That in itself isn’t problematic. There is certainly value in knowing just how many total people are listening to an artist. The glaring issue with the stat is that its entirely regulated and confined to Spotify’s particular music streaming ecosystem. Let’s keep using Travis Scott as an example. Last time I checked he was at 25,861,694 Monthly Listeners (Yes, I know this is different than the screenshot, lol). Now if you go to his artist page and look at how many plays are coming from the RapCaviar playlist right now it is 2,552,916. That means 9.87% of Travis Scott’s Monthly Listeners are not engaging directly with Travis Scott but are just hearing his music on this singular playlist.
(Now again this isn’t to inflate RapCaviar’s reach, which is probably less than 2% of Spotify’s overall user base but that’s a newsletter for another day.)
The reason this stat came even more to my attention is because of a recent Digital Music News article on Spotify opening up their playlist submission platform. The piece said (bolding mine)
Spotify monitored the success of artists added to its playlists, and is proudly trotting out those stories now. The first beta case study comes from Belgian rapper Bryan Mg, who amassed nearly 30,000 new monthly listeners after getting added to the La Vida Loca playlist. Spotify reports that Mg now has 33,000 monthly listeners, up from 4,600 previously.
The inclusion quickly led to shows, according to Mg. “After the first release got picked up by Spotify I think about a month later I got my first booking for a club show,” Mg stated…
Sounds great for Mg, and also great for Spotify’s prevailing narrative that bigger streams builds exposure which builds other revenue-generators like touring. That narrative is true in many cases, though it often serves to deflect from criminally-low streaming royalty payouts.
My question here is this: Is this narrative even fucking true? There is nothing that says how many new subscribers Bryan Mg got from this playlist, no sense of how many people were attending these shows, or anything really to show a concrete shift that showed her meaningfully progressing her career. Now I took the bait and saw that Bryan Mg only has 895 followers on Spotify, while his current monthly listeners is over 160,000. Imagine trying to book a show saying you have less than 900 followers or is 160,000 Monthly Listeners?
What’s perverted about this stat to me is the disconnect between the number and the music put out by artists. Bryan MG’s numbers are mostly inflated by getting songs placed on a number of Spotify and Filtr playlists. If Spotify wanted this kid to have a million Monthly Listeners they could just put in a couple bigger playlists and that’s that. His subscriber numbers might go up a little bit but this isn’t organic or real musical growth. The only people this serves is Spotify, because an artist can hit a “good” number to upsell people about their level of success compared to showing non-existence sales data, ticket sales, or poorly performing YouTube videos. Thus perpetuates a circle where Spotify is viewed as the best metric for guaging success, when really it’s the one just most aggressively inflating the stats.
Data and information about audiences is so important to an artist. Knowing how many people are coming to your show, how many buy merch, what kind of products do people want to buy, are they interested in online content, etc. Even a simple stat like subscribers that’s offered by Spotify and YouTube at very least says a person clicked a button to follow the music of an artist. Yet, the extreme passivity of Monthly Listeners and that Spotify’s own playlists dictate so much makes it laughable anyone would ever give it a second glance. A quantitative stat shouldn’t be dictated by the market whims of the platform and that’s example what Monthly Listeners displays.