Business

Inside Spotify's First-Ever 'Fan Study' Revealing Data & Best Practices

Spotify
Courtesy of Spotify

"Access to data...shouldn't be limited to artists and labels that have giant data teams," says Spotify's Sam Duboff.

Latin America discovers the most new music, and fans of electronic and country music are most likely to buy hats at the merch booth. These are among the nuggets of information Spotify is releasing today (May 20) as part of its first-ever "Fan Study," a collection of 15 insights about global Spotify listeners with an actionable recommendation artists can take for each one.

The study launches as a public microsite today (May 20) and is divided into four chapters: Reaching new listeners, engaging existing fans, best practices around new releases and merchandise strategy. The project is intended to further empower artists on the platform by democratizing access to fan data.

"We believe that access to data and trends in the music industry shouldn't be limited to artists and labels that have giant data teams or streaming departments," Spotify head of creator brand and product marketing Sam Duboff tells Billboard. "With the Fan Study, we thought about how we can get some of the biggest trends and insights that we're seeing into the hands of not just a few artists or a few labels, but all artists and all labels across the globe."

Duboff says the project has been in development since January. It began as a way to respond to the many questions Spotify gets from the more than 1 million artists, labels and managers who use Spotify for Artists every month. "They're often asking what trends Spotify is seeing across the industry overall, to better inform their strategies and approaches, and we found there was a lot of consistency in the topics artists and labels wanted to know about," Duboff says.

After collecting "millions" of data points, the team narrowed the findings down to those that felt most actionable, "so that we aren't just sharing empty insights," Duboff adds, "but new trends that you can change your strategy around."

Among the findings, Spotify broke down the overlap between fans of different genres, noting that, for example, 66% of metal fans are also pop fans. (Spotify's recommendation? Tag your new tracks with multiple genres when applicable.)

Spotify also found that fans are coming to the streaming service from a variety of emerging platforms. For example, chat app Discord sent over 800,000 listeners to Spotify in one recent month, and between May 2020 and April 2021, inbound traffic from Discord to Spotify grew 54%. Inbound traffic from exercise tracker Runkeeper Pro during that same time period grew 167%, which Duboff thinks is in part due to artists partnering with the platform on playlists and other promotional content.

"We were trying to inspire artists to think about the types of communities that you might not think of as music communities, but that music can actually permeate," Duboff says. "Hopefully it inspires artists to show their other interests and hobbies to their fan bases."

The findings also support some commonly-held industry beliefs, like the fact that superfans account for the vast majority of activity around an artist. Spotify found that on average across genres, the top 5% of an artist's fans are listening six times more than the rest. There are also helpful findings for release strategies, such as the fact that 53% of new releases reach peak listenership more than a week after the release -- meaning that artists should continue promoting all week -- and that catalog streams get a 15-20% lift on new release day.

Finally, Spotify also released data around merchandise purchased through its partnership with the online marketplace Merchbar. The top finding was that merch preferences vary by genre, and on the Fan Study site, artists can look at the percentage of fans of each genre likely to buy purchase vinyl, shirts, CDs and more. Artists can also use Fan Study to see which major cities buy the most of a specific kind of merch, and tailor what inventory they bring on the road accordingly. (Another fun merch finding? Vinyl is a now "young person's game," the site reads, since no one sells more vinyl than artists who have released music from the 2000s onward.)

"Artists are already planning their first post-COVID tours, which is amazing," Duboff says. "We know some of the merchant touring datasets they are using might be a year old now, so we tried to provide [data] to help."

At least some of the Fan Study findings are things savvy artists and their teams likely already know, making the site seem most useful to the DIY and emerging artist community. The Fan Study also uses its suggested actions mostly to promote Spotify products, including free tools like Canvas, which lets artists create short video loops as album and single art, but also ones that require payment, like Marquee, the sponsored recommendation tool that critics have argued walks too fine a line between advertising and pay-for-play. The launch of Fan Study follows Loud & Clear, the website Spotify launched in March to explain how the streaming service pays rightsholders.

Duboff says that Fan Study will become a regular franchise, with more data to come -- including, potentially, best practices around playlisting. His team will source additional questions from artists on social media, which will help form the basis of the next study.

"We build tools and resources for the artist community is because we want them to have a say and a voice. Instead of uploading a track into a sea of noise and hoping that a playlist editor or a music industry executive notices them, these tools give artists agency over their careers," Duboff says. "This is part of our broader effort to try to democratize the music industry by giving artists and their teams this control."

Peruse the full study here.