Imagine Dragons Has Become Rock's Streaming Salvation -- But How?

ISSUE 27 2018 - DO NOT REUSE THIS
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Imagine Dragons onstage in Las Vegas in September.

Since forming a decade ago, Las Vegas rockers Imagine Dragons have been arena regulars and reliable chart-toppers, with five No. 1s on Hot Rock Songs and three top five hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The group has even been named Billboard’s top rock artist two years in a row. But what’s perhaps most surprising is its success in an area few other rock acts have been able to tap into: streaming.

In 2018, the 50-position Streaming Songs chart has featured just five rock tracks: three by Imagine Dragons, two by Portugal. The Man and one by Queen. Imagine Dragons, which released fourth album Origins in November, racked up 3.4 billion streams (according to Nielsen Music) this year alone, and is the only rock act with any tracks on the year-end Streaming Songs list. Moreover, it ranks at No. 10 on the year-end Streaming Songs Artists list, ahead of Ariana Grande, Lil Pump and Camila Cabello.

Why? The act is a “safe band and sound,” says Phil Kukawinski, program director of alternative radio station WFUZ Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “Anyone can listen to Imagine Dragons and enjoy them.”

Whereas predecessors didn't have streaming to push their rock/pop sound, Imagine Dragons has it at its disposal -- and knows how to use it. On Spotify's Today’s Top Hits, one of streaming's most popular playlists with nearly 22 million followers, Imagine Dragons is an immutable presence, landing placement at or near the top of the list with most of its releases.

The band has figured out how to cater to playlists in a way that many rock artists haven't. Spotify head of global curation groups Mike Biggane says the act is “very efficient” with how it releases new singles. “It's similar to an always-on release strategy that an artist like Drake does,” he says. “And since [Imagine Dragons] started up again with 'Believer' in 2017, they've continually put out music -- and they're putting it out to a specific audience based off of demand.”

Adds Kukawinski: “The record label positioned the songs properly, spaced them apart just right ... It has kept the band center stage for the last few years, and will put them back in the spotlight again in 2019.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of Billboard.