Indie Labels

New analysis proves power of playlist ranking, shows Spotify favors indie and female artists

A new study of Spotify’s New Music Friday playlists by the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management found that Spotify uses its platform to promote the underdog.

While admittedly centered on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlists, the study published in the International Journal of Industrial Organization, found that independent label music and female artists benefited most from an appearance on the hand-curated playlist.

The power of rank

The data also underscores the importance of getting a track placed high in a playlist.

Spotify curators ranked 5,700 songs in 14,500 top 20 slots on the weekly New Music Friday playlist. Researchers compared those tracks and ranks to their eventual streaming performance:

  • “about half of the relationship between curator ranking and eventual streaming is caused by the song’s rank on the playlist”
  • “independent labels rank better than they performed streaming-wise, receiving an average boost of two ranks on the playlist”
  • “to a lesser extent, music by women received better ranks than their eventual on-platform streaming performances seemed to warrant, receiving a boost of 1.4 ranks.”

Not a solution

“Despite challenges that independent-label artists and women face in the music industry, Spotify’s New Music curation appears to favor them,” said Carlson School Professor and co-author Joel Waldfogel. “After accounting for the curators’ playlist ranks, songs by independent label artists stream less, indicating bias against major-label music.”

But playlist placement and rank is far from the solution to inequalities within the music industry or the society as a whole. Streams for music by women account still account for only a quarter of total streams, “a share that is low compared to the number of women listening, among musicians and in the population as a whole,” points out the researchers.

Playlist rank = $$$

A second paper still to be published will underscore the dollar value of playlist placements, but here’s a preview:

“Given the time that songs spend on these lists and the payments artists and their labels receive per stream, the impact of making these lists can be worth $100,000 in payments from Spotify alone,” according to Waldfogel. “About a quarter of the total streams of songs making the biggest playlists is driven directly by having made the lists.”

Further, the most-followed playlists tend to promote music by already-established artists. Waldfogel and Aguiar determined that “about half of the relationship between curator ranking and eventual streaming is caused by the ranking.” So, being ranked #1 on the U.S. New Music Friday list adds streams worth $77,000.


Bruce Houghton is Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank and serves as a Senior Advisor to Bandsintown which acquired both publications in 2019. He is the Founder and President of the Skyline Artists Agency and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.

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