Listen to Discover’s 12 Big Questions: The Outcome of Question One

‘Why are there such big differences between listening figures and follower numbers?’

At the start of January, I posed the above question across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the aim of generating discussion around that very topic. Now, as the first month of this new feature draws to a close, it’s time to reflect. It was, as expected, a question that was by no means straightforward to answer, and with no ‘musical magic wand approach’ to be found, it remains a point of discussion across the industry. However while this is the case, there are specific points – such as those offered by independent record label Integrity Records – that may very well give new artists an insight to how these figures may have come about.

“There’s no single answer to this one, in my view. Some artists/labels/managers artificially inflate figures by buying listens/views. The tell-tale often being thousands of listens but very few comments/likes or followers. Also many modern music consumers go from track to track by different artists and prefer various artists playlists whereas older/historical listening tended to be more by album. But to relate to the examples you gave, those with a bigger number of fans but smaller monthly listeners may suggest that people who became fans of the artist prompted by an early release may not like their more recent releases. A high listener number, but small fans number though could be due to a track/tracks appearing in a curated mixed artist playlist.” Source: Integrity Records

You may well, like myself, be surprised by the whole idea of listens being bought. It had certainly never crossed my mind! The way we listen has though. I’m delighted to say that if I stream an album, I want to experience it all. In the order it is. It’s all part of the artist’s work. Not everyone will do this though, which in itself can generate false numbers. However, while the above points relate to reasons why there may be those differences, others, such as Los Angeles based Ari Herstand suggest – perhaps controversially – that playlists are not to be obsessed over:

“Break away from the obsessive playlist mentality! One of my favourite games to play is to guess the monthly listeners to followers ratio on an artist just by looking at their Spotify profile. Spotify, of course, displays the monthly listeners number loud and proud right there on the artist’s profile. And the number of streams for the top 10 songs. But the actual followers number is quite hidden. If an artist has no fans, but tons of streams and monthly listeners, it’s because they are on super popular playlists.” Source: Ari’s Take

And also a potentially controversial point, why direct marketing should be used.

“Utilizing Facebook and Instagram ads is the best way to do this at this moment in time. However, you do not want to do this blind. This is not clicking the “Boost” button on Facebook or the “Promote” button on Instagram… Mastering the Ad Manager takes a bit of time…Yes it’s complicated, [but] once you learn it and get it down, the hard part is over. You can then go back to making music. The beautiful thing about direct marketing is that once you set the ads, they go. So, instead of posting incessantly on Instagram and Facebook begging people to share your stuff, go directly to the people who would dig what you’re doing.” Source: Ari’s Take

Like everything, there are multiple ways of looking at things, for example, while ‘begging’ may not have an impact, only targeting those ‘who would dig what you’re doing’ could mean you don’t actually build the fan base you want. However, while the points Ari makes may be great for new artists who are building on a hit track or have some budget – albeit a very small one – for marketing, what about those new artists who are trying all they can already? Well this is where the advice from founder of Humble Angel Records, Kieron Donoghue, comes in.

“Get yourself some fans. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pub with 3 people in the audience everybody starts somewhere. People don’t see the 7 years of graft that Sam Fender put in gigging up and down the country beforehand… Don’t use [social media] platforms you’re not comfortable with. Just be yourself, that’s literally the key to success on socials and when you’ve created pre-save campaigns, encourage the fans you have to use them.” Source: Kieron Donoghue

But to come full circle, what if you’ve read Ari’s advice earlier and still want to get onto playlists? Well Kieron’s advice about this could very well be what you need.

“Do not buy databases of playlist curators, instead, contact independent playlist curators and ask them to support your music. Be human, keep it personal and don’t spam. Also, use Spotify for Artists to submit tracks ideally 4 weeks in advance and upload your music to your local BBC Introducing.” Source: Kieron Donoghue

So there you go, there is no clear answer. But, most importantly there are ways and means to increase engagement which could, in turn, result in those figures building more than you think right now.

Thanks to Nick at Integrity Records, Ari Herstand and Kieron Donoghue for their contributions to January’s discussion and keep an eye for the next of Listen to Discover’s 12 Big Questions soon.

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