Music artists are in many ways like startups. They create, publish, sell, negotiate, deal with payments, do marketing… However, it’s really tough to find relevant performance indicators for artists. But what’s true for businesses is true for artists: without numbers, it’s significantly harder to be successful. Before it begins, and sometimes it kills a career.
In this post, I need to share some tips and maybe some surprising facts about the amounts of one of the biggest online music programs — SoundCloud. Disclaimer / Warning: the following analysis features opinions and has been performed by SoundCloud listeners. The report is not sponsored or endorsed by any artist, label, or SoundCloud. The results are based on publicly available information or claim to be representative, correct, or complete. Do not analyze graphs with more than 500 million nodes in the home.
Top 10 Profiles on SoundcloudThere are approximately 1,000 artists on SoundCloud that have follower bases exceeding 250,000 users. The artist with the most followers is not Avicii Skrillex, The Weeknd, Kanye West, David Guetta, Justin Bieber or Drake. It’s Future with 9.48M followers – a gigantic figure in the SoundCloud ecosystem.

There is not a single non-Hip Hop profile in the Top 10. Four out of the top ten profiles are record labels. UMG and Sony are dominating the top ten. In the event you anticipated EDM here you probably live outside the US. Hip hop artists have dominated one of the biggest music platforms for decades — Soundcloud.

Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics are the type of numbers that you would tell your friends to impress them. In front of business partners or investors nevertheless, they should be carefully advertised by you. They are manipulated and supposed to make your business look better than it is and aren’t the best indicators to determine the health of your company. Downloads for example, are often thought of as vanity metrics. A download means that something was downloaded by someone. Period. The important part is what it means: it says nothing about if your software got installed or deleted immediately if it is used frequently if people enjoyed it. Play counts could be similar to downloads. Music is experienced so in order to determine its quality one has to listen to it. It says nothing about the intention behind this listen or if the listener liked it, recommended it and so on. OK, now it is time to check some music metrics and how they could be interpreted.

Music Metrics

The more effort and time necessary to perform a certain action, as response to a content offering, the more engaged a user has to be.
By this definition, enjoys are cheap. They require a single click. An individual that performs this click feels comparably safe in her anonymity bubble. A repost is a stronger response because the reposted material can be seen on one’s profile, it clutters the deadline, and is represented through the respondent: you stand with reputation and your good name for this piece of content. A remark is the most cumbersome action since it requires typing, thinking, and sometimes even grammar… By this definition, comments represent passion, courage, and needless to say, time. This could make comments among the indicators for fans that are hyper-engaged.

Comments

Who has the most comments per track on average? Just because Justin Bieber has uploaded 3 songs on his profile and has a followers-count of 671K, he was able to get more than 100k comments on those three tracks. Considering that with each track that’s published the average comments-per-track significantly drop, Skrillex (with a cool 300k comments total) and Vintage Culture (200k comments total) have the most talkative artist communities.

The more followers, the more plays. Both of these metrics probably correlate in one way or the other and will show nearly identical results.

Ready for another surprise?

Remember that the top 1000 profiles have over 250k followers? 5 out of 10 aren’t even with this definition in the top 1000, but are all in the top 1000 of users with more than 50k followers sorted by total plays. A number of them are high ranked. Lil Yachty has a in contrast to his reduced playcounts. Does this mean that his fans do not listen to his songs? Or does it mean that many of those who listened to a song became followers? How are plays connected to performance indicators? Likes per playcountLikes and follows are the Internet’s money. They keep everyone busy and keep everything running smoothly. The TV show Black Mirror showcased enjoys eventually could become a real currency. The feeling one experiences when receiving a like is often compared to that from drugs that are hard.

However, if we look at likes from a key performance indicator (KPI) standpoint, they are double-edged swords — more enjoys per play count definitely mean more joyful artists, but don’t necessarily imply better tracks. When a track is played 150 times and receives only 3 likes, it must suck, right? How about 147M plays and 2,3M enjoys? This is the ratio of the 2016 top hit of Soundcloud. And even though you might say Correct, this is because that song sucks” — the larger problem with likes is that a user may only enjoy a track after, but listen to it multiple times. Bearing this in mind 50:1 does not really sound that bad anymore. Likes-per-play ratio: what actually happens when we order artists based on this performance metric? We know that artists with powerful fan communities who would listen frequently to their tunes can’t win this category.

Who’s going to profit from the likes-per-play metric?

The answer is content that has high quality but is only listened to once. Good candidates are sets or mixes, but the real winners are podcasts — many of them with just a couple plays and comparably high like-per-listen ratios, which probably means they have loyal fans that subscribe and really enjoy their content.

Different artists, labels, and aggregators with unique genres have different fans and fan communities. These fans have behaviors that are different, and for most early-stage artists it makes no sense to compare themselves with superstars. Would you want to be the next Future, Justin Bieber, Lil Uzi, BBC, Defected Records, Desiigner, Damian Marley, or Skrillex? Would you like followers, plays, likes, comments, or something else? It is hard to say which metric to focus on if you have an overarching viewpoint.

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