Next Big Sound’s Data Journalist Finds Stories In Numbers And Helps Labels Measure Success
Millennials may make up just under a quarter of the US population, but they have a huge influence when it comes to music fandom, according to Next Big Sound data journalist Liv Bulli. For any given artist, around two-thirds of his or her fans fall into the millennial age range—and that has major repercussions for how artists communicate with those fans and work with brands.
By Cortney Harding of The Upward Spiral
That cohort, according to Bulli and a number of other researchers, prioritizes experiences over possessions. Raised in a world of plenty, they listen online, are starting to shun digital downloads, and still buy vinyl. They balk at spending $9.99 a month for a streaming service subscription but will fork over hundreds of dollars for concert tickets and interesting merchandise. And if a young artist doesn’t feel like using social media, he or she will likely be left out in the cold. For some emerging artists, Bulli estimates three-quarters of their audience are millennials—and they crave online interaction and engagement.
The Upward Spiral spoke to Bulli recently about how artists can use data to their advantage, why Facebook isn’t dead yet, and why some people are still buying CDs.
Cortney Harding: In terms of the fans, what do you think are some of the most interesting and surprising data points that you have found about music fans today?
Liv Buli: That's another point from our “State of the Industry” report. We did a genre breakdown for most of the sources that we're tracking and found that last year about 25 percent of all follows that were music-related that happened on Twitter were for indie rock artists, which I just thought was shocking.
We also highlighted a few different things around user behavior for different networks, one being that Instagram is growing incredibly fast. And while Twitter is still a bigger platform for musicians, it has plateaued a bit in terms of growth rate of artists adding new followers. It's steady, but it has nowhere near the same trajectory as what Instagram is currently seeing.
Another really interesting thing we found is that despite all the talk about how Facebook is aging and no longer a popular platform for younger people, millennials are still the biggest user group on Facebook in terms of following artists. Of all those who have liked an artist's page, somewhere around 38 percent of them fell within the ages of 18 to 24.
Cortney Harding: Have you worked out any way to figure out the ideal number of tweets that artists should be posting, or the ideal level of engagement an artist should have?
I ask that because I recently unfollowed an artist whose music I really enjoyed, and whom I wanted to keep up with, but he posted too much and re-tweeted absolutely everything about himself—he was taking over my Twitter feed.
I'm not a millennial, so maybe millennials have a much higher tolerance for tweet storms. But do you have any insight into that in terms of how much artists should be engaging on different platforms?
Liv Buli: This goes back to what I was saying about engagement. If you're posting a slew of content just to post content and no one is interacting with it, then you're not leveraging that fan base in the right way and it's not very valuable to you.
We've done some calculations on what is expected performance within each bucket and what range you should see on a daily basis. But also we recently launched our new profile page where anybody can log in for free and see a large amount of data.
One of the things that we've added to that is a bit of data science work. An artist can view his or her social stage and engagement metrics, including a measure of how engaged his or her fan base is and the percentile that falls into. The artist can also see whether or not that engagement is strong or moderate or weak.
I would recommend that artists go in and see the amount of activity that they currently have through one of their social channels, to determine whether or not people are actually engaging with that activity.
Cortney Harding: Let's keep talking about millennials, since that's so much fun to do. In a recent interview with Larry Rosen of Edison Research, we learned that American teens now spend more time with streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify than they do with traditional terrestrial radio. He said the increasing amount of time that teens spend with streaming music services could be a lens into the future of audio usage.
I know that you've been doing a lot of research into millennials at Next Big Sound. Can you tell us about how millennials are streaming and interacting with music?
Liv Buli: I believe that millennials make up somewhere around 23 percent of the population, but if you look for any given artist, it's likely that about 67 percent of his or her following or audience is millennial. And that's true for both male and female artists. So millennials make up a remarkable proportion of music fans. And I think that's also part of the reason why music activations are such a high focus for brands right now—these are exactly the consumers that they're trying to reach.
We also found that for some of the fastest-growing artists, the millennial audience gets even bigger. For these artists, about 75 percent of their audience would be millennial. So this group is really driving activity, particularly online when it comes to interacting with artists.
