to its biggest superstar record-holders of last year, things take a turn for the… hmm.
A press release issued by Spotify on December 4th, 2018, confirmed the service’s biggest artist and track of that year, worldwide, in much the same way as the above stats did for this year.
Guess what? The biggest artist of 2018 – Canadian megastar Drake – pulled in “more than 8.2 billion streams” across that calendar year (to December 4th).
That number is, as you have no doubt already noticed, considerably bigger than the equivalent top dog of 2019 (Post Malone). In fact, it’s 1.7 billion streams bigger.
What’s more, in the same PR, Spotify confirmed: ‘God’s Plan” was the most streamed track of 2018 globally, with “over 1.1 billion streams”.
Again, the Drake smash seemingly surpassed the 12-month tally of Spotify’s equivalent record-holder from 2019: Mendes and Cabello’s “Señorita.”
There are a couple of extenuating circumstances to consider: “God’s Plan” was released in January of 2018, with Drake’s album Scorpion following that June; “Señorita” was released in June of this year (five months later than “God’s Plan” arrived in the prior calendar year), while Post Malone’s big album, Hollywood’s Bleeding, didn’t arrive until this September. (That’s three months later than Drake’s big album was released in the prior calendar year, although Hollywood’s Bleeding was trailed by no less than six singles, all of which counted towards its year-end tally.)
The fact remains: Spotify’s biggest song, worldwide, across the 12 months of 2019 attracted a smaller amount of streams than its equivalent did in 2018 – and it was the same story for the service’s biggest artist.
What makes that statement all the more bizarre is this: at the close of September 2018, according to investor documents, Spotify had 191 million Monthly Active Users (MAUs) worldwide, with 87 million paying subscribers; a year later, that MAU figure had risen by more than 50 million people to 248 million, while premium subscribers had hit 113 million.
In other words, Spotify’s user base grew 30 percent in the past year, yet the cumulative streams of its biggest artist, annually, fell by 21 percent.
So what’s going on? Could this just be a story about Drake’s immense superstar wattage, rather than any wider music industry trend?
Yes, possibly. According to Spotify’s early December announcement, Drake is the service’s most popular artist of the past decade, with over 28 billion plays on the platform in total – equivalent to over $123 million in payouts to the artist and his fellow recorded music rightsholders (Drake is signed to Cash Money/Republic/Universal for records). And 2019 was the first time in several years that Drake went 12 months without releasing a new full-length project (unless you count Care Package, the odds-and-ends singles compilation he released in August).
However, there’s likely another important factor at play here. As noted on Rolling Stone earlier this year, the cumulative amount of plays accumulated by America’s top five audio streaming artists in the first half of this year was around 100 million smaller than that racked up by the equivalent top five acts from H1 2018.
This, despite the U.S.’ overall audio music stream playcount rising 28 percent year-on-year. As I suggested at the time: “There is a significant shift in the democratization of music industry revenues taking place, with the momentum swinging away from blockbuster megastars and towards a much larger ‘middle tier’ of artists.”
This may also go some way to explaining the puzzling difference between the numbers behind Spotify’s biggest global artist and song of 2018 versus the same kings of 2019. It will be fascinating to see if the U.S. market’s full-year numbers for audio streaming, published by Alpha Data in January 2020, bear out the trend.
Until then, know this: As far back as December 5th, 2017, when Spotify’s global Monthly Active User count was a mere 150 million — nearly 100 million people smaller than it is today — the company confirmed that its biggest song of that year was Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.”
That song, released in January 2017, racked up 1.4 billion Spotify plays by the final month of that year. That’s comfortably more than any single track has managed on the same service in 2019, as this year draws to a close.
Tim Ingham is the founder and publisher of Music Business Worldwide, which has serviced the global industry with news, analysis and jobs since 2015. He writes a weekly column for “Rolling Stone.”