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Why Does Spotify Still Separate New York City Listening Data by Borough?

If you're an artist and see "New York City" listed as one of your top cities for fans, that might not mean exactly what you think it does.

Through increasingly detailed dashboards and resources like Spotify for Artists and Apple Music for Artists, up-and-coming acts are leveraging streaming data to make smarter marketing and business decisions, including taking the geographic guesswork out of tour planning. Indie artists like Lucy Rose and Joshua Hyslop have used demographic listener data from Spotify to help route their tours in a more targeted fashion across Latin America and Europe.

But if you’re an artist and see “New York City” listed as one of your top cities for fans, that might not mean exactly what you think it does.

That’s because Spotify still breaks out listening data for NYC by borough. “New York City” actually refers only to the borough of Manhattan, while Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island are listed as separate “cities.” The borough of Queens is broken down even further into the separate “cities” of Jamaica and Forest Hills. No other major streaming service — across Apple Music, Tidal, Pandora, Deezer, etc. — breaks down NYC listening data in this manner.


Facebook had also previously separated NYC fan data for artists into boroughs, but recently made the switch to consolidating the boroughs back into one single “New York City” category. A Spotify rep tells Billboard that the service makes its own decisions on how to break down its user data geographically, rather than tying their framework to that of Facebook or of other third-party partners.

Some would argue that NYC warrants a special level of attention and specificity compared to the rest of the world, given its sheer size and population as well as its importance in the music industry. In fact, with a population of around 2.7 million, Brooklyn alone would qualify as one of the five most populous cities in the entire U.S. — on par with Chicago, and larger than Houston, according to United Nations estimates.

In the past, Spotify also used borough-level listening data to design out-of-home and digital ad campaigns for NYC listeners. In Nov. 2013, ahead of the NYC Marathon, Spotify released lists of the top ten most-streamed and most-shared tracks in each of the city’s boroughs. Later in Dec. 2015, the company displayed multiple billboards across the city revealing even more granular listening trends: for instance, Justin Bieber and Fetty Wap were trending artists in Williamsburg, Stevie Wonder and Janet Jackson were popular in SoHo and the Deep Sleep playlist was streamed a disproportionate amount in Gowanus.


That said, sources tell Billboard that Spotify’s ultimate decision on which cities to give neighborhood-level data treatment seems somewhat arbitrary. While select other cities around the world are also broken down into boroughs or neighborhoods — e.g. Brixton and Shepherd’s Bush separately from London and Mississauga and Scarborough separately from Toronto — other major metropolitan cities like Chicago and Houston are still listed as one singular city, without any further breakdown.

Spotify argues that the decision to break down certain cities and not others is ultimately for the benefit of artists and their teams.

“We provide borough-level detail on Spotify 4 Artists for some cities like NYC because we want to give artists the best possible information about listening patterns in those cities,” a Spotify rep tells Billboard. “Using this data to book shows is a primary use case, so we want to give artists more granular information so they can book a show in Brooklyn versus Queens versus Manhattan, based on where their fans are listening.”

Why should artists and labels care? If emerging artists aren’t aware of which cities are broken down on a neighborhood level, they could potentially be misled to under-rank or under-prioritize these cities in their marketing plans.


For instance, one label source sent Billboard a list of the top 50 cities for an indie artist on their roster, which ranked Los Angeles as the No. 1 city, New York City as No. 2, Brooklyn as No. 6 and The Bronx as No. 23. When combined, New York City, Brooklyn and The Bronx actually add up to more total listeners than Los Angeles, implying that NYC is really No. 1 — but artists might not know to do that manual math themselves in order to arrive at a more accurate fan picture on a higher level.

Some sources tell Billboard that going into that much detail for a city like NYC warrants keeping that approach consistent and accessible across the board, at least across other major metropolitan areas. “Otherwise, we could have the most targeted tour for one date in New York, but then the rest of the stops are more generic,” says one source.

The discrepancy is just one small part of a wider debate that indie labels and trade bodies are raising about transparency and access to Spotify data, especially as the service begins to sign licensing deals directly with artists.