Cortney Harding: Are millennials also listening to terrestrial radio and buying music? Taylor Swift aside, are millennials actually buying physical product?
Liv Buli: These aren’t Next Big Sound numbers, but we all know that digital downloads are on the decline. It's interesting to see vinyl grow so much in recent years. But then again, I just went to a panel where Catherine Moore from the NYU Music Business School spoke about how she considers vinyl merchandise. She provided an interesting perspective on vinyl as something that people are buying.
But we haven't really dug too much into how millennials are purchasing, or how that cohort is taking advantage of purchasing albums. Overall, I think it's interesting to look at how the music industry in general is changing, with the driving force being people in this age range. The change might stabilize over time, and in the future, people might not buy anything except for merchandise and concert tickets and just stream everything because it's available that way.
A kind of curated ownership might develop where people, through streaming services, have access to absolutely everything they want, but they buy the things that they want to own. Personally, I've spent hundreds of dollars a month for concert tickets. I also buy records. But I still use streaming services regularly because everything is available to me. Then I purchase whatever I really want to own.
Cortney Harding: In terms of millennials, are there any other misconceptions about what millennials are doing or aren't doing with music? I’m thinking about illegal downloading, that was such a big thing for such a long time. Have you seen a move away from that now that you have actual options like Spotify and RDIO
Liv Buli: Spotify has done some really interesting research around piracy and how that works, particularly in Holland. But what he's showing through his research is that access to music—the simplicity and the ease of access through services like Spotify—actually puts a dent in piracy.
This makes sense. Why bother to go out of your way to rent illegally when you have it readily available to you? Even if you're not willing to pay for a premium subscription to Spotify, you will still have access to music. You just have to listen to ads.
That shrinks that group of people who are willing to go out and search for illegal downloads, download them onto their computers, and download whatever program they need to have for that into a very small core group.
Cortney Harding: In your most recent “State of the Industry” report, you wrote, “You might still be the type of consumer that buys CDs at gas stations or at Starbucks, but most of us are hunting down the content of our playlists through myriad streaming services.” On the one hand, I know that you're kind of kidding and being snarky and playful, but on the other hand, the statement's kind of worrisome because it suggests to me that some NYC people need to get out of the city more.
Certainly, CD sales are declining, but people are still buying physical CDs, listening to terrestrial radio, and consuming music in this really old-school way. And I'm just sort of curious about that. It's shocking for me, too. When I see people purchasing physical CDs, I want to shake them and ask, “Do you know what the value is here versus the value for Spotify?” And vinyl I get. Vinyl's a different animal, but I still know people who purchase physical CDs. And it still kind of blows my mind.
What are your thoughts here? Do you think it's just other people are a little bit slower on the uptake but eventually we're going to have a situation like in Norway where grandmothers have Spotify subscriptions
Liv Buli: I'm from Norway—full disclosure—and had Spotify long before I moved to the U.S. I freaked out when I moved here and they told me that I had to change my credit card and that I might not have Spotify anymore. So I'm a huge believer in streaming.
But I agree with you. I think it's also particularly easy to forget when you work in the music industry and you're in major cities like New York City that not everybody is using streaming services like this. And Americans spend an amazing amount of time in their cars. Just look at services like Sirius and how much they've grown and how many users they have because people are generally quite often consuming music while they're driving around the U.S.
As far as purchasing CDs goes, well, I purchase CDs. And this goes back to what I mentioned about moving toward an ecosystem of access and curated ownership. You might decide that you're going to buy that CD that you see at the gas station because it's an artist you particularly like or because your radio keeps going in and out of service. Why you buy that CD, I don't care, but I don't see purchasing completely disappearing from the music industry.
My perspective is that many streams will lead to one pool. Flowing into that pool would be streaming services, sales, concert tickets, merch—any means of leveraging your music career.
I don’t see sales completely disappearing for the music industry. While Spotify and RDIO and Pandora and these services are making huge inroads, they have nowhere near cornered the market. It'll be interesting to see how that develops over time and just how big these services get.