While many radio programmers use sales, Shazam and Mscore alongside their new music research to gauge which songs are most popular with their audience, examining what songs listeners are streaming isn’t as commonplace—and we think it should be.
The fact is, music sales are declining, both for physical CDs and for digital downloads on services such as iTunes, while streaming continues to grow. As more listeners choose to rent music with a Spotify premium subscription instead of buying songs on iTunes, streaming data is becoming an increasingly bigger piece of the puzzle for determining which songs are most popular.
Here are three reasons why streaming data should be a metric you examine to help pick new music for your radio station:
1) Streaming data shows you what songs people play when they’re in control of their music. Unlike streaming, most of the secondary tools programmers typically examine to determine which songs are popular don’t actually measure people listening to music.
- Sales data tells you how many people are buying a song they don’t yet own, but not how often people who already bought the song are listening to it. Just because people stop buying a song doesn’t mean people stop playing it. In fact, sales of a song usually taper off around the time radio listeners are becoming most interested in a song
- Shazam tells you when people want to know the artist or title of a song, but not what songs they actually want to hear right now. (Learn more in our recent blog How Shazam Can Help You Predict Hits)
- Mscore can give insight into which songs cause listener tune-out, but provides no insight into which songs listeners tuned in to hear in the first place.
In comparison, Streaming data shows which songs people are actually choosing to listen to right now. While it can’t give you the complete picture of your core listeners’ reaction to your music the way custom new music research can, streaming data is the most analogous measure to how listeners consume music on the radio because it actually measures how often people are playing a song. Furthermore, on-demand streaming data, which includes Spotify and YouTube, tells you which songs listeners chose to play for themselves, not songs someone else played for them.
2) In the CHR universe, Streaming data can tell you when listeners are losing interest in a song. There are some huge hits that remain among listeners’ favorites for many months after they’re new. Ask a listener what she thinks of those songs in your new music research and she’ll tell you it’s one of her all-time favorites. However, that doesn’t mean she still wants to hear it as often as did when it was new.
Because streaming data shows actual music listening, it can be helpful to determine when listeners are playing a song less often than they used to play it. While declines in streaming plays are common for CHR hits, there are limitations for other styles of songs. The most popular Country songs often don’t exhibit this drop in streaming for songs that new music research reveals have high burn. Novelty songs, video memes and kids favorites also remain big in streaming long after many listeners are sick of them. For a typical mainstream CHR pop hit, a drop in streaming can provide further evidence that it’s time to move that song to recurrent.
3) Streaming data can help you spot songs that aren’t on your radar. While the songs that break first on streaming are the exception rather than the rule, there are still some big hits that first became big on streaming. Bryson Tiller, Fetty Wap, and Tove Lo are all artists that first found fans on streaming. Only a handful of new artists have broken out first on streaming, however, as more people abandon buying songs on iTunes and CDs in favor of renting music on Spotify, we can expect more artists to achieve their first taste of fame on streaming. For those artists, you won’t find out about them on Shazam: As we outlined in our blog on using Shazam to spot new hits early, these songs won’t show up on Shazam because listeners already know the artist and title from their streaming apps. If you’re only using Shazam for early hit detection, you’ll miss these streaming hits.
While we believe streaming data should be a part of your toolbox, there are also important limitations to what you can learn from streaming data. We’ll outline those potential pitfalls in our next post.
Where to find streaming data
Streaming data is compiled by Nielsen and published each week in the Streaming Songs chart, which includes a wide variety of audio and video streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify and Slacker (but not Pandora), and the On-Demand chart, which focuses on audio-only on-demand services such as Spotify. You can access these charts at Billboard.com or from the Nielsen’s BDSRadio service.